Background of CALEA and its Implementation by the FCC and Through the Courts

In early 1995, the telecommunications industry – working through TIA's Engineering Subcommittee TR-45.2 – began the difficult task of building a standard for CALEA technical compliance. In developing this standard, the subcommittee carefully balanced the competing interests of public safety, individual privacy and technological innovation. It also worked in close consultation with representatives of law enforcement, privacy organizations, and other industry associations and standards-setting bodies. The result, as the FCC has noted, is a joint technical standard for the cellular, wireline and broadband PCS industries (J-STD-025 or the "J Standard"), which enjoys industry-wide approval.
TIA's member manufacturers are now engaged in implementing their CALEA obligations consistent with this standard. TIA has urged the FCC to craft its implementation rules with a careful eye to the goals articulated by Congress:
  • Preserving government's ability to intercept communications involving advanced technologies;
  • Protecting the privacy of communications; and
  • Implementing CALEA in a manner that does not impede the introduction of new technologies, features and services.

In August 1999, the FCC released a pair of important decisions. In the first of these, the Second Report and Order, the FCC provided some additional guidance on which telecommunications entities are covered by CALEA and which are not. Essentially, the FCC found that all entities previously classified as common carriers are subject to CALEA, while providers of "information services" are not (though it failed to define these services).

More importantly, the Third Report and Order resolved the technical disputes concerning J-STD-025. Previously, in March 1998, several privacy groups and the FBI filed separate challenges of the standard. The FBI argued it was deficient since it failed to incorporate nine "punch list" items. Meanwhile, the privacy groups objected to the standard's provisions on location identification and packet data, but otherwise joined industry in opposing the FBI's punch list.

Overall, the Third Report and Order is a broad endorsement of J-STD-025 and TIA's Engineering Subcommittee TR 45-2. The FCC noted that out of all the features and provisions contained in the voluminous standard, only 11 proposed modifications were suggested. On both privacy-related issues, the FCC agreed with TIA (and industry in general) and declined to make any modifications to J-STD-025. The FCC also asked TIA to prepare a report by October 2000 on CALEA implications for packet data technologies. TIA has been working diligently on this task, which has included assembling input from various other relevant industry organizations and groups.
On the nine punch-list items, the FCC agreed with TIA that three of the items were not required by CALEA. For the remaining six items, the FCC adopted TIA's proposal – entrusting TR-45.2 with the responsibility of modifying J-STD-025 to comply with the FCC's decision. The FCC recognized that only TR-45.2 has the technical expertise to complete this standardization work. TR-45.2 has followed up on this responsibility, beginning work immediately after adoption of the FCC decision and maintaining an expedited and demanding schedule in order to meet the FCC's tight timing goals.
Finally, TIA has urged the FBI to pursue efforts to ensure that adequate funding is available to meet the CALEA mandate and, to that end, continues to offer its support and assistance to the FBI, Department of Justice and Congress.