US regulations that make it easier for law enforcers to tap Internet phone calls also will make computer systems more vulnerable to hackers, digital privacy and civil liberties groups say.
While the groups don't want the Internet to be a haven for terrorists and criminals, they complain that expanding wiretapping laws to cover Internet calls, or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), will create additional points of attack and security holes that hackers can exploit.
"Once you enable third-party access to Internet-based communication, you create a vulnerability that didn't previously exist" Marc Rotenberg, executive director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said in an interview on Wednesday. "It will put at risk the stability and security of the Internet."
Acting on appeals from the US Department of Justice and other law-enforcement officials, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted last week to require providers of Internet phone calls and broadband services to ensure their equipment can allow police wiretaps.
The decision applies to VoIP providers and to cable and phone companies that provide broadband services. The companies will have 18 months to comply with the FCC's order.
"We recognize that people use different methods for communication, and certainly most of the time the people are using the method that they can avoid detection most,"said FBI spokesman Ed Cogswell.
Besides objections about privacy and security, digital-rights experts worry that expansion of the wiretapping law will stifle innovation. They also argue that the FCC lacks the authority to order companies to make changes to their systems for wiretapping purposes.
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