An investigation into the possibility of tapping Internet telephony conversations has been launched by the European Union's Judicial Cooperation Unit, also known as Eurojust.
Italy is leading the Europe-wide feasibility study, announced on Friday. The Italian government has cited concerns that organized criminals and arms and drug traffickers are using VoIP services such as Skype to avoid traditional, more easily tapped phone networks.
"The possibility of intercepting Internet telephony will be an essential tool in the fight against international organized crime within Europe and beyond," said Carmen Manfredda, Eurojust's acting national member for Italy, in a statement. "Our aim is not to stop users from taking advantage of Internet telephony, but to prevent criminals from using Skype and other systems to plan and organize their unlawful actions. Eurojust will make all possible efforts to coordinate and assist in the cooperation between Member States."
Manfredda and Eurojust's Italian desk are coordinating the VoIP-tapping investigations, at the request of Italy's national anti-Mafia directorate. According to Eurojust's statement, the investigation will try to "overcome the technical and judicial obstacles to the interception of Internet telephony systems, taking into account the various data protection rules and civil rights."
Skype told ZDNet UK on Friday that it has given an extensive explanation of its law enforcement program and capabilities to Eurojust. It rejected press reports that it had refused cooperate with the authorities, and said that it works with law enforcement agencies where legally and technically possible.
"Skype remains interested in working with Eurojust despite the fact that they chose not to contact us before issuing this inaccurate report," a spokesperson for the eBay-owned Internet telephony company said.
David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.