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
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
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.
Privacilla.org 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)