ACLU Joins Fight Against Internet Surveillance

The American Civil Liberties Union files a petition challenging the FCC ruling that allowed the FBI to expand its wiretapping authority to online communications.

The American Civil Liberties Union today joined an expanding group of organizations filing lawsuits against a new rule that increases the FBIs power to conduct surveillance on the Internet.

The rule being challenged is one the Federal Communications Commission adopted in September, granting an FBI request to expand wiretapping authority to online communications.

The commission ruled that the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act applies to voice-over-IP providers whose services can connect with the public switched telephone network.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about the decision to extend the FBIs wiretapping purview to VOIP.

The ACLU charged in a petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the ruling goes beyond the authority of CALEA, which specifically exempted information services.

"The ACLU seeks review of the CALEA order on the grounds that it exceeds the FCCs statutory authority and is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, unsupported by substantial evidence, or otherwise contrary to law," the organization charged in its petition.

Bolstering the challengers position, the FCC decided last year that Internet communications like those offered by fall under the regulatory classification of "information services" and therefore are not subject to traditional telephone mandates.

In October, Sun Microsystems Inc., the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center,, Comptel, and the American Libraries Association filed a petition with the same court.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about protests from Sun and other groups challenging the FCCs stance on VOIP surveillance.

The coalition maintains that FCC rules will stifle innovation, require the re-engineering of private IP networks at a huge expense and weaken the security of the Internet.

The diverse organizations also warned that the expanded eavesdropping rules represent only the beginning of what will become a broader effort to regulate the Internet.

Separately, The American Council on Education filed a court challenge arguing that compliance with the rules would require colleges and universities to spend $7 billion in upgrading switches and routers.

Some lawmakers have already joined their voices with the opposition. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., cautioned that the mandates could give the government the authority to dictate software designs, drive innovators offshore and threaten security as well as privacy.

/zimages/3/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on government and politics.