Internet groups establish wiretap legal hotline

Callers to the hotline will be referred to independent lawyers experienced in the field of electronic surveillance and law enforcement issues, the organisations said in a joint statement Wednesday. The hotline will be established by the Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX) and Internet Service Providers' Consortium (ISP/C), which have announced plans to combine their operations, and the ISP Business Forum.

While recognising the rights of law enforcement in situations concerning surveillance, the organisations sponsoring the hotline said it is also important that Internet service providers (ISPs) understand their own rights and those of their members.

Together the three organisations bring together hundreds of companies operating in the Internet industry including some of the largest names in telecommunications such as AboveNet Communications, AT&T, British Telecommunications, Cable & Wireless, Fujitsu, Hitachi, PSINet, Qwest Communications International, Sprint., UUNet, Verio and WorldCom.

The hotline will supplement a planned Web site that will provide ISPs with information on the subject and is being formed as federal wiretap and surveillance issues hit the headlines in the light of revelations over the US Federal Bureau of Investigations' (FBI) Carnivore program.

Carnivore, an Internet surveillance tool, has been used in at least 25 criminal investigations by the FBI and has caused outrage among privacy advocates and citizen groups. Documents recently obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act by such groups indicate the program is still active with an enhanced version of the software under development that can intercept telephone calls routed over the Internet (voice over IP calls), according to the groups.

The surveillance issue was also at the heart of a recent investigation into the acquisition of Web backbone operator and hosting provider Verio by Japan's NTT Communications. The FBI called for a probe into the deal because it had concerns over whether information on its surveillance activities at Verio would be fed back through NTT Communications to the Japanese government, which owns a majority stake in NTT.

The hotline number is +1-202-216-1999.

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