• United States

Calea: Safe, sorry, and poor

Jan 02, 20062 mins
Data Center

“[Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)] compliance costs [are] a virtual sales tax on network infrastructure hardware [and] CALEA itself can be thought of as good, old-fashioned, big-government ‘regulatory overhead.'” So, opines (quite accurately) an item on Ars Technica.

The Wall Street Joural explained up the situation (“Broader Wiretap Rule Draws Resistance”, 12/29/05): “a recent Federal Communications Commission decision extending [Calea,] to Internet traffic as well as phone calls. The act, which became law in 1994, requires companies to make it easier for the government to listen to phone calls carried on their lines.”

The FCC in yet another paroxysm of kowtowing to the Justice Department commanded that Internet companies, universities, libraries and other providers have until spring 2007 to reconfigure their networks to comply with the new ruling but didn’t bother to give them any idea about what they would have to do to comply!

The WSJ article goes on to quote John Morris, staff attorney for the Center for Democracy and Technology: “”We already see the creep of Calea, and the Justice Department is making it crystal clear that they want to apply it to all Internet applications eventually.”

Exactly how Calea could be applied to all Internet apps is hard to imagine but there’s no doubt that VoIP services will definitely be included and the cost of compliance will be enormous.

Given the staggering volumes of data the feds already deal with in monitoring traditional voice and data traffic you have to wonder how they will cope with the new flood of content they are so keen to eavesdrop on.

But the biggest concern is the core issue: How much is Calea compliance going to cost and who will pay? The answer to the first question lies somewhere between “lots” and “way more than you can imagine puny earthling” while the answer to the second one is “business” and ultimately “consumers.”

Calea is likely to change the old saw “better safe than sorry” into “better safe and sorry and broke.”


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

More from this author