CALEA likely in VoIP’s future, just not for awhile
Panelists speaking yesterday at a web seminar sponsored by the U.S. Telecom Association said that voice-over-IP providers likely would have to comply with CALEA requirements, but the lack of a fully complaint industry standard would enable them to dodge their obligations for the foreseeable future.
“It seems clear that any service provider that is offering any sort of voice-over-packet services will have to provide some type of CALEA-like facilities,” said Raj Puri, vice president of Verisign, whose NetDiscovery service provides carriers with a means of providing call information to law enforcement agencies in compliance with CALEA.
The Federal Communications originally set a September 30, 2001 deadline for carriers to have in place CALEA-compliant facilities capable of intercepting packet-based communications. That deadline later was extended to November 19 of this year, and recently to January 30, 2004.
Most VoIP providers have yet to put a CALEA-compliant solution in place, said Puri. Additional deadline extensions or exemptions are a possibility for those carriers, but the pursuit of such options is risky, said Michael Warren, president of fiducianet, a consultancy that specializes in helping carriers comply with electronic surveillance obligations. “If they try to execute the escape clauses under CALEA, they will almost have to admit they are telecommunications carriers under the [1996 Telecommunications] Act, and that creates quite the dilemma,” Warren said. Such an admission would bring regulatory burdens such as universal service contributions and access fees that VoIP providers would like to avoid.
However, Warren added that since no fully CALEA-compliant industry standard has emerged, carriers would be justified in seeking further extensions, if not exemptions. “Until the standards bodies adopt a standard that has been accepted by the industry, has been litigated to make sure it will be accepted by the FBI and the FCC and has all of the functionality they’re looking for, carriers have the option to ask for—and get—additional time to become compliant,” Warren said.
Complicating matters is that the FBI currently is providing little guidance, Warren said. “There has been a fundamental change in the role of the FBI concerning CALEA. In the last year and a half we have seen a little of what we call ‘mission creep,’” Warren said. “The FBI’s CALEA implementation section has been disbanded.”
The net result, Warren said, is that the FBI has shifted its focus away from a policy role to one that concentrates on deployment and implementation. “As a consequence, we haven’t seen any action on key policy issues,” Warren said. “The question I have today is whether or not the FBI is still actively engaged in CALEA implementation, or they’re just waiting and watching what the industry is going to do, then take whatever legal action they need to take, either through the FCC or the courts.”
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