27 March 1998

Date:         Fri, 27 Mar 1998 20:00:09 -0500
Sender: Law & Policy of Computer Communications
From: "R. Jason Cronk" <listmanager@ORANGE.REDMANS.COM
Subject:      Industry response to CALEA

This is an industry-internal ongoing discussion (or argument) with the
Justice Department - specifically the FBI - regarding capabilities for
eavesdropping and tracking cell phones.  The FBI is using the CALEA law
to expand their capabilities.  The wireless industry is trying to fight
back, but the government has its own interpretation of the law.  Most
people are unaware of CALEA, but the government approach here has been
the same as their approach to encryption.

There's a good point about anonymous use of prepaid cards.  Once the
government figures that one out, we'll all have to register to get them.

There will be real opportunity in the specialty of anonymity in the


    (Editor's Note: Welcome to "Listen Up," our new monthly feature
by PCS Week Senior Editor John Sullivan in which he will opine on
issues of interest to the mobile phone community.  Comments or
suggestions for future columns should be directed to John at 301/340-
7788, ext. 2003; or to jsullivan@phillips.com.)

     In 1897, the Indiana State Legislature passed House Bill No. 246,
which established the value of pi as 3.2.  The light in which the
bill-submitted by a mathematical crackpot seeking recognition-was
viewed can be seen in its reception by the State Senate.  According to
contemporary newspapers, the senators laughed and made bad puns about
the bill for half an hour before referring it to the Committee on
Temperance, and finally letting it die.

     In 1994, Congress passed the Communications Assistance For Law
Enforcement Act (CALEA), mandating that advances in digital tele-
communications technologies shall not harm the ability of law
enforcement to conduct court-ordered wiretapping.  The industry and
the Department of Justice (DoJ) have spent the intervening years
arguing about how to implement CALEA.  Readers of this newsletter know
that it has been a very ugly process.

     For me at least, it is also a mystifying one because it seems
obvious that CALEA was ridiculous from the beginning.  Years of debate
have not produced a technical standard for it for the same reasons all
the circles did not suddenly change when the Indiana legislators
established a new value for pi.

     The DoJ appears unclear on this concept, but the telephone was
not invented to make it easier to eavesdrop on conversations, and that
isn't why people use it.  The ability to wiretap arose as a secondary
capability, and telephony is now evolving away from that ability.
Trying to legislate that fact away is like those Kruschev-era Russian
projects aimed at making Siberian rivers flow backwards.  It's
expensive, harmful, and ultimately futile.

     Let me suggest a simple experiment:  compare CALEA-at a cost of
$500 million and untold damage to the nation's telecom infrastructure-
to an anonymous pre-paid cellular phone that costs $100 off the shelf
at Wal-Mart.  Which one wins?  Is the DoJ ready to ban prepaid service
     One has to wonder just what the DoJ's real motives are.  Since
the law was enacted, the DoJ has tried to use it to justify expansion
of its present surveillance capability far beyond the scope of the
law.  This has included such things as using the registration function
to track the physical location of mobile phone users even when they
are not engaged in a call.

     While the DoJ has so far failed to browbeat the industry into
complicity, the agency knows that time is on its side as long as the
October compliance deadline remains in effect.  With $10,000 per day
fines for failing to comply with whatever standard is finally imposed,
CALEA gives the DoJ a very large stick with which to beat the industry
into submission.

     By simply refusing to compromise-just as it is now doing-the DoJ
can let pressure build on the industry until individual carriers
blink, and offer up piecemeal deals giving the agency the capabilities
it wants in return for not prosecuting them for non-compliance.  Based
on its behavior so far, these capabilities would go far beyond the
scope of the law.

     The industry should be screaming bloody murder about this kind of
political thuggery, and it is long past time for Congress to reign the
DoJ in and reintroduce a little sanity into the process.