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Feds Fund VoIP Tapping Research

Saturday, January 1, 2005


The National Science Foundation has given researchers at George Mason University a grant of more than $300,000 to develop a technology that would allow limited eavesdropping on voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone calls. Xinyuan Wang, assistant professor of software engineering at the university and principal investigator, has shown that his method can successfully trace VoIP users without their knowledge. As VoIP service has become more common, law enforcement officials have pointed out that they have no way of tapping such phone calls, potentially resulting in a "haven for criminals, terrorists, and spies," according to the Federal Communications Commission. The technology that Wang and his colleagues are working on does not decrypt conversations. It tracks packets as they move from one user to another, allowing authorities to see who is talking to whom, but not to see what they are saying. Wang conceded that "from a privacy advocate's point of view, this is an attack on privacy," but he also noted that "from a police point of view, this is a way to trace things."

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