FBI targets Net phoning

Wednesday, 30 July 2003, 7:43 PM EST

Representatives of the FBI's Electronic Surveillance Technology Section in Chantilly, Va., have met at least twice in the past three weeks with senior officials of the Federal Communications Commission to lobby for proposed new Internet eavesdropping rules. The FBI-drafted plan seeks to force broadband providers to provide more efficient, standardized surveillance facilities and could substantially change the way that cable modem and DSL (digital subscriber line) companies operate.

The new rules are necessary, because terrorists could otherwise frustrate legitimate wiretaps by placing phone calls over the Internet, warns a summary of a July 10 meeting with the FCC that the FBI prepared. "Broadband networks may ultimately replace narrowband networks," the summary says. "This trend offers increasing opportunities for terrorists, spies and criminals to evade lawful electronic surveillance."

In the last year, Internet telephony (also called voice over Internet Protocol, or VOIP) has grown increasingly popular among consumers and businesses with high-speed connections. Flat-rate plans cost between $20 and $40 a month for unlimited local and long-distance calls. One of the smaller VOIP providers, Vonage, recently said it has about 34,000 customers and expects to have 1 million by late 2004.

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