Lawful interception (LI) is the legally sanctioned official access to private communications, such as telephone calls or e-mail messages. In general, LI is a security process in which a network operator or service provider gives law enforcement officials access to the communications of private individuals or organizations. Countries around the world are drafting and enacting laws to regulate lawful interception procedures; standardization groups are creating LI technology specifications.
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The IETF recently published an Internet Draft, Cisco Support for Lawful Intercept in IP Networks. The draft document describes LI support mechanisms to be built into networking products. The document stipulates, among other things, that the LI process must not be detectable by the targeted party; that unauthorized personnel must not know about specific interceptions or be able to perform LI processes themselves; that separate agencies targeting a subject must not be able to detect each other; and that service providers must decrypt encrypted information for officials if they have access to the keys.
According to Declan McCullagh (writing in CNET News), it isn't clear whether Cisco's built-in lawful interception capability would help users protect private information rights or help them infringe upon them. McCullagh explains that because LI-enabled products can precisely target individuals, officials can access specific communications rather than examining all the traffic that passes through a particular router. This targeted efficiency means that it will be easier to monitor a greater number of individuals under suspicion, while the information of non-targeted individuals remains private. Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, suggests that standards for public accountability (such as audit logs and public reporting) be built into products along with standards for interception.