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FCC Clears Wiretaps of VoIP
[August 08, 2005]

FCC Clears Wiretaps of VoIP

TMCnet Communications and Broadband Columnist

In order for service providers to comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), the FCC last week ordered interconnected voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) and facilities-based broadband access service providers to accommodate law enforcement wiretaps.

The decision came out on the same day the commission ordered the deregulation of DSL.

The FCC responded to this issue at the request of the Department of Justice, the FBI and the DEA, who argued that because VoIP and broadband access can a substitute traditional telecommunications services, they should also be subject to CALEA.

CALEA requires the commission to preserve the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct court-ordered wiretaps.

Accordingly, the FCC established an 18-month deadline from the effective date of the order for interconnected VoIP providers and facilities-based broadband Internet service providers to comply with the relevant CALEA requirements.

According to a statement, the FCC stated that the order strikes a balance between fostering competition and innovation on one hand, and meeting the needs of law enforcement on the other.

"[I]t is critical to our nation's security that VoIP and broadband Internet access providers have CALEA obligations," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a prepared statement. "Although I believe that new technologies and services should operate free of economic regulation, I also believe that law enforcement agencies must have the ability to conduct lawful surveillance over these new technologies."

One commissioner, while pleased with addressing large-scale law enforcement concerns, believes that the FCC still needs to address other CALEA-related issues such as regarding enforcement and cost recovery.

"Because litigation is as inevitable as death and taxes, and because some might not read the statute to permit the extension of CALEA to the broadband Internet access and VoIP services at issue here, I have stated my concern that an approach like the one we adopt today is not without legal risk," Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said in a prepared statement. "[B]ecause some parties will dispute our conclusions, the application of CALEA to these new services could be stymied for years."

"The Commission's action is the first critical step to apply CALEA obligations to new technologies and services that are increasingly used as a substitute for conventional services," the statement said. "The Order strikes an appropriate balance between fostering competitive broadband and advanced services deployment and technological innovation on one hand, and meeting the needs of the law enforcement community on the other."

Ted Glanzer is assistant editor for TMCnet. For more articles by Ted Glanzer, please visit:

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