ETel Conference: Brad Templeton on CALEA

by Bruce Stewart

Brad Templeton, the head of the EFF, had the audience here at ETel in stitches as he used humor and sarcasm to make his case against the impending application of the CALEA wiretapping law to VoIP providers. For over half of his talk he pretended to be the "evil twin Brad" speaking to an ILEC conference, explaining why they needed to support CALEA for VoIP to stifle the innovation of all these garage innovators that are threatening their business (like those clever Estonian hackers..)

Brad's message resonated with the many hackers and innovators here, and I don't think there's many who aren't sympathetic and in agreement with his argument that it's a very bad idea to make CALEA apply to VoIP providers and manufacturers, and that the FCC is overstepping their jurisdiction in this case. There was a large round of applause when he mentioned that the EFF, the ACLU, and others are joining together to file suit next week challenging the FCC's application of CALEA to the VoIP industry.

His main arguments were that it's a bad idea because it will seriously stifle innovation, it's not needed based on the small amount of wiretaps that were issued last year (and the even smaller amount of those that would likely apply to VoIP users), and that the FCC doesn't have the legal authority to make this move. He pointed out that any system that requires developers to ask permission from some government agency always stifles innovation, and he used DVD players and the crypto exporting law as examples. Brad noted that there were only 1633 authorized, non-FISA wiretaps issued last year (most for drug crimes), and it seems crazy to spend billions re-engineering VoIP networks and products based on those kind of numbers. Jokes about non-authorized wiretaps followed, naturally. And last, the CALEA law specifically excludes information services and private networks.

UPDATE: Jeff Pulver has posted the joint brief that was filed with the DC Circuit last night challenging the FCC’s Order CALEA.