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A European Union agency is investigating how to snoop on crooks using Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol services to avoid traditional police wiretaps.

Eurojust, the EU agency dealing with judicial co-operation, is to coordinate the investigation into Voip services, such as Skype, after requests from the Direzione Nazionale Antimafia in Rome.

The purpose of Eurojust’s coordination role is to overcome the technical and judicial obstacles to the interception of internet telephony systems, taking into account the various data protection rules and civil rights.

Peer-to-peer based VoIP technologies such as Skype pose a technical challenge for surveillance because it's impossible to simply tap communications in a telephone exchange. In addition, Skype use a proprietary encryption scheme, which potentially further complicates matters. Eurojust's statement is here.

As previously reported, police in Italy and elsewhere in Europe are worried that crooks are using Skype to avoid possible mobile phone surveillance. Police in Milan reckon organised crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are using Skype and other Voip services to sidestep possible wiretaps. Milan police highlighted the example of a suspected cocaine trafficker advising an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to obtain details of a 2kg drug consignment.

Following a meeting with the authorities in Milan, Eurojust Italian rep. Carmen Manfredda said: "The possibility of intercepting internet telephony will be an essential tool in the fight against international organised crime within Europe and beyond. Our aim is not to stop users from taking advantage of internet telephony, but to prevent criminals from using Skype and other systems to plan and organise their unlawful actions."

"Eurojust will make all possible efforts to coordinate and assist in the cooperation between Member States," she added. ®

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