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DOJ, FBI Raising VoIP Concerns

The Department of Justice and the FBI are opposed to classifying Internet-delivered phone calls as an information service, claiming that such an action would frustrate their ability to track and capture criminals and protect national security.

The DOJ and the FBI expressed their views Monday with the Federal Communications Commission, which has been asked by Vonage Holdings Corp. to classify its voice-over-Internet-protocol service as an interstate information service not subject to heavy common-carrier regulation that applies, for example, to Verizon Communications and BellSouth Corp.

Removing VoIP from the regime governing traditional phone carriers could mean that the DOJ and FBI would not have authority under the Communications Assistance and Law Enforcement Act to monitor VoIP communications electronically.

"Such a finding would clearly undercut CALEA's purpose and jeopardize the ability of federal, state and local governments to protect public safety and national security against domestic and foreign threats," the DOJ and the FBI said in their FCC comments.

The two agencies’ opinion on CALEA's scope was not endorsed by Verizon. The Baby Bell told the FCC CALEA's surveillance mandate is broad enough to include VoIP.

Vonage offers voice communications to subscribers of cable-modem and digital-subscriber-line service.

The Edison, N.J.-based company turned to the FCC for relief after state regulators in Minnesota tried to regulate it as a traditional phone carrier.

A federal judge in Minnesota issued a permanent injunction against Minnesota regulators after finding that Vonage's service met the federal definition of information service and that a deregulated Internet was consistent with congressional policy in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.