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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

New Internet Wiretap Rules May Impact Higher Education Institutions

October 21, 2005

Rules making it easier for law enforcement officials to initiate wiretaps would be extended to cover facilities-based broadband Internet access providers, including higher education institutions, for the first time under a recent Federal Communications Commission order. On October 21, the FCC Order and Further Notice of Public Rule Making was published in the Federal Register applying the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) more broadly than its prior application to telephone companies and modifications in telephone equipment to assist with wiretaps of telephone calls. The order would require these facilities-based Internet service providers to facilitate lawful requests for surveillance on their data networks and Internet telephone systems through a combination of new equipment, trained personnel, policies, and procedures, to be in place within 18 months of the effective date of the ruling (May 14, 2007). This would impose substantial new costs on the institutions involved.

NACUBO, in conjunction with the Higher Education Information Technology Alliance (HEIT Alliance), and other groups are working to get an exemption for higher education. Based on a limited number of prior CALEA requests under the former regulations, the associations argue that it is not in the public interest to require higher education institutions to redesign their data networks for the possibility of a future CALEA request. Requiring full compliance with the proposed new rules would impose an unreasonable financial burden on institutions, increasing the costs and impacting innovation, with no guarantee of increased security. Higher education institutions have always provided prompt assistance in response to lawful requests for surveillance of both voice and data communications in the past, and they will continue to do so.

Institutions will have 18 months to comply with the order, unless it is stayed by lawsuits or if an agreement is reached with the Justice Department for an exemption by the FCC. Another possibility is an extension of the timeline for compliance. Colleges and universities typically update their systems every five to six years and could install the necessary equipment as a matter of normal business. As an example of the costs involved, a large Midwestern university recently spent more than $18 million on switches and routers alone to perform a major upgrade to its network.