Wiretap plan challenged

November 4, 2005

The US Government has ordered the country's universities to give law enforcement agencies easy access to their e-mail networks and other electronic communications.

Universities have promptly sued to stop the measure - not on the grounds of invasion of privacy or civil rights but over the cost of altering their networks, which is estimated at $7 billion (£3.9 billion).

"Colleges and universities have a long history of working with law-enforcement agencies pursuing criminal investigations and we are proud of our working relationship," said Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice-president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, which filed the suit.

"We hope to convince the Federal Communications Commission that colleges and universities can provide the same access through alternative approaches without the need to incur the $7 billion expense of revamping our computer network systems," he added.

In addition to telephone companies, the Government wants universities, libraries and commercial internet service providers to redesign their networks by June 2007 to give law enforcement agencies remote access to their systems. This will include increasingly popular internet voice communications.

The FCC said it was considering whether to exempt educational institutions from some of the law's provisions, but it had not granted an extension for compliance.

Under legislation dating back to 1994, police and other agencies can already monitor telephone calls and e-mail with a subpoena from a judge. Mr Steinbach said universities had always complied with these requests, and could continue to do so in less expensive ways than the Government was demanding.

"When you evaluate efficiency versus the incredible cost of compliance, we just don't think it makes a lot of sense," he said.

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