12 October 1999. Thanks to Ulf Möller.
From: The IESG <email@example.com>
To: IETF-Announce: ;
Subject: The IETF's position on technology to support legal intercept
Date: Mon, 11 Oct 1999 15:47:10 -0400
The use of the Internet for services that replace or supplement traditional telephony is, predictably, causing discussions in many countries about the point at which special rules about telephony services begin to apply to Internet service providers. In many countries, these rules could impose new legal obligations on ISPs, particularly requirements to comply with requests from law enforcement agencies or regulators to intercept, or gather and report other information about, communications. For example many traditional telephony devices, especially central-office switches, sold in those countries are required to have built-in wiretapping capabilities to allow telephone carriers to fulfill these obligations.
A number of IETF working groups are currently working on protocols to support telephony over IP networks. The wiretap question has come up in one of these working groups, but the IESG has concluded that the general questions should be discussed, and conclusions reached, by the entire IETF, not just one WG. The key questions are:
"should the IETF develop new protocols or modify existing protocols to support mechanisms whose primary purpose is to support wiretapping or other law enforcement activities"
"what should the IETF's position be on informational documents that explain how to perform message or data-stream interception without protocol modifications".
We would like to encourage discussion of these questions on the new firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list. Subscription requests should be mailed to email@example.com OR subscribe via the web at
Time will be allocated at the Plenary session at the November IETF to discuss this orally and try to draw a consensus together. (PLEASE DISCUSS THIS ON THE NEW MAILING LIST AND NOT ON THE GENERAL IETF LIST)
In addition to the general questions identified above, we believe it would be helpful for mailing list comments to address the following more specific questions:
Adding wiretap capability is by definition adding a security hole. Considering the IETF's commitment to secure protocols, is it a reasonable thing to open such a hole to meet these requirements?
Should the IETF as an international standards organization shape its protocols to support country-specific legal requirements?
If the companies who employ the IETF participants and deploy the IETF's technology feel that having wiretap capability is a business necessity due to the regulatory requirements in the countries where they want to sell their products, would that make a difference to the IETF position on this subject?
What is the appropriateness or feasibility of standardizing mechanisms to conform to requirements that may change several times over the life cycle of equipment built to conform to those standards?
When IPv6 was under development, the IETF decided to mandate an encryption capability for all devices that claim to adhere to those standards. This was done in spite of the fact that, at the time the decision was made, devices meeting the IPv6 standard could not then be exported from the U.S. nor could they be used in some countries. Is that a precedent for what to do in this case?
Could the IETF just avoid specifying the part of the technology that supports wiretapping, presumably assuming that some industry consortium or other standards organization would do so? Would letting that responsibility fall to others weaken the IETF's control over its own standards and traditional areas?
If these functions must be done, is it better for the IETF to do them so that we can ensure they are done in the most secure way and, where permitted by the regulations, to ensure a reliable audit capability?
What would the image of the IETF be if we were to refuse to standardize any technology that supported wiretapping? In the Internet community? In the business community? To the national regulatory authorities?
The goal of the mailing list and then plenary session is to address the broad policy and direction issue and not specific technical issues such as where exactly in an architecture it would be best to implement wiretapping if one needed to do so. Nor are they to address what specific functions might be needed to implement wiretapping under which countries' laws. The intent is basically to discuss the question of what stance the IETF should take on the general issue.