VeriSign cashes in on CALEA procrastination

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The federal Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which mandates that telecoms providers make their equipment wiretap-friendly, is scheduled to come into force on 30 June, though a number of carriers have yet to achieve compliance due to the expense and complexity involved.

With that in mind, VeriSign is offering a solution called NetDiscovery for last-minute stragglers who've failed to put their houses in order according to DoJ standards. For a subscription fee VeriSign will perform all the collections ordered and forward the payloads to whatever law-enforcement agencies are requesting them.

Depending on the existing equipment and number of switches involved, upgrade costs could range from $70,000 to as high as $500,000 per switch, plus staff costs. We couldn't quite nail VeriSign down on their prices for NetDiscovery, but we can say that it will be comparable to other subscription services the company offers. The company press release describes it as "a fraction of the cost" of upgrading one's equipment.

The industry has resisted the CALEA as a significant financial drain, particularly burdensome for small carriers who would only rarely receive a wiretap request. Of course Congress did appropriate half a billion dollars to make its demands a bit easier to swallow. No doubt the equipment makers lobbied for it while the carriers lobbied against, and lost. But that's all water under the bridge now; the 103rd Congress passed it and we're all stuck with it.

As for the sticky issues of data integrity, data security and potential problems with overcollection, we're still ambivalent. Stuff-ups are inevitable, but there is some advantage in reducing the number of people going about these collections in their own way. We hope that as VeriSign gets further into it they'll iron out the bugs over time. If every carrier were to come up with their own solution, that would only multiply the opportunities for unfortunate surprises. On the other hand, when a single company is entrusted with such large amounts of highly sensitive data, a single stuff-up is obviously going to affect a far greater number of people at once.

Cynics may be depressed; but keep in mind this isn't some industry-led novel means of screwing the public out of their civil liberties like Larry Ellison's odious proposal to create a new, national ID system conveniently running on Oracle software. Communications data collection is already an unpleasant fact of life. The 103rd Congress gave us the CALEA, and the 107th gave us the PATRIOT Act which reduces judicial obstacles and oversight for the Feds; so don't blame VeriSign simply for trying to turn a profit on an existing legal requirement. That's what businesses do, after all. ®

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