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Cable taps into wiretap law

Time Warner Cable has asked VeriSign to help it comply with a federal wiretapping law for telecom carriers that will likely be extended to all broadband providers, says a source familiar with Time Warner's plans.

At least one cable operator is starting to comply with a federal law that has long required telecommunications carriers to help police conduct electronic surveillance, according to a source familiar with the company's plans.

Time Warner Cable is the first cable company to begin trying to adhere to the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act, the source said. Cable companies are not yet required to comply with the 1994 wiretap law, but they see the writing on the wall.

Vernon Irvin, executive vice president at security vendor VeriSign, said during a recent interview that his company had signed a deal with a "major cable operator" in the United States to help it follow CALEA. He did not identify the provider, but the source tagged Time Warner as the company. A Time Warner representative did not have an immediate comment.

Irvin, however, did assert that other cable companies are sure to follow. That's because the FBI has made public a far-reaching proposal to require all broadband Internet providers--including cable modem and digital subscriber line (DSL) companies--to restructure their networks to support easy wiretapping by police.

"The cable guys aren?t waiting," Irvin said.

The FBI's proposal would, for the first time, force cable providers that sell broadband to come under the jurisdiction of 1994's CALEA, which further defined the already-existing statutory obligations of telecom carriers to help police conduct electronic surveillance. Telephone companies that use their networks to sell broadband have already been following CALEA rules.

Because the eavesdropping proposal has the support of the Bush administration, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to take it very seriously. Last month, FCC Chairman Michael Powell stressed that "law enforcement access to IP-enabled communications is essential" and that police must have "access to communications infrastructure they need to protect our nation."

Irvin said that details of the VeriSign deal will be announced next week.