A Department of Justice official Wednesday slammed a Senate bill on Internet-telephone regulation, claiming that the measure could create a loophole in federal surveillance law that criminals and terrorists could exploit to inflict harm on the country.
Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, deputy assistant attorney general Laura Parsky said the bill (S. 2281), sponsored by Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), could threaten law enforcement's electronic-wiretapping authority under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
“The Department of Justice is concerned that the bill can be read to significantly undermine CALEA and the department’s ability to investigate serious crimes and protect the safety of the American people,” Parsky said.
Sununu’s bill is designed to shield cable companies and other providers of voice-over-Internet-protocol service from state regulation and taxation.
Parsky said that if VoIP service ends up classified as an information service under federal law, the DOJ would not have authority under CALEA to require VoIP providers to assist in tracking criminal activity.
“We’re concerned that the CALEA provisions in [the bill] could create a dangerous haven for criminal activity,” she added.
A few senators questioned Parsky’s conclusions and doubted that the DOJ would lack the tools to fight crime. Other lawmakers questioned the bill’s scope, fearing that states would lose a traditional source of telecommunications-tax revenue.
“I don’t support this bill as drafted,” Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said.
Cablevision Systems Corp. CEO Tom Rutledge, testifying after Parsky, praised the legislation. He said one set of rules that apply nationwide was critical to his cable company’s rollout and advancement of VoIP as a viable alternative to the Baby Bells.
“We are at the beginning of a realignment of mass-market communications. Internet-based voice applications promise to give consumers real communications choices,” Rutledge said, noting that his company was adding 3,000 VoIP subscribers per week.
Rutledge also embraced the notion that VoIP providers should help law enforcement. “Law enforcement must have access to VoIP applications to support the nation’s security interests,” he said.