Will VoIP be wiretap-ready?

Monday, 15 December 2003, 1:19 PM EST

If a rapid-fire series of announcements from cable and telecom bigwigs this week confirms that Voice over IP has a future as a mainstream consumer technology, it's worth noting that the electronic surveillance mavens in the FBI and Justice Department saw it coming.

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.

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