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FBI Tries To Dispute "Myths" Of CALEA

Have you ever seen an FBI special agent as a panelist at a telecom trade show? You could have Monday afternoon at the VON conference in Santa Clara, Calif., where

It wasn't the most compelling of trade-show panels, but it is a subject we're going to hear a lot more about in the coming years: CALEA (the Communications Assistance Law Enforcement Agencies Act), and how it relates to Voice over IP.

Coming at the end of a long, legally winded day at the VON show's Telecom Policy Summit, the CALEA panel draw was FBI special agent Rich Thompson, who tried to dispel what he called the "myths" surrounding the agency's recent "joint petition for expedited rulemaking," which asks the FCC to make VoIP a medium subject to wiretapping, among other things.

What was more interesting than Thompson's predictable reasons for supporting extensions of CALEA ("we live in a perilous time, and there are a lot of people out there ready to do us harm") was his very presence -- when was the last time you saw the FBI at a trade show, talking telecom policy? Too bad Thompson's foils on the panel -- Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and John Morris, staff counsel with the Center for Democracy & Technology -- couldn't generate much invective against an easy target.

While Morris softpedaled his point ("We believe the needs of law enforcement can and must be addressed by the Internet and VoIP Industry"), Tien did provide one good caution: "Don't underestimate the technical ability of the DOJ and the FBI," he warned, before reminding everyone about how the FBI tried to tap into the OnStar car service.

To me, the predictable opinions on the topic were just another reason why we need a National Policy on communications, along the lines of the effort that got the interstate highway system built. No politician who claims to be on the side of creating jobs should be able to campaign without a coherent, technically and societally sound telecom policy. Unfortunately, as the panel showed, the topics just don't play well in a sound-bite news world -- which is why you won't see details deeper than "everyone should have broadband" during this presedential campaign.

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