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August 04, 2004

FCC VoIP Mess

For years the government has been able to wiretap your phones. Now they are trying to apply the same old outdated approach to emerging VoIP providers like Vonage. This is simply stupid! Actually overwhelmingly stupid -- see Slashdot.Voice is no longer part of a separate network and the idea that wiretapping can be effectively extended into this environment is ludicrous. Why wait five years, it is time to frame a new "communications and connectivity" system today.

In his statement Chairman Powell differentiates between managed and non-managed P2P networks. This raises interesting questions. When is a network managed? For example when SkypeOut interconnects with the PSTN is that the point of management? It is certainly the point at which that call could be tapped. By contrast unmanaged is PC to PC VoIP calls. On Skype they are are more secure than sending e-mail and the IM is encrypted also. By contrast how does Yahoo or MSN fit into this? With their servers they potentially have a management element. Does that mean they must engineer a backdoor? Then all these applications are software. Next it will be illegal to run software without a backdoor.

Is this move about incumbents trying to saddle outmoded upstarts like AT&T's Callvantage and Vonage with their cost structures? Until the FCC starts to act in the people's interests we will have a terminal case of regulatory cancer. Arguments that we need this for Homeland Security are farsical. Any smart terrorist already has encryption down pat. The solution to terrorism is not wire-tapping it is presence. It is those who no one ever knows where they are that are the problem.

In making the distinction between managed and unmanaged the assumption is that you and I are aren't prepared to manage our systems in such a way that we retain perhaps even increase security and have a modicum of privacy. The answer lies in "The Transparent Society". By enabling systems to capture presence and educating users on when and what to share one adds to their security not subtracts from it. When some "presence" (you know your buddylist on IM or Skype) information is shared beyond just your buddies then you may add to your security. (For example a Neighborhood Watch form may capture that few people are home near your house while not reporting on who is actually away, suggesting keep a better eye out for strangers or even a more personal reminder - please look out for my place.) Checking in on "presence" will enable "exceptions" to be flagged more easily. When a bot manages my presence and negotiates for it from time to time (text from police -- please confirm location) then I may not have to share it all the time. Maybe there will be some training to prove that I am a good guy. The point is the "wiretapping mode" is outdated. There are exception searches that "presence" and "networking data" help to solve. The FCC may not be about "presence" however it should start considering the "role of presence" in its future deliberations.

There is also a bigger play at stake here. When the stupid network is in the hands of the people we can communicate at will. You may say we have had that capability already. But we haven't. By contrast with business, "data" exchanges between individuals are still relatively small scale, a result of our "high" connectivity costs when compared to large organizations. As our "connectivity" costs become fixed rates the economics for peer to peer data exchanges on an astronomical scale are not only likely but will happen. There is no reason why my personal communication exchange can't make a million calls on my behalf today. Each one may just be seconds. My little data bots doing my bidding on my behalf. (Today I need a new car!) I can't afford millions of seconds under the current regime, it's too expensive. However, in a network like Skype's I can. I've wrtten before that an infomation market similar to eBay could emerge from a changed communications environment. It's simple, and it moves the infomation access to the fringe of the network.

It's not a fools dream. The FCC should focus on a network that serves the people and not "interests". Thus what will most rapidily reduce communications costs and accelerate information flows? It needs a paradigm shift. While it is possible that "non-managed" will win as a result of this ruling it certainly makes it look much better for Skype's connectivity model. The costs for traditional VoIP players just went up. For the software application providers they aren't in telecom and aren't telecom companies. They just help people connect and collaborate.

What they say:


The FCC voted to begin an examination of the policies needed to ensure that VOIP providers comply with the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which allows U.S. law enforcement agencies to listen in on telephone conversations. The commission's decision on Wednesday included a tentative finding that communications services offered over broadband pipes, including VOIP, are subject to CALEA requirements to comply with law enforcement wiretap requests.

The tentative rules would also cover managed communications services offered over broadband connections, including managed instant message or video services, said Ed Thomas, chief of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology. Nonmanaged peer-to-peer (P-to-P) services, including consumer-grade instant messaging services and noncommercial VOIP services, would likely not be subject to CALEA regulations under the proposed order, FCC staff said. ITworld.com



By a vote of 5-0, the FCC said "voice over Internet protocol," or VoIP, providers should be subject to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which ensures that law enforcers will be able to keep up with changing communications technologies. Techfocus


Above all, law enforcement access to IP-enabled communications is essential. CALEA requirements can and should apply to VoIP and other IP enabled service providers, even if these services are "information services" for purposes of the Communications Act. Jeff Pulver


Nonmanaged peer-to-peer (P-to-P) services, including consumer-grade instant messaging services and noncommercial VOIP services, would likely not be subject to CALEA regulations under the proposed order, FCC staff said. ITworld.com


The commission shouldn't try to "slice and dice" managed and nonmanaged services, Copps said, and he questioned whether the commission definition of VoIP as a substantial replacement for local phone service, as the tentative order concluded, would hold up in court. Copps urged commission staff to come up with better reasons for requiring VoIP service to comply with CALEA. FCC takes step toward VoIP wiretapping regulations

Posted by Stuart, August 4, 2004 01:58 PM | Trackback Link (http://www.henshall.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/758)
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