TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: USA Wants Wiretap on Internet Calls Expanded

USA Wants Wiretap on Internet Calls Expanded

Jeremy Pelofsky (
Tue, 15 Nov 2005 21:19:10 -0600

By Jeremy Pelofsky
U.S. law enforcement authorities want expanded ability to tap any
phone call between an Internet phone and a traditional phone if needed
for an investigation, according to documents filed this week.

The U.S. Justice Department urged communications regulators to require
Internet phone companies to provide the ability to conduct
surveillance on services that offer only outgoing calls or incoming
calls to or from the traditional phone network.

With the growth of high-speed Internet services, several companies
like privately-held Vonage Holdings Corp. and Skype, which eBay
Inc. recently bought, are now offering low-priced Internet telephone
service as an alternative.

There are approximately 3.6 million U.S. customers who have signed up
for two-way Internet phone service, known as Voice Over Internet
Protocol, or VOIP, according to a new survey by TeleGeography

The group projects 4.4 million U.S. subscribers by the end of the year
and close to 20 million by 2010. The Communications Assistance for Law
Enforcement Act (CALEA) passed by Congress in 1994 was aimed at
preserving the ability of authorities to conduct court-ordered
wiretaps as technology advanced.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission in August ruled that
companies like Vonage must offer law enforcement authorities the
ability to conduct surveillance on Internet phone services that can
both make and receive calls to and from the traditional phone network.

However, Skype offers independent one-way services, SkypeOut which
permits outbound calls that can connect to the traditional phone
network, and SkypeIn which receives calls from the phone network and
gives the customer a phone number.


Without referring to Skype, the Justice Department asked that CALEA be
extended to services that "enable customers to place calls to or
receive calls from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)."

The agency filed comments on Monday with the FCC, which is weighing
how to apply the law to new communications services.

Skype argued against applying the surveillance law beyond two-way
Internet phone services, noting that the FCC decision was aimed at
those that replace traditional phone service.

"Many software-based VOIP products are used not to replace traditional
telephony, but as a component of electronic messaging and other
information services, which Congress clearly indicated was not covered
by CALEA," Skype said.

The FCC decision in August also extended the surveillance law to
broadband Internet access, a move that raised concerns by educational
institutions like Cornell University which said the agency overstepped
its bounds.

"If Cornell is not providing services for hire, it should be exempt
from CALEA," the university said in comments to the FCC filed on
Friday. "Congress expressly excluded 'private networks' from CALEA's

The FCC said in its order that private networks would not be subject
to the wiretap requirements but those that are connected with a public
network would have to comply with the law.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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