Carriers prep for packet tapping

Telecommunications carriers are getting ready for legal wiretaps of wireless and packet-based communications.

In June, a deadline for such high-tech wiretapping took effect as mandated by the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. CALEA originally set a June 2000 deadline, but carriers later received two-year extensions.

The Federal Communications Commission keeps the exact status of industry compliance confidential because law enforcement agencies do not want it generally known which carriers can insert high-tech wiretaps. 'It's very sensitive information,' said John Spencer of FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

The FBI persuaded five equipment manufacturers, which make about 90 percent of the wired and wireless telecom switches in use, to furnish carriers with software upgrades at reduced rates. Congress appropriated $500 million to reimburse carriers for the cost of compliance.

Many companies, including Jasomi Networks Inc. of San Jose, Calif., are bringing out products for IP packet-tapping. Full product availability 'realistically is another 18 months out,' Jasomi chief executive Dan Freedman said.

Hard to tap

Law enforcement agencies have been able to intercept analog voice calls for many years. But wireless and IP calls, in which each packet can take a different route between speakers, are far more difficult to tap.

Jasomi's product, PeerPoint, handles network address translation for voice over IP and can pass calls through firewalls. The same technology can act as an interception point at the edge of a carrier's network. Jasomi wants to collaborate with other companies to develop a legal intercept box, Freedman said.

Xcipio from SS8 Networks Inc. of San Jose is a wiretap platform for packet-switched as well as public-switched networks. Xcipio accesses circuit-switched connections, soft-switch connections on packet-switched networks, call data, Internet access data and records about intercepted data.

CALEA left it to industry to set standards for legal interception technology but said FCC could add requirements if necessary.

The commission in 1999 specified new requirements for packet data, including a list of items requested by the FBI, such as tapping information from conference calls, flash-hook functions and other features.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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