Telecoms forced to pay for government's eavesdropping

  • 2000-09-07
TALLINN (BNS) - The Estonian Interior Ministry is preparing a regulation that may oblige communication firms to acquire a device that would allow special services, for example, the security police, to eavesdrop on their clients.

Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus told the business daily Aripaev he ordered the internal security department to draft, in cooperation with the security police, two regulations, whereby telephone and Internet companies will have to buy equipment that will allow investigators to listen to all phone conversations and intercept Internet communication.

"The need for such a regulation arises from the telecommunications law," the minister said.

Security police spokesman Hannes Kont is of the opinion that the cost of additional equipment should be borne by businesses.

Kont affirmed that the new regulation will not liberate eavesdropping. A judge's warrant is required to listen to private calls, and a telecommunication firm has the right not to allow special services to eavesdrop on its clients without one.

The regulation in preparation in the Interior Ministry caught telecommunication operators by surprise. Ivar Lukk, chairman of the board of the Internet services provider Levicom Broadband, said it's strange to force private businesses to make national defense-related outlays.

"That's a truly innovative approach," he said. "As a next step, some cannons, a tank and boots could be bought the same way."

Tarvi Martens, manager of the data security company Privador, said the Interior Ministry's plan in its present phase is ill-considered and will generate additional security risks.

Martens said the risk lies in that, when the equipment is in the hands of operators, persons who are not supposed to have access to it may experience a desire for its unauthorized use.

In addition, a wide selection of encrypting hardware and software is available in Estonia that makes eavesdropping practically useless. If encryption is used, an eavesdropper will learn nothing of the content of exchanged information, Martens said.

"Such a threat of eavesdropping can only boost the sales of encrypting equipment," said Privador marketing manager Tonis Reimo.

For example, with the virtual private net system offered by Privador even the administrator of the system cannot access data in an external channel, as the apparatus changes the encrypting keys automatically and constantly.