The Federal Communications Commission is requiring hundreds of universities, online communications companies and cities to upgrade their Internet computer networks in order to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to monitor online communications.
The order requires organizations, such as universities providing Internet access, to comply with the law by the spring of 2007.
The order, issued in August, extends the provisions of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which require telephone carriers to engineer their switching systems, at their own cost, so that federal agencies can easily obtain surveillance access.
The new requirements, according to written comments by the Justice Department filed with the FCC, are necessary to keep the law viable in the face of so many technological advances and to help law enforcement to accomplish its mission in the face of such rapidly changing technology.
Lawyers for the American Council on Education, the nation’s largest association of universities and colleges, are preparing to challenge the order before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Terry Hartle, a senior vice president of the council, told the New York Times.
The universities are not questioning the government’s right to use wiretaps to monitor criminal or terrorism suspects on campus, Hartle told the Times, but they do question the order’s rapid timetable and extraordinary cost for compliance with the order.
Technology experts have estimated that it could cost universities at least $7 billion just to buy the necessary switches and routers, according to the Times. The figure, however, does not include installation or the hiring and training of the staff required to oversee the sophisticated circuitry.
At New York University, the order would require the school to install thousands of devices in over 100 buildings throughout Manhattan, Doug Carlson, the university’s executive director of communications and computing services, told the Times.
FCC officials declined to comment publicly, citing their continuing review of possible exemptions to the order.