As terrorism cells and serious crime rings continue to operate throughout the world, governments must continue to improve and update their tools to protect its citizens. This includes, but is not limited to, the ability to eavesdrop on communications. While this was a simple process when the landline was the only form of live communication, new innovations like VoIP and mobile capabilities have broadened the scope, creating a demand for expanded legislation.
As a recent Computerworld article details, the Home Office in London is taking new steps that has the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) evaluating the potential outcome. The agency recently investigated the impact of a planned bill dubbed the “data-snooping bill,” making note of a few changes necessary to satisfy the public and parliament.
Objections have emerged from large private companies, a parliamentary committee and even privacy experts that the bill as written provides the Home Secretary with too much discretion, while placing harsh and disproportionate requirements on Communication Service Providers (CSPs).
It is important for law enforcement and governments to have access to communications data when trying to fight serious crime. For those responsible for VoIP management, it means granting access to information regarding a user’s activity while traversing the network. This includes the websites visited, emails sent and phone calls completed. Current laws do not account for VoIP services such as Skype (News - Alert) and simply updating the current legislation or expanding investigatory powers are not possible.
At the same time, CSPs have maintained that there must be a legal foundation in order for them to retain data. After all, voluntary activities can easily negate privacy laws when information is mishandled. With the increased complexities associated with VoIP, mobile communications and even the Internet, the Home Office is experiencing a significant capability gap that is increasingly limiting their ability to monitor communications data.
This same capability gap is serving as the foundation for the argument that the bill should include only broad definitions so as to consider new technologies as they emerge. This would also eliminate the need to introduce new legislation every time new communications technologies emerge and experience rapid adoption.
While the concerns leading to this legislation are valid, the broader the terms of the bill, the more limited the rights of the individual and the company. The majority of the information involved in VoIP management throughout the enterprise is proprietary information. Likewise, individuals often share private information via VoIP when this is their preferred method of communication.
Granting expanded access to this information is a concern, regardless of those affected. This is especially true when broad terms are used to leave too much discretion to those with no interest in protecting the information.
This reality continues to present challenges for new legislation in free markets. The government does need a reliable way to monitor communication exchanges when a threat exists, but there are still obstacles to implementing any updates to the law. Aside from the objections expressed by parliament and large corporations, the public in general still needs to gain a better understanding of VoIP management and other associated technologies to truly support the benefits of any new legislation.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli