Report challenges VoIP wiretapping rules

Information Technology Assoc. report says that wiretapping VoIP calls would be very difficult, "enormously expensive."

Vint Cerf and eight other contributors from academia, industry, and even a former NSA official say federal regulations requiring police access to VoIP-based phone calls are unworkable and would impose "enormous costs," News.com reports.

The study, organized by the Information Technology Association of America, says that because VoIP relies on a fundamentally different network architecture from that of traditional phone lines, such a mandate would pose "enormous costs" to the industry and could even introduce significant security risks.

The nature of VoIP could also elevate the risk that authorities aren't eavesdropping on the person they originally had in mind, the ITAA report's authors argue. Because it's theoretically simple for an individual to acquire multiple VoIP phone numbers, "recognizing and tracking the multiple identities that are so natural to the Internet lifestyle would be taxing."

In addition, the study says, allowing full access by law enforcement would almost certainly require overhauling inherently decentralized networks to allow for certain points where interception would take place--and open up new security risks in the process. That's because such an arrangement would arguably make it easier for hackers to capture identity information and passwords, engage in "man-in-the-middle alteration of data," or potentially spoof the communications going on.

Police organizations, naturally, support the regulations. "If that (the ITAA concerns) was going to increase the propensity for crime, that's something that law enforcement would take a look at," Tim Richardson of the Fraternal Order of Police said. "But the adaptability of technology is so great in this day and age that I have a high degree of faith in the initiative that (companies would employ to find something) that's not as costly and doesn't compromise the security of their networks."

The report concludes that the task of intercepting VoIP calls is just intrinsically difficult.

"The paradigm of VoIP intercept difficulty is a call between two road warriors who constantly change locations and who, for example, may call from a cafe in Boston to a hotel room in Paris and an hour later from an office in Cambridge to a gift shop at the Louvre," the report says, and adds that building in mandatory wiretapping hubs for real-time interception is so expensive that it could put smaller companies out of business.

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