FSD user and regular commenter Luke Landau, a telecommunications engineer, argues the International Telecommunications Regulations are long overdue for an update.
The International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) will be a reassessment of our ability to communicate on a global scale. There has been much concern about this in the free speech and internet freedom communities. But from the point of view of a telecommunications engineer, something needs to be done. The last modifications to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) were made in 1988, leaving them outdated and in serious need of review.
Although working closely with the ITU, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) stands in stark contrast. 3GPP, a collaboration of telecommunications companies, development associations and market partners (including Everything Everywhere, for which I work), has published 10 releases since the ITRs were last updated to keep up with rapid technological developments.
3GPP was created to facilitate the easy development of new technology, expanding its remit as the telecoms industry matured. It played a pivotal role in this sector, ensuring large-scale continuity over the evolution of GSM networks, a technology that is now said to service 80% of mobile users globally.
Each release expanded 3GPP’s scope, from boosting levels of network security and resilience to investigating the most appropriate ways to monitor and track customers, predominantly for marketing and billing purposes.
An increase in the collection and use of personal identification data was inevitable and has now become as fundamental to the telecoms industry’s ability to operate as national insurance or social security numbers are to citizens of nations. With each iteration came an increasing need to regulate higher functions and the need to regulate the use and collection of data, which more and more services depended on.
3GPP’s success gives merit to the ITU’s decision to reassess its ITRs at WCIT. 24 years after its last revisions, nearly all of the ITR’s technical documents and most of its definitions need to be revised.
In the 1988 ITRs document, an international route uses the term “terminal exchanges or offices” in its definition. A terminal exchange or office is essentially a reference to a node in a circuit switch network. A Skype call that uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology does not fall within this definition as it does not require the circuit switch technology that was necessary in the past.
Considering that VoIP technology will become increasingly ubiquitous in the future and that conferences like WCIT are not held very often, the need to update the ITRs in December is evident. In a draft uploaded to WCITleaks.org, the proposed change to the definition of an international route is “a route for the transmission of traffic between technical facilities and installations located in different countries”, better reflecting our data-enabled world. Similar changes will be required in roaming agreements and other international relationships such as billing.
That said, once the ITRs have been opened to editorial review, there is always the potential for some delegates to persuade others in favour of more control and for monitoring to become commonplace. The ITRs currently facilitate these changes with “according to national law” clauses. National law has generally become more draconian and more invasive as of late, giving us all cause for alarm.
Democratically elected nations should not impinge on their citizens’ privacy and should quell calls for invasive uses of technology. In the age of perceived terror, these governments are taking any chance they get to increase the control they have over their citizens and to reinforce national security. A redraft of global communication represents an unequalled opportunity to further this end and must therefore be monitored closely by us, the people.
Luke Landau is an engineer at Everything Everywhere. After posting – as Skytalker – an interesting comment on our interview with WCITLeaks co-founder Eli Dourado, we asked Landau to write a piece for FSD. If you would like to write something for the site on your area of expertise, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.