Jul 26, 2012

Will the addition of backdoors that enable monitoring hurt the adoption of VoIP?

Skype's architecture was apparently changed recently to allow backdoor access to calls/messages. I'm sure the government LOVES this, in light of their ongoing efforts to expand warrantless wire taps, and seeing as how they has issued literally hundreds of thousands of National Security Letters since 2003, which also do not require a warrant, to gain access to what most people would consider private information. This makes me leery for a couple of reasons. As I have probably already given away, I think that over the past decade, the erosion of privacy that has occurred is seriously alarming. This is especially true in light of the concentration of information with single entities. For example, since I am an Android user, Google "knows" my call records, location history, text messages, IMs, search history...and I'm sure a few other things I am forgetting. Plus, when someone says "backdoor", I hear "vulnerability."

So the inclusion of backdoors to allow access to VoIP calls such as was apparently added to Skype makes me pretty unhappy. Not only because I don't like The Man having ready access to my calls just on principle, but also because if there is a backdoor, there can be a backdoor exploit. Am I running around all alone in my tinfoil cap, or could VoIP backdoors cause people and companies to think twice before adopting a VoIP system?


Well, the fact that Skype is making chats and user data more accessible to police made the front page of Reddit this morning, so I would say that people are taking notice of it.  Even so, the constant stream of revelations about how little privacy we now have in many of our daily activities can have a desensitizing effect.  This sometimes leads me to ask, ala Bob Dole, "Where is the outrage?"


I don't buy the argument that if you aren't doing anything wrong you shouldn't mind being monitored.  I mind anytime someone is looking over my shoulder, whether or not I am doing anything "wrong".  One problem is that if you give away your privacy, probably for a superficially good cause, it is hard to recapture it.  It's kind of like that old saying, "Give them and inch and they will take a mile."  Remember The Patriot Act, supposedly drafted to fight terrorism.  Remember how quickly they started airing commercials saying if you bought marijuana, you were supporting terrorism?  It is just too easy to expand the original intent of a law to extents that are far beyond what was originally intended.   


I don't know if Skype is sharing records without warrants or not.  They shouldn't be, but who knows.  Maybe they just give up the data when asked, and charge police an "administrative fee" to turn it into a profit vector, just like AT&T, Verizon, et al are doing with cell phone records.


Until there is legislation to address the privacy issues of new and/or developing technology, such as VoIP, there is no guarantee of privacy for anyone really.  The tendency is actually the other way, in both the US and Canada, where there have been numerous attempt to actually increase warrantless police surveillance power.  I doubt it will be a serious drag on adoption, though, even though to a degree I think it should be.    

I gave up Skype for Facetime, though I'm sure Facetime probably has its share of that stuff. I doubt most people will care though since the vast majority aren't doing stuff the government would care about anyway.

But folks very mindful of their privacy might avoid using it. Then again they probably didn't use such services in the first place, and might have kept a lot of their interaction offline to begin with.

I guess it's up to each individual to decide if the backdoor stuff warrants not using these kinds of services. I find Facetime to be far too convenient to give up. The government would be bored to death if it listened in on my conversations. Heh, heh. But hey, it's their time and they can waste it if they want to right? ;)
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