We may not be able to stop every unjust act, but we sure as hell don’t have to sign off on them.
“At the end of the day, it seemed politically impossible to stop CALEA,” Tien said. “The best that the defenders of the Internet were able to do was take advantage of public pronouncements by the FBI. They ended up making a deal that would subject the public-switch telephone network to CALEA requirements—tapability, limitations on crypto—but the idea was to leave the Internet alone.”
Having won substantial carve-outs designed to shield the emerging Internet from government surveillance, the EFF agreed to publicly support CALEA. That decision “led to a giant schism inside of EFF,” said Tien, who was not there at the time but heard about it from colleagues. “It led to EFF being abandoned and criticized by many of its former supporters for having sold out by supporting the FBI on CALEA, which many people thought was really an abomination.”
Within a year, EFF broke apart. One of its factions became the Center for Democracy & Technology. The remaining EFF employees relocated to California, where, Tien said, “we sat for a while until we got active again.”
The time to get active again came less than a decade later, when, after all of that pain and compromise, the CALEA fight erupted anew. The George W. Bush administration went to the Federal Communications Commission, which interprets CALEA, and asked it to apply the law to Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T. The FCC obliged. In an Aug. 5, 2005 order, then-Chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush appointee, wrote, “We conclude that the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) applies to facilities-based broadband Internet access providers and providers of interconnected voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service.”
CALEA’s opponents were stunned.
Peggy Carter said it best:
Compromise where you can, but where you can’t, don’t, even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say no, you move.