27 March 1998
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 1998 20:00:09 -0500 Sender: Law & Policy of Computer Communications <CYBERIA-L@LISTSERV.AOL.COM From: "R. Jason Cronk" <listmanager@ORANGE.REDMANS.COM Subject: Industry response to CALEA To: CYBERIA-L@LISTSERV.AOL.COM 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 future. ------------------------------------------------------------------- (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 firstname.lastname@example.org.) 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 too? 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.