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Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was enacted in 1994 "to make clear a telecommunications carrier's duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for law enforcement purposes." It required telecommunications carriers to be able to carry out wiretaps when presented with a subpoena from a law enforcement agency. When it was passed, it applied only to telephone calls and the interception of fax services, specifically exempting online services such as e-mail.

In March 2004, a Joint Petition for Expedited Rulemaking from the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) extend CALEA to cover public Internet broadband services as well. The FCC issued the order to make this extension in 2005, driven in part by the rise of "Voice over IP" (VoIP) telephony services.

After a 2006 legal challenge failed, the debate in education shifted to what a college or university had to do to be exempt. An exempt organization has to meet two criteria: (1) "Its network qualifies as a 'private network,' and (2) it does not 'support' 'the connection of the private network to the Internet."

The legislation left open to interpretation the definition of "private network," and the American Council on Education issued a guidance document that summaries the practical implications:

An institution should be exempt where it restricts the use of its network to particular classes of users (e.g., students, faculty, and administrators), and where the institution relies on a third party (such as a commercial ISP or a regional network) to provide the transmission and switching facilities used to route traffic to the Internet, rather than self-supplying such facilities.

For reasons of cost, intrusion, and privacy, colleges are keen to protect themselves from CALEA-enabled network intrusion, which can include the addition of hardware and software into a network that is not under the institution's control, while still complying with the law.

Last Updated: 8/19/10