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Industry Imperatives
July 2004

An Update On CALEA Implementation In Packet Communications Networks



Wiretapping. The word brings up all sorts of connotations related to the FBI, the Mafia, or increasingly to anti-terrorism investigations. Yet for public telecommunications carriers it is a daily responsibility and legal requirement to provide such Lawful Intercept (LI) services to law enforcement agencies (LEAs). The relationship between public carriers and LEAs goes back many years, but now with the digital revolution followed by the Internet revolution the relationship has grown somewhat strained.


CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) was enacted in 1994 to update the technical assistance requirements of carriers due to the use of advanced services provided by digital switches. Telecommunications carriers never made services such as call forwarding and call waiting available to law enforcement. This was due to the fact that the then existing statutory requirement of carriers was to provide � . . . all information, facilities, and technical assistance necessary to accomplish the interception . . .� without ever addressing the question of system design.


Worse still, with the breakup of AT&T and the explosion of CLECs and 10-10 access codes, criminals could escape surveillance merely by routing their calls from the LEC to the CLEC. Yet the government and the carriers fought over the cost of upgrading networks to support CALEA and the methods by which carriers and equipment vendors would provide the information the LEAs needed. This was happening all before any of the concerned parties gave a thought about Internet telephony.

Then came 9/11, and all of a sudden the many difficulties of CALEA implementation received renewed public attention. The FBI had been putting a lot of pressure on the FCC to resolve technical and legal challenges, putting a lot of pressure on carriers to cooperate, and involving themselves in telephony standards efforts to support new protocols and procedures for supporting CALEA. Also, the FBI had focused on VoIP. Fortunately, VoIP vendors in the IPCC realized before 9/11 that their solutions would eventually require support for CALEA. In 2000 they chartered a Legal Intercept group and began work on a new standard for supporting CALEA in VoIP networks.


Soon the FBI began participating in the IPCC Legal Intercept group as well as groups from TIA and ANSI T1. The TIA and ANSI groups had traditionally worked on normal PSTN networks, but they knew that they had to include VoIP eventually. Liaisons went out from each group to coordinate efforts. The IPCC, being the body with the most experience in packet voice networks, had the most advanced work done for VoIP networks. They decided to contribute their work to the T1 group which was creating an overall PSTN/VoIP standard for CALEA. That standard was recently agreed upon by the industry and is called T.678.

Since the publication of the IPCC�s informational report entitled, �Lawfully Authorized Surveillance for Softswitch-based networks� in July of 2003, the U.S. government has stepped up its efforts to insure that its entitled law enforcement activities related to wiretapping are not jeopardized by new technology. On March 10, 2004, the DOJ, FBI, and DEA filed a Joint Petition for Expedited Rulemaking before the FCC. The purpose of the petition is to clarify that CALEA applies to all public telecommunications carriers, and its application is technology neutral. The FBI is upset that despite a clear statutory mandate, full CALEA implementation has not been achieved � and in some instances outright ignored.


Although the Commission has taken steps to implement CALEA, there remain several outstanding issues that are in need of immediate resolution. Before you read further, it is important to note that the language of the law clearly states that CALEA may not inhibit nor prevent the development or deployment of new technologies. Law enforcement has asked the FCC to clarify or preferably rule on 13 issues in question related to identifying services, procedures, and responsibilities for CALEA.

This action has created a lot of buzz in the industry and naturally some of the talk has diverged from reality. Some are saying that the FBI wants access to all forms of communication including instant messaging, e-mail, etc. Yet only broadband Internet access service and broadband telephony service are specified in the filing. Other online services, including instant messaging, e-mail, and visits to Web sites, would not be covered. Broadband service providers are nervous about how this might affect their network plans. It is important to note that, under CALEA, the FCC is the final arbiter of coverage, not the FBI.

The government says in its petition that CALEA should apply to certain broadband services but does not address the issue of what technical capabilities those broadband providers should deliver to Law Enforcement. CALEA already permits those service providers to fashion their own technical standards as they see fit. If Law Enforcement considers an industry technical standard deficient, it can seek to change the standard only by filing a special �deficiency� petition before the Commission. It is the FCC, not Law Enforcement, which decides whether any capabilities should be added to the standard. The FCC may refuse to order a change in a standard on many different grounds. For example, a capability may be rejected because it is too costly. Therefore CALEA already contains protections for industry against paying undue compliance costs.

Matt Holdrege is one of the principal authors of the IPCC�s CALEA document published in July. He is Director of Business Development at Strix Systems. He notes that he is not a lawyer! Please consult your own legal counsel as needed.

Michael Khalilian is chairman and president of the International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC), an industry consortium of carriers and solutions providers advancing packet-based communication technologies. For more information, please visit www.packetcomm.org.


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