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The Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is a U.S. wiretapping law passed by Congress in 1994. The law requires telecommunications providers and equipment manufacturers to allow law enforcement agencies to intercept communications with a warrant. The law originally applied only to telephone conversations, but has since been expanded to cover VoIP and internet traffic.
The Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act is a U.S. federal wiretapping law passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. At the time, phone companies were transitioning from the old electromechanical switching equipment to newer digital switching equipment in their central offices. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies in the U.S. were worried that the new digital switching equipment would make it difficult for them to conduct wiretaps.
The law requires equipment manufacturers and telecommunications providers to allow law enforcement agencies to intercept communications on digital switching equipment. Not only do telcos have to cooperate with investigations, equipment manufacturers are required to provide access using hardware and software designs.
As communications networks have evolved to carry more internet traffic, the law has been expanded to cover broadband internet and VoIP providers. Complying with the law is more difficult with internet traffic, as it usually requires deep packet inspection to decipher. Hardware-based taps like the controversial CARNIVORE are used to intercept traffic of suspects.
Even with the access, authorities cannot just spy on everyone's internet traffic or phone calls. Law enforcement agencies still must have warrants in order to conduct wiretaps.