Voice over IP's Threat to Privacy

When the Internet becomes our phone network, wiretaps won't be needed

4 min read

17 March 2004--In all the excitement about moving telephony to the Internet, it turns out there's a downside: a loss of one's privacy rights. According to a paper to be published in the Michigan Law Review this summer, the traditional U.S. legal standard for conducting wiretaps does not apply to what is called stored communications. Normally consisting of such things as e-mail, credit card receipts, and telephone records of who was called and when, the category of stored communications might well include voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls, if they are archived in the same way e-mails are.

If VoIP calls are considered stored communications, law enforcement officials would not be held to the stringent burden of evidence required to conduct wiretaps, which is stricter even than the requirements to search a home. In stark contrast, the standard for examining stored communications is much lower.

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How Police Exploited the Capitol Riot’s Digital Records

Forensic technology is powerful, but is it worth the privacy trade-offs?

11 min read
 Illustration of the silhouette of a person with upraised arm holding a cellphone in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Superimposed on the head is a green matrix, which represents data points used for facial recognition
Gabriel Zimmer

The group of well-dressed young men who gathered on the outskirts of Baltimore on the night of 5 January 2021 hardly looked like extremists. But the next day, prosecutors allege, they would all breach the United States Capitol during the deadly insurrection. Several would loot and destroy media equipment, and one would assault a policeman.

No strangers to protest, the men, members of the America First movement, diligently donned masks to obscure their faces. None boasted of their exploits on social media, and none of their friends or family would come forward to denounce them. But on 5 January, they made one piping hot, family-size mistake: They shared a pizza.

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