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Will VoIP be wiretap-ready?
On Thursday, AT&T announced plans to deliver consumer Internet telephony services to the top 100 markets in the first quarter of 2004. Earlier in the week, Time Warner Cable announced a strategic partnership with Sprint and MCI to offer residential VoIP service around the country. And on Monday, Qwest Communications International began rolling out VoIP services to customers in Minnesota. In a statement, Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert declared, "The future of voice communications will be based on the Internet."
The announcements came on the heels of a day-long public forum held December 1st at the FCC to address the most contentious issue surrounding VoIP: whether or not it should be subject to the same government regulations as traditional wireline telephone services. Two days after that public forum, according to FCC filings, FBI officials had a more private meeting with half-a-dozen FCC staffers to reiterated the Bureau's view on the matter: VoIP should be regulated-- at least enough to ensure that the FBI can listen-in.
At issue is the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), the federal law that required telephone companies to modify their networks to be wiretap-friendly for the FBI.
CALEA created a vast electronic surveillance infrastructure that gives the government quick-and-easy access to telephone conversations, with prior court authorization. But in the absence of any clear ruling that the law applies to Internet access providers, the FBI's been forced to use special tools and equipment, like its "Carnivore" DCS-1000 packet sniffer, to perform Internet surveillance.
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