The Future of VoIP is Not Without its Dark Side
November 30, 2012
By Steve Anderson
, Contributing TMCnet Writer
When many of us consider the future of most technologies, we think of the benefits that such technology brings to both society as a whole and to each of us individually. But there's a potential dark side to most every development in technology, and nowhere do we see that more plainly than in the field of VoIP services.
Several new patents, along with the emergence of new and more capable eavesdropping technology, are making it more likely than ever that the formerly private conversations of users will be intercepted and listened in on by government agencies or even private citizens. Previously, it was both difficult and expensive to intercept a VoIP transmission due to the very nature of the technology itself; intercepting fragmented digital data packets that comprised the audio transmission and then reassembling them into a usable conversation was neither easy nor cheap, which made VoIP monitoring technology difficult to come by and expensive to obtain and use.
It was actually so difficult to monitor a VoIP conversation that in some places like Ethopia, VoIP services are unusable as they've been blocked from access in the entire country. However, this is changing thanks to a series of new initiatives. A company called VoIP-Pal in California, among others, has taken out a new patent that will make the interception of VoIP communications much easier, and VoIP-Pal even points out the similarities between their "Lawful Intercept" patent and the "Legal Intercept" program patent taken out by Microsoft (News - Alert), showing there are several potential competitors in this arena vying for big government contracts.
But it's not just services like Skype and the like that will come under scrutiny with the new systems; reports indicate that audio messages sent via gaming platforms and instant messaging protocols--not to mention telepresence and conferencing systems -- would all fall prey to the new technology.
While there are always those criminal elements that need watching, it's no less unnerving to think about a new technology in terms of, "How long before someone can listen in on this?" Certainly privacy advocates have their place, as does the need of law enforcement, and striking a reasonable balance between the two forces is the goal of any society.
Naturally, there will be plenty of time before this is even an issue--generally a patent alone takes some time to get a product ready, and that's assuming VoIP-Pal doesn't find itself facing down Microsoft's no doubt substantial horde of lawyers--and that time will be filled with plenty of people espousing just what the "right" response to this particular issue is. Hopefully reason will prevail, and solutions acceptable to all concerned will be found and put into practice, striking that careful balance between keeping people safe and keeping their privacy just as safe.
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Edited by Rachel Ramsey