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US.gov funds VoIP tracking research

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The US government is to fund research into how to trace IP telephony calls. Researchers at George Mason University will get a $307K grant from the National Science Foundation to develop surveillance tools that can pinpoint the destination of a VoIP call even if it passes through an anonymizing service.

The grant will fund the development of a prototype VoIP-tracing application to provide a "critical but currently missing capability in the fight on crime and terrorism," CNet reports. The research into a possible successor to the FBI's Carnivore system is geared towards identifying the parties involved in a call using services such as Skype rather than eavesdropping on the contents of a conversation. The technique developed by Xinyuan Wang, an assistant professor of software engineering at George Mason University and principal researcher on the project, involves inserting tracer packets in the IP communications of a subject under surveillance and might itself be vulnerable to counter-measures.

News of the grant comes days after US regulators approved wire tapping rules for VoIP service providers that provide an alternative to conventional circuit switched telephony services. These providers must be able to accommodate wiretap requests in the same way as conventional rivals, the Federal Communications Commission ruled (PDF). ®

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