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New Rules On Internet Wiretapping Challenged

  • From: Vicky Rode
  • Date: Wed Oct 26 17:08:27 2005

Hash: SHA1


By Arshad Mohammed
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005; Page D01

New federal wiretapping rules that would make it easier for law
enforcement to monitor e-mails and Internet-based phone calls were
challenged by privacy, high-tech and telecommunications groups in
federal court yesterday.

The groups argued that the rules would force broadband Internet service
providers, including universities and libraries, to pay for redesigning
their networks to make them more accessible to court-ordered wiretaps.

The groups also said the Federal Communications Commission rules,
scheduled to take effect in May 2007, could erode civil liberties and
stifle Internet innovation by imposing technological demands on developers.

"It's simply a very bad idea for privacy and for free speech for the
government to design any technology, much less the Internet, to be
surveillance-friendly," said Lee Tien, a senior staff lawyer with the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit privacy rights group.

The government was trying to "build tentacles of control throughout
telecommunications networks," Tien said.

The FCC rules make broadband Internet providers and voice over Internet
protocol companies subject to a 1994 federal law that requires telecom
companies to assist law enforcement agencies in carrying out
court-ordered wiretaps. The Communications Assistance for Law
Enforcement Act requires telecom carriers to design their networks so
they can quickly intercept communications and deliver them to the
government when presented with a court order.

In adopting the rules, the FCC said it wanted to ensure the government
could carry out wiretaps as more communications move from the
traditional telephone system to the Internet.

"It is clearly not in the public interest to allow terrorists and
criminals to avoid lawful surveillance by law enforcement agencies," the
commission wrote in its order.

Opponents argued the law was tailored for a simpler, earlier era of
traditional telephone service and could cripple the evolution of the
Internet by forcing engineers to design products so they can be easily
monitored by the government.

The 1994 law "will have a devastating impact on the whole model of
technical innovation on the Internet," said John Morris, staff counsel
for the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, which filed
an appeal of the rules with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit yesterday.

"The Internet evolves through many tens of thousands, or hundreds of
thousands, of innovators coming up with brand new ideas," he said. "That
is exactly what will be squelched."

Morris said his group did not dispute the idea that the government
should be able to carry out court-ordered wiretaps, but rather argued
that the 1994 law was a blunt instrument ill-suited for the Internet age.

He said the matter should be referred to Congress, which "can tailor the
obligations to the Internet context as opposed to importing the very
clumsy [telephone system] obligations and imposing them on the Internet."

The American Council on Education, a higher-education trade group,
separately asked the court Monday to review the rules.

"We fear that doing what they want will require every router and every
switch in an IT system to be replaced," said Terry W. Hartle, the
council's senior vice president. He estimated that the upgrades could
cost colleges and universities $6 billion to $7 billion.

"Our quarrel with them is fairly specific," Hartle said. "We are
concerned about the cost, and the complexity, and the schedule on which
they want this accomplished."

Spokesmen for the FCC and the Justice Department declined comment on the
court challenges.

- ------- end -------

...Raising my hand.

My question is on Terry Hartle's comments, maybe someone with more
insight into this could help clear my confusion.

Why would it require to replace every router and every switch when my
understanding is, FCC is looking to install *additional* gateway(s) to
monitor Internet-based phone calls and emails. I can see some sort of
network redesign happening in order to accodomate this but replacing
every router and every switch sounds too drastic, unless I
mis-understood it. Please, I'm not advocating this change but just
trying to understand the impact from an operation standpoint.

Any insight will be appreciated.


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