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Governments might now be able to monitor Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) conversations by ‘silently recording’ them in real time on services such as Skype. Faced with the seemingly mammoth task of trying to monitor conversations over the web, governments seem to have found an ally in this new spying technology.
Dennis Chang, a California-based businessman has obtained a patent for a ‘revolutionary’ solution; something that he says is a “next-generation surveillance technology designed to covertly intercept online chats and video calls in real time.”
Chang, the president of the Sun Valley based VoIP-PAL, a service similar to Skype’s has won a series of patents for a system he claims will help authorities identify and monitor suspects merely by accessing their username and subscriber data.
Since VoIP software converts analogue audio signals into digital data packets to let people make phone calls over the Internet, it turns into a very expensive, complex affair for law enforcement agencies to tap.
“VoIP services work by digitising callers' analogue voice signals and transmitting them as packets of digital data to send over the internet directly to recipients. Because of the fragmentary nature of the data sent, and the vast amounts of information sent alongside it, it is difficult for any eavesdropper to single out a consistent stream to listen in to,” says the Daily Mail in its report.
With 4G connections making it easier for people across the world to conduct discussions over VoIP services, Governments are worried about how it will affect their surveillance methodology over the Internet.
The problems of tracking related to VoIP have led certain countries such as Ethiopia and Oman to block the services on security grounds. The FBI back in the United States too has referred to this as the ‘Going Dark’ problem and are pushing for new powers to force Internet chat providers to build in secret backdoors to wiretap suspected criminals’ online communications.
The patent will help in tracking suspects down using billing records that associate names and addresses with usernames. This capability would make not only audio conversations but ''any other data streams such as pure data and/or video or multimedia data'' open for interception.
This system could be circumvented if users are paranoid enough to use false subscriber data and services to mask their IP addresses. Nevertheless, this patent could be a watershed moment in the quest of the governments of the world to monitor suspects in the name of law enforcement.
In India too, the government had made its fears apparent about their inability to monitor conversations on BlackBerry Messenger, starting off a chain of events and stand offs with RIM. After going back and forth several times for around four years, RIM finally agreed to hand over encryption keys for its secure corporate emails and popular messenger services. The company also recently demonstrated a solution through which messages and mails exchanged between Blackberry handsets can be intercepted before making them available to Indian security agencies. The government hopes to halt the misuse of the encrypted services in the country.