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Court says US gov can keep on snooping on VoIP calls

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US courts ruled last week that authorities can continue tapping VoIP calls and that providers must give them access to their networks.

The Court of Appeals of the district of Columbia supported the Federal Communications Commission, which said VoIP companies have the same responsibilities as traditional phone companies.

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or Calea, sets out the obligations of phone companies to provide access to law enforcement officials. They must pay for, and maintain, equipment which makes it easy for officials to listen to conversations.

Court chairman Kevin Martin said: "Enabling law enforcement to ensure our safety and security is of paramount importance. Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the Commission's decision concluding that VoIP and facilities-based broadband internet access providers have CALEA obligations similar to those of telephone companies. I am pleased that the Court agreed with the Commission's finding, which will ensure that law enforcement agencies' ability to conduct lawful court-ordered electronic surveillance will keep pace with new communication technologies."

One judge opposed the decision.

The FCC has set a deadline of 14 May 2007 for all VoIP companies to comply with the decision.

But Senator Patrick Leahy, who was a primary sponsor of Calea, said the decision was flawed and Congress never intended Calea to be extended online.

Leahy said: "Any extension of CALEA – a law written for the telephone system in 1994 – to the internet in 2005 would be inconsistent with congressional intent."

Read his whole statement here. ®

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