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Home > Privacy and Government > Government Threats to Privacy > Surveillance > CALEA


The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed in 1994. For the first time in history, it required telecommunications companies to modify their equipment to facilitate government surveillance. The original proposal for CALEA, made by the FBI in 1992, was much broader. It would have required all communications services, including computer networks, to assist in government surveillance.

A consistent threat to privacy, wiretapping of suspected criminals by law enforcers can easily evolve into suspicionless monitoring of the general public, a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission gave the FBI too much wiretapping power under CALEA when it required companies to provide technology that could allow law enforcement to track the location of cell-phone users and to monitor data sent in digital format.

Given the rise of voice communications over the Internet (VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol), the Department of Justice has sought a ruling that CALEA extends to these software programs. Software applications like VoIP were not addressed by CALEA, and extending CALEA to software applications would not provide law enforcement substantial ability to wiretap sophisticated criminals or terrorists. Sophisticated enemies of peace and order in the United States would use non-compliant VoIP applications acquired outside the United States or written by the open source community.


Comments of to the Federal Communications Commission on the U.S. Justice Department's Petition to Expand CALEA (April 12, 2004) in PDF format.

Remand Reply Comments of Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation, In the Matter of Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, Federal Communications Commission (CC Docket No. 97-213).

United States Telecom Association v. Federal Communications Commission U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (August 15, 2000)

When You Call, Who Is Listening? by David B. Kopel, Cato Institute (July 9, 1998)

Democracy Betrayed Means New Wiretapping Powers by Solveig Bernstein, Cato Institute (October 2, 1996)

Comments? (Subject: CALEA)

[updated 06/04/04]

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