August 05, 2005
Tech Mandates Force Companies to Build Backdoors into Broadband, VoIP
Washington, DC - Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a release announcing its new rule expanding the reach of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The ruling is a reinterpretation of the scope of CALEA and will force Internet broadband providers and certain voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers to build backdoors into their networks that make it easier for law enforcement to wiretap them. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has argued against this expansion of CALEA in several rounds of comments to the FCC on its proposed rule.
CALEA, a law passed in the early 1990s, mandated that all telephone providers build tappability into their networks, but expressly ruled out information services like broadband. Under the new ruling from the FCC, this tappability now extends to Internet broadband providers as well.
Practically, what this means is that the government will be asking broadband providers - as well as companies that manufacture devices used for broadband communications - to build insecure backdoors into their networks, imperiling the privacy and security of citizens on the Internet. It also hobbles technical innovation by forcing companies involved in broadband to redesign their products to meet government requirements.
"Expanding CALEA to the Internet is contrary to the statute and is a fundamentally flawed public policy," said Kurt Opsahl, EFF staff attorney. "This misguided tech mandate endangers the privacy of innocent people, stifles innovation and risks the functionality of the Internet as a forum for free and open expression."
At the same time, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is asking airlines to build similar backdoors into the phone and data networks on airplanes. EFF and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) submitted joint comments to the FCC arguing against the DOJ's unprecedented and sweeping new technology design mandates and anticipatory wiretapping system.
The FCC's new proposal to expand CALEA to airline broadband illustrates the fallacy of law enforcement's rationale for its CALEA request. The DOJ takes the position that broadband has "substantially replaced" the local telephone exchange, but this claim is reduced to the point of absurdity aboard an airplane and opens the door for CALEA to cover just about anything.
Electronic Frontier Foundation