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article imageMaine, Montana, and VoIP — The new frontier of phone privacy?

By Jennifer Cuellar     Jul 11, 2013 in Technology
As fallout from PRISM continues, Maine joined Montana this week in passing a new law that bans warrant-less cell phone record seizures. For callers outside of Maine and Montana, VoIP technology is the last means of call privacy.
Maine's new anti-surveillance law follows a similar one that was passed in Montana in June. However, if one can’t move to Montana or Maine, a technology called VoIP is the next best solution for phone privacy.
Maine’s New Anti-Surveillance Law
As first reported by Slate, Maine’s new anti-surveillance law requires law enforcement to obtain a judge-issued warrant before tracking a suspect’s movements and collecting that suspect’s previous data locations. What makes Maine’s law unique is that it requires authorities to notify that person of the surveillance within three days, unless law enforcement can justify the need for further secrecy.
The law was passed partly due to backlash of Project PRISM. Under PRISM, the federal government secretly seized millions of citizens’ phone data, which included information like routing location, the length of phone calls, and subscriber identity numbers.
Maine’s new law might signal the newest trend of states banning federal surveillance overreach. On a civilian level, PRISM still has millions of callers wondering if there is any form of communication left safe from surveillance. Luckily, there is: it’s called VoIP.
VoIP: The Last Means of Call Privacy
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) uses the Internet to connect calls. Anyone who has ever used Skype has used VoIP technology. Though Skype, which has connections to traditional phone service, has also given user information to the federal government, so it’s important to chose a pure VoIP-to-VoIP provider.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is one of the remaining holdouts from government surveillance, mainly due to its encryption format. VoIP calls are sent as data packets over the Internet instead of analog signals over a predetermined path. Most VoIP providers encrypt this data, which make the calls harder to record.
Why the Federal Government Can’t Crack VoIP
VoIP calls are so secure that the FBI began legislation earlier this year to force VoIP providers to de-crypt VoIP calls under the penalty of hefty fines.
As first reported by The New York Times in May, the FBI wants to expand the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to include Internet-based services. The law would require VoIP providers to provide their users’ information upon request or face a $25,000/day fine for each day of non-compliance. This legislation has not yet entered Congress.
Edward Snowden, the rogue NSA agent who leaked Project PRISM, recently endorsed encryption as a means to diverge government spying. Snowden was quoted in the Guardian saying, “Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”
In addition to encryption, VoIP technology is now mobile, and many residential VoIP users take their VoIP service with them on their smartphones, tablets, or laptops so it’s harder to track the IP address of where the caller is calling from.
What the Future Holds for Caller Privacy
No one knows the future of PRISM and federal surveillance. Just this week EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) began a petition to get the Supreme Court to deem government surveillance a violation of the 4th Amendment, which protects Americans from illegal searches and seizures.
The ACLU (Americans Civil Liberties Union) is also making legal waves by suing the federal government for privacy violations under the Constitution’s protection of free speech and assembly.
Whether it takes a petition, a lawsuit, or state laws to stop the surveillance, at least citizens have VoIP technology to protect themselves in the meantime. Big Brother is calling: are you sure you want to take that call?
Jennifer Cuellar is a technology writer and editor based out of Southern California. She covers the latest developments about VoIP and IP business solutions.
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