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Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice

NCJ 212976

Telephony Implications of Voice over

Internet Protocol

Key Points
■ Voice over Internet Protocol technology allows ■ Traditional techniques for emergency location
voice communications to be transported digi­ services at public safety answering points as
tally through a network using Internet well as methods for telephone intercepts and
Protocol (IP) standards. electronic surveillance (wiretaps) are ineffec­
■ Commercial IP-based telephony services are tive or are not functional with IP-based
quickly proliferating as an alternative to tradi­ telephony.
tional wire-line consumer telephony services.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications Many free, or nearly free, personal computer/
refers to all types of conversational voice informa­ PDA-based VoIP telephony applications are readily
tion including landline voice (telephony) or voice available for download and use via the Internet.
from a land mobile radio system. VoIP-based tele­ Application developers take advantage of abundant
phony is one of the fastest growing telecom tech­ online network capacity to facilitate free Internet-
nology sectors. Two VoIP categories are particularly only voice calls with optional access to the public-
relevant to public safety: VoIP telephony on public switched telephone network for a modest fee.
telephone networks and VoIP technology within Devices with VoIP software can communicate
public safety radio systems. nomadically, functioning at any location where
network access is available.
Many businesses and commercial telephony service PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS
providers are migrating to IP-based infrastructure, Identifying 911 Emergency Calls. Potential public
taking advantage of cost savings and efficiencies safety concerns related to VoIP-based telephony
inherent in an IP transport network. In addition, technology include its inability to provide traditional
nontraditional service providers are emerging to location identification (Enhanced 911, or E911)
compete with incumbent providers by selling serv­ services for 911 emergency calls placed to a public
ice that uses the Internet, cable television network safety answering point (PSAP). IP-based telephony
infrastructure, or other nonincumbent IP infrastruc­ equipment is not tied to a specific location like wire-
ture to provide access to core transport network line based plain old telephony service (POTS). An
facilities. In fact, many IP telephony services never IP-based telephone can be transported from location
touch the traditional telephone network. to location, and therefore traditional caller location

Office of Justice Programs ■ Partnerships for Safer Communities ■

services are not available to the emergency call CONCLUSION
taker, creating PSAP procedural issues.
Public safety officials and emergency call takers
Meeting FCC Requirements. Recent rulings by the must be aware of these issues, and until pending
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)1 man­ regulations are fully implemented and the associat­
date that commercial VoIP service providers must ed technology is available, officials must address
provide E911 services correct PSAP, but the develop­ them through education and the use of best prac­
ment, implementation, and processes associated tices. The National Emergency Number Association2
with these technologies are very immature. In­ and the Association of Public-Safety Commun­
correctly configured consumer IP devices, or ications Officials3 are spearheading an effort to iden­
devices that are moved after a location has been tify and address regulatory issues associated with
pinpointed, can provide false location information VoIP telephony technology and emergency location
to an emergency call taker. A portable IP-based services with the FCC. In addition, the Federal
telephony device operating through one or more Bureau of Investigation, through its CALEA4
public wireless WiFi access points will not even Implementation Unit, has established a law enforce­
provide the limited details that are conveyed via ment executive forum to address intercept and sur­
a typical cellular telephone device. veillance issues associated with VoIP telephony.
Conducting Surveillance. The FCC ruling also
requires that a notice be attached to commercial FOR MORE INFORMATION
VoIP devices that do not connect to a 911 operator. ■ NIJ CommTech Web site:
An area of lesser concern is taxation and E911
assessment fees. As service users drop traditional
■ Regional National Law Enforcement and
services and migrate to unregulated VoIP networks,
disposition of E911 fees and taxes associated with Corrections Technology Centers:
the traditional telephone service is not well defined, Northeast (Rome, NY) 888–338–0584
and rules differ from State to State. Southeast (Charleston, SC) 800–292–4385
Another public safety concern is that traditional Rocky Mountain (Denver, CO) 800–416–8086
voice intercept and electronic surveillance tech­
Western (El Segundo, CA) 888–548–1618
niques are disrupted. New techniques, tools, and
infrastructure access methods are required to facili­ Northwest (Anchorage, AK) 866–569–2969

tate surveillance of IP-based telephony services. Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center

The nature of IP-based network transport makes 866–787–2553

the paths of IP packets through the network unpre­

dictable and more difficult to intercept. Very often NOTES
IP addresses associated with a specific IP-based
1. FCC Order 05–116 can be found at http://
telephony device will change regularly, making it
difficult or nearly impossible to target a single
device or user. Strong end-to-end encryption
between IP devices can also be implemented at 2. Additional information can be found at
minimal cost, further compounding the surveillance
efforts of law enforcement agencies. 3. Additional information can be found at
4. Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement
Act: Additional information can be found at


This document is not intended to create, does not create, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedur­
al, enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal. Opinions or points of view expressed in this document represent
a consensus of the authors and do not represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. The products and
manufacturers discussed in this document are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or
endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.