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Swiss government may tap VoIP calls

Out Law.com | October 11 2006

The Swiss government is planning to put wiretaps on internet phone conversations, according to Swiss newspaper reports. The software will be supplied by a Swiss company, said reports.

Wiretapping landlines and mobile telephones is an established part of crime prevention, but VoIP (voice over internet protocol) calls are a new phenomenon and harder to bug.

Because servers and connections often sit in foreign countries, commonly the US, a country's law enforcement agency can not exercise the same power of discovery that they can over a phone provider's records. Calls can also be harder to trace when they are free, since there is no billing record.

Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung reports that the Swiss Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications is examining the use of software to listen to VOIP conversations.

The software being assessed comes from Swiss company Era IT Solutions, said the report. The software is placed on to a user's computer by that person's internet service provider, but only on the orders of a judge, according to current plans.

The software records ongoing conversations and sends the recordings in broken up data packets back to a server controlled by the authorities. Its manufacturer claims that if the computer is switched off before all the packets have been sent, it will begin sending the rest when the computer is switched back on.

The software is also capable of monitoring what is going on in the room in which a computer is located. It can switch on a computer's microphone so that the room itself can be eavesdropped on, according to the report.

The Swiss Surveillance Act does not allow for Trojan horse-type surveillance, said the SunntagsZeitung, but federal criminal regulations do allow software-based wiretaps as long as they are controlled in the same manner as other surveillance equipment, it said.

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