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US government warned VoIP taps could threaten internet

Internet experts, academics and engineers have slammed US government moves to force voice over IP services to ensure that calls can be tapped by police.

Internet experts, academics and engineers have slammed US government moves to force voice over IP services to ensure that calls can be tapped by police.

Measures to facilitate tapping could restrict innovation with the new technology - or be “simply dangerous”, a report by nine experts warns.

The report, whose authors include Google’s Vint Cerf, one of the internet’s founders, says lack of understanding of the difference between VoIP and traditional telephone systems “has led to some difficult — and potentially dangerous — policy decisions”. These include the FBI’s request to apply the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which allows police wiretapping, to VoIP.

Where a VoIP call is made from a fixed location with a fixed internet address connecting directly to a big internet provider’s access router, interceptions would be “relatively easy”, the report says.

But it adds: “If any of these conditions is not met, then the problem of assuring interception is enormously harder,” and would mean either losing the flexibility that internet communications allow or introducing “serious security risks” to VoIP implementations.

“The former would have significant negative effects on US ability to innovate,
while the latter is simply dangerous,” the experts say.

They warn: “There is a danger that intercept design features adopted for the benefit of legitimate law enforcement agencies could be used by others, rendering the entire internet’s application space more vulnerable than it already is. This is very dangerous (and has more than privacy implications).”

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