Friday, August 26, 2005

WireTapping and VoIP

Ok, for the Neanderthals out there VoIP is Voice over IP, which is the new technology for sending phone calls over the internet instead of through the MaBells. The article is discussing the wire tap regulations being pushed onto VoIP vendors and shows that the people writing the laws may not have a clue about the technology.
The DOJ'’s point person for CALEA, Laura Parsky, has implied that wire-tapping VOIP is crucial to national security. Parsky said as much in a Congressional hearing that explored the idea that VOIP providers must be connected to the PSTN in order to be subject to CALEA:
Limiting law enforcement's ability to obtain assistance from a provider to only a particular type of wires (the PSTN), never mind one that is quickly being overtaken by new innovations, can significantly diminish law enforcement's ability to protect public safety and national security.

Parsky declined comment on this story, but spokesman Bryan Sierra says the DOJ has 'unfinished business' with the FCC on CALEA (see VOIP Fans Raise Regulatory Issues).

"I believe that the FBI and DOJ want to extend CALEA as far as possible,"” says Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The DOJ's intentions are ambitious, but not surprising. By making "interconnection with the PSTN" the qualifier for being subject to wiretapping rules, the Commission seems to have drawn a somewhat arbitrary line in the sand. If anything, tech-savvy bad guys would probably avoid such public modes of communication.

You can understand why they want wire tap ability, but they have some problems in that VoIP doens't require a vendor or provider, and that some forms of VoIP, the provider doesn't participate in the transfer of the call. No wires are involved and the provider just tells the caller and callee how/where to go to make the call.
Skype argues to the FCC that it facilitates peer-to-peer communications, but does not employ switches and other network equipment to actually transport call traffic. Skype says it merely facilitates VOIP calls, but does not have access to them.

The company also says it would have to re-architect its entire model in order to comply with CALEA, but declined comment on the costs of such an undertaking (see Nuvio Appeals FCC Order).

Complete CALEA compliance might do to Skype what viruses and copyright lawsuits did to KaZaa. If Skype refuses to bring its systems into compliance, calls to or from the US -- and the revenues they bring to Skype -- could cease (see Acme Packet Supports CALEA).

Skype is a VoIP software provider, obviously. And they want to make VoIP free. In fact, at this time their software is free and you can make point to point internet calls for free to anyone that has the software installed. (I'm thinking of trying it myself, just I need someone to install it so I can have someone to call.)

Of course, It makes you wonder how CALEA will keep up with technology. I know of new technology for VoIP that will be using encryption for the internet link and it will be stronger than what the government can crack. In fact the encryption uses the new AES encryption standard that is accepted by the US government for secure traffic.

It is a security quandry. Though I doubt that destroying the Skype technology model will be helpful. Not that there isn't ways around wire tapping already. I have a bad feeling that the DoJ is going to get heavy handed in this one.

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