Will US wiretapping regulations kill peer-to-peer VoIP (like Skype)?

That’s the question Dean Takahashi asks in a column in today’s San Jose Mercury News titled: Wiretapping could stifle VOIP technology. It is not entirely clear to me why Takahashi is writing this today given that there does not seem to be any real “new” news…. but with a headline like that and in the Mercury News, it is bound to get some attention over the next few days. Takahashi points out that US VoIP service providers that connect to the PSTN much comply with the FCC regulation by May 14, 2007 but that pure Internet peer-to-peer/p2p services like Skype are currently exempt. He does provide this teaser:

But it appears from its legal maneuvers that the FBI may also want to find a way to tap peer-to-peer calls, the ones that bypass the telephone system. And the FCC’s analysis of the FBI request suggests it might go along with a move to require wiretapping on any new Internet communications system.

Which leads to the obvious question of how a p2p system would actually do this… which leads to the opinion that some centralization would be required… which leads to the conclusion that this could therefore kill p2p VoIP systems in their true p2p form. The article refers people over to the Center for Democracy and Technology CALEA page where the CDT has copious amounts of info about CALEA (obviously from their point-of-view). Takahashi concludes with:

We have to balance the need to enforce laws with the need to move technology forward and at the same time protect our privacy. If we hobble technology to help law enforcement, we make ourselves vulnerable, not safer.

We faced this kind of issue in the early 1990s, when the debate was about whether to allow encryption technologies strong enough to hide data from the government. The government later decided to allow strong encryption to be used unencumbered, particularly as the technology was allowed overseas. The outcome here may be the same.

Given that VOIPSA is a global organization that encompasses a wide range of companies, people and geographic regions, its not really our place as an organization to wade into the debate of legislation in one particular country. But it is definitely a matter that does merit discussion and attention. There are very legitimate needs by law enforcement. There are also very legitimate privacy concerns – and security concerns. Where do we as nations, companies and individuals strike the balance?

1 thought on “ Will US wiretapping regulations kill peer-to-peer VoIP (like Skype)?

  1. Aswath

    Isn’t this a tautology? If some form of centralization is required, it is required for the media path as well. But then, in order to avoid detection, the media path for all calls need to be routed through intercept points. This means there are no P2P; forget about the Skype variety, even FWD variety.

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