August 11, 2004

CALEA and VoIP: A Conundrum

As you know last week FCC issued their Notice of Proposed Rule Making on CALEA for IP access and VoIP. I have been reading the Notice and try to make sense out of it. But I still have many open and perplexing questions. The notice is a legal document. Since I do not have training in the practice of Law, I do not get all the nuances they seem to indicate. But I see lots of technical issues preventing us from applying the law in an equitable manner, that I anticipate intervention by Congress will be required to settle this matter. I will use this space to elaborate my thinking rather than summarize the Notice.

They have concluded that Internet Access Service is like a replacement of local telephone exchange service. Straight forward enough. Either the logic stands the test or not. But, as the Notice itself states, their thinking regarding VoIP is not so clear cut. Firstly, they agree with the Petition that CALEA is applicable to only “managed” or “intermediated” VoIP service providers. They, meaning both the Commission and the Law Enforcement, confuse the matter by giving examples. They state that Vonage is a “managed” service provider while Skype is not. The Notice adds by saying FWD is not based on the Pulver decision.

I do not see any difference between a session that is between two Voange subscribers and a session between two FWD subscribers. As far as I understand, in either case the SIP signaling is handled by the corresponding service providers; the media eventually (after NAT traversal issue has been resolved for this session) the media flows directly between the two subscribers over the public internet. So why one is subjected to CALEA and the other is not? One possible explanation is that Vonage has declared that it interconnects with PSTN, whereas FWD does not. There have been instances when individual FWD subscribers facilitate the interconnection; there have been instances when FWD itself facilitates the interconnection on special occasions. So if CALEA can be invoked only when interconnecting to PSTN, the Notice does not indicate so. It does not say that the applicability is determined on a session by session basis.

Again, it categorically states that Skype like service is exempt, because it is like a private network. If so, SkypeOut complicate the matter. It interconnects with PSTN. Is that included?

There is no indication that the Commission has considered the possibility of the service provider making only Call Identifying Information. The legal litmus tests are different when only CII is needed as opposed when both CII and Call Content are required. Since CII is available to all the service providers, why shouldn’t they be subject to CII portion of CALEA?

Besides these, I anticipate difficulties in Law Enforcement executing this. I am not referring to the service providers having necessary capabilities. I think it can be addressed. But consider a concrete example where Law Enforcement wants to monitor me. They have to go the court and identify the “service id”. In the case of PSTN, it is simple. Reality dictates that I will be in possession of a handful telephone numbers. But in cases like Skype and FWD, where I could theoretically have any number of “service ids”, how will the court order identify all of them? Without such identification, how can a service provider facilitate in intercepting my OUTGOING sessions.

In short I have more questions than answers. How about you?

Posted by aswath at August 11, 2004 04:40 PM
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