VOIP as a patriotic alternative

If you’re really unhappy that your phone company (unless you’re a Qwest customer) sold you out to the NSA, consider switching to Vonage or one of its competitors in the voice-over-internet business.

I’ve been using Vonage VOIP from home. Service is adequate, especially with my cell phone as a backup, and the price is absurdly low. Vonage charges $25/mo for unlimited domestic calling, including Puerto Rico and Canada and now extended to Britain, Ireland France, Italy, Spain, and Germany.

But it wasn’t just the money: there was great emotional satisfaction in giving the finger to the loathsome SBC. I’m still carrying a grudge from the Baby Bells’ false promises of improved service in return for deregulation. (Not that I’m a fan of the cable monopolies, but “phoneys” just about describes the telcos.)

Well, now there’s an even better reason to switch to Vonage or another VOIP option: to punish your landline provider (unless you’re a Qwest customer) for turning all of your phone records over to the NSA without a court order or Act of Congress and in apparent violation of law. It’s not a question of feeling personally vulnerable; universal access to who called whom when is something the government of a free society ought not to have, and especially something the executive branch ought not to be able to seize with corporate connivance but without any oversight from the other two branches.

Moreover, if big companies learned that betraying their customers’ privacy had a negative impact on the bottom line, they’d do less of it. You should fire your telco for the same reason that the English (according to Voltaire) found it wise to hang an admiral from time to time: Pour encourager les autres.

Footnote Obviously, there’s no decent justification for the telcos’ craven (or perhaps mercenary) behavior in this case; if there were, Richard Falkenrath wouldn’t have to resort to stupid sophistries in defense of the program.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on “VOIP as a patriotic alternative”

  1. Try Skype – it really is free for calls to another Skype user, even with video, and the software is in the Google class for usability. The calls are encrypted and the peer-to-peer model means that there is no central user database, so the inbuilt privacy protection looks pretty good. But ultimately your privacy depends on cultural factors: the firm is Swedish and Estonian, i.e. based in one country with a strong data protection culture and another with recent experience of Big Brother.

  2. PS: I've just checked the Skype web pages, and there is a central server for contacts (though not, I still think, for the calls made to them). So if Skype did cooperate, Big Brother could find out if Osama's on your buddy list. Which would be perfectly OK with a targeted warrant.

  3. Since most small long distance telecos need to lease network space from the large ones, the large ones had all the switching data. I wonder if they turned that over too.
    And of course SBC is now AT&T, just to show that they are The Phone Company.

  4. One big problem with VOIP:for those who live where lengthy power outages occur, no power means no VOIP. Sure,you've got your cell phone, but when it needs recharging, your out of luck.

  5. If you're technically inclined, look in to running your own private PBX. http://asteriskathome.sourceforge.net/ is pretty easy to set up. Using it, you can completely bypass telcos for calling like-minded pals. You can also encrypt your calls, if you like, although that imposes a bit of delay which damages the experience but provides a nice subversive feel to the whole thing. Plus, you can create your own phone trees – always fun for transfering telemarketers to. custom voice mail, extensions, etc., too. Software's free, but you need a spare PC and a ~$100 PCI card. If you enjoy tech, it is easy, and even if you don't, it isn't hard.

  6. Would the indecent justification be that the telcos get to carve up the internet for profit and play stool pigeons on our email too?

  7. Does Vonage offer cheap, basic local service? I use my cell phone for all long-distance calls, so I only need a stripped down, $10 a month or so service for the phone line and local calling. Can't find anything like it on the Vonage site, though.

  8. VOIP may be only half a solution, at best. It's likely that the receiving party will be logged by their telephone company even if the calling party isn't. Beyond this, available software these days (www.narus.com) can dig deep into packets and resolve all kinds of VOIP data. What's to keep Vonage from revealing their data as the telephone companies are?

  9. You know its had to be bad if Joe Nachio is afraid to break the law.
    Never thought I would be so proud of the place I work.

  10. You know its had to be bad if Joe Nachio is afraid to break the law.
    Never thought I would be so proud of the company I work for.

  11. sorry to rain on your parade.
    your VOIP communications are almost gaurenteed to cross the network of the ATT, verizon, Bell.
    or Qwest. all your internet activities has crossed their switches.
    i new Verizon had installed something when their entire dsl network went down on floridas west coast for 7 hours in the middle of the week several months ago. i thought why would they do major work in the middle of the week.
    my conclusion was that federal employees would not work nights or weekends.

  12. I work for a VOIP provider, this is the enforcement vehicle the Feds use: http://www.askcalea.net/
    It can be required, and may be at most providers. Feds can come in and require it. This is the ONLY way they can monitor VOIP traffic or internet traffic, that we know of. VOIP is very secure, otherwise.
    I suppose you can ask your VOIP provider if they are using CALEA.

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