A U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling requiring Voice Over IP (VOIP) providers to give law enforcement agencies wiretapping capabilities is legal, a court ruled Friday.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the FCC’s August 2004 ruling saying interconnected VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) providers must allow wiretapping by May 14, 2007. Several groups, including the American Council on Education, Sun Microsystems and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), had appealed the ruling, saying it could introduce security vulnerabilities into VOIP services and drive up costs for customers.
The FCC ruling requires VOIP providers that provide a substitute service for traditional telephone service to comply with a 1994 telephone wiretapping law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in requesting the ruling, argued that their surveillance efforts are “compromised” without CALEA rules for VOIP.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a statement he was pleased with the court’s decision. “Enabling law enforcement to ensure our safety and security is of paramount importance,” he said. “[The decision] will ensure that law enforcement agencies’ ability to conduct lawful court-ordered electronic surveillance will keep pace with new communication technologies.”
But the CDT said the FCC ignored U.S. Congress’ efforts to keep regulations away from IP services.
“This ruling threatens both civil liberties and technology innovation,” CDT Policy Director Jim Dempsey said in an e-mail. “This decision threatens the privacy rights of innocent Americans as well as the ability of technology companies to innovate freely.”