Yesterday Michael Jennings introduced me to Skype, a sort of instant messaging program that is very good at voice communications. This is part of an ongoing trend which is seeing computer networks challenge the traditional telephone networks for business.
Because rather then pay a large sum of money to make an international phone call, I’m now able to speak with Michael in London from my Australian home, for free, and with a better sound quality then I was able to do before.
So as you can imagine, it is a time of fast change in the telephone business. This has implications wider then the share prices of telephone companies.
To encourage take up of VoIP, legislation has been introduced in the US Senate, by Senator John Sununu. The VoIP Regulatory Freedom Act of 2004 is designed to exempt this technology from most state and federal regulations.
Needless to say there’s been plenty of opposition to this. Much of the opposition comes from self-interested telephone companies, but the US Dept of Justice is not happy either.
The VoIP Regulatory Freedom Act of 2004, sponsored by Senator John Sununu, would exempt VoIP service from a wire-tapping regulation called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, commonly used to listen in on traditional telephone calls, said Laura Parsky, deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s criminal division.
“I am here to underscore how very important it is that this type of telephone service not become a haven for criminals, terrorists and spies,” Parsky told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Wednesday. “If any particular technology is singled out for special exemption from these requirements, that technology will quickly attract criminals and create a hole in law enforcement’s ability to protect the public and national security.”
You can read Laura Parsky’s complete testimony here
What this statement is all about is that the Dept of Justice has got quite accustomed to using the wiretap to track down undesirables and is most unhappy that this legislation might prevent them from doing so in the future.
This is part of a wider trend that I suspect we will see more of, with people taking the opportunity to try out new ways of communicating with each other, and regulatory agencies scrambling to keep up. In the United States, there are US Senators who seem, like Senator Sununu, who consider privacy issues and freedom from regulation important. I fear that when the EU catches up, as it surely will, that those issues will be the least of the concerns of the people who draft the regulations.