Suspicious phone conversations on Skype could be targeted for tapping as part of a pan-European crackdown on what law authorities believe is a massive technical loophole in current wiretapping laws, allowing criminals to communicate without fear of being overheard by the police.
The European investigation could also help U.S. law enforcement authorities gain access to Internet calls. The National Security Agency (NSA) is understood to believe that suspected terrorists use Skype to circumvent detection.
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While the police can get a court order to tap a suspect's landline and mobile phone, it is currently impossible to get a similar order for Internet calls on both sides of the Atlantic.
Skype insisted that it does cooperate with law enforcement authorities, "where legally and technically possible," the company said in a statement.
"Skype has extensively debriefed Eurojust on our law enforcement program and capabilities," Skype said.
Eurojust, a European Union agency responsible for coordinating judicial investigations across different jurisdictions announced Friday the opening of an investigation involving all 27 countries of the European Union.
"We will bring investigators from all 27 member states together to find a common approach to this problem," said Joannes Thuy, a spokesman for Eurojust based in The Hague in the Netherlands.
The purpose of Eurojust's coordination role is to overcome "the technical and judicial obstacles to the interception of Internet telephony systems", Eurojust said.
The main judicial obstacles are the differing approaches to data protection in the various E.U. member states, Thuy said.
The investigation is being headed by Eurojust's Italian representative, Carmen Manfredda.
Criminals in Italy are increasingly making phone calls over the Internet in order to avoid getting caught through mobile phone intercepts, according to Direzione Nazionale Antimafia, the anti-Mafia office in Rome.
Police officers in Milan say organized crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype and other systems of VoIP telephony in order to frustrate investigators.
While telecommunications companies are obliged to comply with court orders to monitor calls on landlines and mobile phones, "Skype refuses to cooperate with the authorities," Eurojust said.