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FBI requesting VoIP providers to voluntarily support backdoor access to users’ phone calls

Internet telephone calls in the US are fast becoming a national security threat that must be countered with new police wiretap rules, according to an FBI proposal presented quietly to government regulators this month.

Representatives of the FBI's Electronic Surveillance Technology Section in Chantilly, Virginia, 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 obligate broadband providers to provide more efficient, standardized surveillance facilities and could substantially change the way that cable modem and DSL companies operate in the US.

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

In 2011, Internet telephony has grown increasingly popular among consumers and businesses with high-speed Internet connections. Flat-rate plans cost between $20 and $40 a month for unlimited local and long-distance calls.

Federal plans to broaden wiretapping laws to include internet communications companies have been in the works since VoIP became a more prevalent form of voice communications nearly a decade ago. But no concrete proposal came to light until September of 2011 when the Obama Administration, conservative political groups, Republican lawmakers and law enforcement officials called for a federal law requiring VoIP providers to open encrypted communications to surveillance.

The proposed expansion to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), if enacted by the Federal Communication Commission, would have an immediate effect on the popular Voip provider, Skype, which encrypts the voice data traveling through the peer-to-peer networks the service relies on. Several other services, such as PGP creator Phil Zimmerman’s Zfone and even hardware VoIP hardware manufacturers such as Cisco facilitate phone call encryption and would likely be affected.

According to media reports, the FBI has conducted meetings with U.S. Senators and undisclosed major internet company officials and argued that the shift from traditional telephone systems to the Internet is hampering efforts to track suspected illegal activities and has asked internet companies to voluntarily agree to not oppose laws that would make backdoor access to encrypted services mandatory.