Quietly last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released
a 59-page document outlining new rules forcing broadband internet and voice-over-IP
(VoIP) phone service providers to open up their systems to federal, state and
local law enforcement officials.
In releasing the rules, the FCC opened up a 30-day public comment period. The
regulations, which are planned for implementation in 2007, were decided upon
in the beginning of August and made public Friday without a news release or
Opponents of the proposed rules argue that the "backdoor" requirements
pose the opportunity for privacy rights violations and will be prohibitively
expensive for companies and the consumers they will ultimately pass the cost
along to. In addition, Internet phone companies allege that the FCC rules are
designed to prop up faltering traditional telephone companies, which are losing
ground in competition with the relatively versatile and inexpensive VoIP services.
In a statement yesterday, Electronic Freedom Foundation attorney Kurt
Opsahl said that "a tech mandate requiring backdoors in the Internet endangers
the privacy of innocent people, stifles innovation and risks the Internet as
a forum for free and open expression."
Opsahl's organization is a nonprofit electronic privacy advocate that has grown
vocal in opposition to increasing government regulation of electronic communications
in recent years. The Electronic Freedom Foundation is considering a court challenge
to the FCC's proposed rules, the statement noted.
In a related resolution made public Friday, the FCC agreed to incorporate four
new principles into its mission, including a deferential guideline stating that
"consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice,
subject to the needs of law enforcement." Commission members did not expand
on the intent of the statement included in the three-page decision.