The Right and the Ability to Spy

One of the more topical issues discussed by various media sources both on the internet and in print is that of privacy. We don’t live in glass houses because for one, actual glass isn’t safe. Of course, the other big reason is that it would completely strip us of our privacy. Some things we do behind closed doors most feel are not meant to be shared with the rest of the world.

We want privacy not necessarily because we are doing wrong, but because of comfort. This is why the NSA data collection effort has shaken so many people. It took some time but the government did admit to collecting certain information from telephone and data services then promised a better solution. Though still a work in progress, an effort is underway to implement a compromise that should make everyone happy.

Instilling supreme happiness among the masses is a very unlikely scenario. It has to start with education with honest facts about data collection. Many are scared simply because of a lack of understanding. Further, obscure definitions for legal/lawful interception as well as data services are complicating matters. Understanding existing and emerging technologies will be critical for current and future lawmakers for the sake of both the integrity of the institution and mostly, the people who are governed by such laws.

The laws that be

Even though most VoIP transmissions are encrypted, agencies that govern communications are seeking to collect some sort of data from such services. The push to classify all VoIP communications as Telco is an effort that is creating an air of controversy. The argument is made that although the technology differs for internet communications the exact same task is accomplished when compared to a call made over a telephone line.

The counter argument to the FCC monitoring and NSA collection of data is phone calls should not be tapped nor should they be recorded in the first place. A loosely defined narrative has been recycled for various surveillance efforts starting with 1927 Radio Act that warrants the use of surveillance for people suspected of crimes and to monitor possible or existing terrorists.

Now, this federal issue is trickling down to state level legislation. Lobbyists in Iowa and Vermont are pushing for additional deregulation on VoIP services. If you were not already aware, you should know that these are the only two states that have any sort of authority over such communications. These lobbyists are there on behalf of major providers like AT&T who is spearheading the charge with many other telecom companies following in support of the cause.

The nature of deregulation

To say that something will be deregulated may lead to confusion as it seems to imply that it is completely decommissioned from any sort of governance. The main effort is to try to have the services regulated the same as wireless. This would simplify the process and hopefully remove the possibility of the government abusing the potential high amount of data that could be collected from a VoIP service if some law were to take effect that would allow full use of data transmitted during such communication. However, those standing in opposition speculate companies could potentially misuse the loose reigns granted by less regulation. It will truly depend on exactly what terms would be set when removing or altering regulation in these states.

Because they can spy

So how is it possible that the government is able to spy in the first place? In some cases, it is because a technology is deployed known as packet capture device. We have been covering one of the more prominent players in this particular market in particular, the company Voip-Pal. They developed a patent that has been processed and inducted as a legitimate trademark in the telecom industry.

Essentially, having this patent means that the company Voip-Pal and the subsidiary Digifinoica LTD, which filed on behalf of the formerly mentioned company, is the authority on the subject of intercepting information service data. As VoIP is still classified as an information service, this company will have a form of command over companies that are using some technology defined within this patent to collect data from users transmitting data (e.g. a phone call) over the internet.

This doesn’t necessarily grant the right to a business to spy. As we know telecoms are already engaging in such behavior, this patent could potentially be prohibitive to existing efforts. Yet, Voip-Pal has yet to identify a clear political direction for this endeavor. It could be that the company is truly seeking to take the side of the consumer where the majority wishes for complete transparency. The company has yet to convey a true political affiliation so it is important at this point in time to consider all possibilities.

But will they spy?

With such a patent, this could change how existing efforts will transform in the future. The company could enforce the rights granted to them with this patent and request telecoms cease use of this technology, pay some kind of fee or possibly purchase a proprietary device in place of an existing device. It’s uncertain as to what action will be taken right now.

This patent could become a political bargaining chip for future actions. Most likely, at this point in time the patent will be used to claim a certain fee from providers or agencies using such a device. As Voip-Pal is now the patentee, they have the right to exclude future provisioning without permission should another company attempt to sell a lawful interception device. It will be interesting to see how these devices will evolve now that Voip-Pal controls the rights to LI technology.

About the author  ⁄ Tony

Tony is one of our senior contributors at He has a vast knowledge of VoIP and produces thought provoking content that our readers enjoy.

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