The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is an Act in the United States that was passed in 1994 by the US Congress to enhance the tapping of all communications and its major role is to make sure that telecommunications carriers cooperate in the tapping of any kind of communication services that they offer. The Act’s major purpose is to ensure that law enforcers and the intelligence Agencies in the United States have the capability to carry out electronic surveillance through requiring that telecommunication carriers and producers of telecommunication devices modify their devices and services in a way that allows security agencies to monitor all kinds of communications in real-time. The major reason for passing of the CALEA Act was the worry in the FBI and other security Agencies because of the increasing use of digital telephones that would make the agencies unable to tap most of the communications (CALEA, 1994).
Section 102 of the Act requires that all telecommunication carriers provide communication devices that are capable of meeting some set requirements. This section defines the carriers as: people or entities that are capable of transmitting or switching any kind of communication; these include all persons and companies that provide mobile services and those who provide electronic or wire communication services. This section does not include any persons or entities that provide information services to the public and any group of carriers that have been exempted by the FCC from the Act (CALEA, 1994). Section 103 of the Act puts down four requirements that services and products provided by telecommunication carriers are supposed to comply with, these are: ability to intercept the content of the communication, right to the information required to identify a call, the content of the communication should be available and the devices should allow for protection of privacy (CALEA, 1994).
Since the CALEA Act came into law in the year 1995 it has been extended to include all other forms of communications like the broadband and the VoIP although it was originally designed to deal with the telephone services. So as to comply with the requirements of the CALEA telecommunications carriers had to modify their devices and services and the government initially provided support for this but it later withdrew the support. This means that the cost incurred in modifying the products and the services that the communication carriers incur had to be extended to the consumers (Federal Communications Commission, 2009). This is one disadvantage of the Act as it led to increase in the cost of most of the communication services. Because of the fact that many institutions of higher learning and campuses use a kind of network that fall under the CALEA requirements it raised a lot of concern that the new Act would require conformity by education institutions and campuses. The cost that the learning institutions would incur in complying with the requirements would outweigh the benefits that the security agencies would get from the Act. This issue brought about a legal case that ended up allowing most although not all networks of learning institutions to be exempted from the requirements of CALEA (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009).
Most telecommunication carriers feel that they will spend a lot of money on the compliance of the Act and this move would bring down their profits. Small communication carriers that do not have the resources to comply with the requirements of the Act will have to withdraw from the business hence this would create an unfair competing ground in the industry. The communication companies want to establish technologies that are friendly and at the same time private to their customers but the Act pushes this issue out of the market. The market of communication devices and services would therefore be guided by the needs of the government and not consumers as it is supposed to be in a normal market. The other major reason why I oppose the Act is that when the market of any product or service is commandeered by some special interests for example law enforcement, the innovation in that area suffers. In this case the Act requires that all devices that are developed to provide broadband internet must comply with CALEA requirements and this limits the room for research and development in the area. The CALEA compliance requirements may result in making the internet less secure as more people would fall victims of internet hijackers who are aimed at stealing personal data and information over the internet (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009).
On the other hand CALEA would boost the security systems of the government and this would ensure that the American citizens are secure. This is so because most of the criminal deals are made over the phone or the internet and can be intercepted by the law enforcement agencies. Unusual bank transactions will be easier to monitor and so this will make it easier for most banks and law enforcement agencies to curb the act of bank fraud and at the same time detect unusual money transfers that may be for the purpose of criminal activities in the country (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009).
In conclusion CALEA plays a major role in the national security although on the other hand it has its limitations which need to be reviewed so that interception of communications is carried out in the right and cost effective manner.
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Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (Document), of the year 1994, By the United States of America Congress.
Electronic Frontier Foundation, (2009), CALEA: the perils of wiretapping the internet, retrieved from: http://www.eff.org/issues/calea, on 4th August 2009
Federal Communications Commission, (2009), Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, retrieved from: http://www.fcc.gov/calea/, on 4th August 2009.