US Looking to Expand CALEA?

From the New York Time we find that American officials are campaigning for updates to CALEA, a surveillance bill that was passed in 1994. The officials claim updates are needed because

some telecommunications companies in recent years have begun new services and made system upgrades that caused technical problems for surveillance.

Albert Gidari Jr., a lawyer who represents telecommunications firms, said corporations were likely to object to increased government intervention in the design or launch of services. Such a change, he said, could have major repercussions for industry innovation, costs and competitiveness.

“The government’s answer is ‘don’t deploy the new services — wait until the government catches up,’ ” Mr. Gidari said. “But that’s not how it works. Too many services develop too quickly, and there are just too many players in this now.”

In essence, it appears that the US government is advocating for updates to their laws that are similar to provisions in Canada’s lawful access legislation. The tabled Canadian legislation includes provisions that preclude interception capabilities from degrading over time (Section 8), mandate that interception capabilities continue to meet government requirements as telecommunications services providers upgrade their services (Section 9), and require new software and product offerings to be compliant with interception demands (Section 11). It would seem that, without these provisos, CALEA is showing its age: ISPs are deploying services that ‘break’ existing wiretap capabilities and that it takes some time to restore those capabilities. ISPs innovate, and then surveillance catches up.

Of course, it’s useful to remember that none of the details surrounding the FBI’s problems in maintaining wiretaps is really made clear in the article. The sources that the reporter draws upon are primarily from law enforcement agencies and, as we have seen in Canada and in prior US legislative gambits, such agencies are prone to overstating problems and understating their complicity in generating/maintaining them. It’s also unclear just how ‘impaired’ investigations actually were. In essence, a full accounting of the alleged problems is needed, and the accounting ought to be public. If the American public is going to shell out more money for surveillance, and potentially endanger next-generation telecommunications services’ innovative potentials, then the government has to come totally clean about their allegations so that a rational and empirically-grounded debate can occur.