How the FBI eavesdrops on Internet phone calls (and why it sometimes can't)

Discussion in 'privacy general' started by bigc73542, Feb 23, 2004.

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  1. bigc73542

    bigc73542 Retired Moderator

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    How the FBI eavesdrops on Internet phone calls (and why it sometimes can't).
    By David S. Bennahum
    Posted Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004, at 2:49 PM PT

    The Federal Communications Committee and the Justice Department are at loggerheads over a new problem in the war on terror: how to listen in on Internet phone calls. Thanks to the blistering growth of VoIP—Voice over Internet Protocol—services, which have been adopted by approximately 10 million people worldwide so far, law enforcement officials now worry that wiretapping may one day become technically obsolete. If traditional phone lines go the way of the horse and carriage, will the FBI still be able to listen in on Internet phone calls? How would it go about tapping one? Is it even possible?

    I contacted three of the leading VoIP providers in the United States—Time Warner Cable, Vonage, and Skype—to ask them how they would comply with a court order to permit a wiretap. As it turns out, the Justice Department has good reason to worry. Depending on the provider, tapping a VoIP call can be either tricky or impossible.

    For Jeffrey Citron, the CEO of Vonage, the critical problem is this: The 1994 law that dictates how telecoms must cooperate with the feds (it's known as CALEA) stipulates that government agents can listen in on phone calls only in real time. They are not permitted to record calls and play them back later to check for incriminating information. But as Citron explained it, on Vonage's system, it is technically impossible (for now) to listen in on a live phone call
     
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