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October 24, 2008

Politics, policy, and personal mobile devices

UK and USA – Two items recently caught my eye. Both showed different aspects of government stepping into the phone space, either trying to increase competition, or trying to gain some control.

While we don’t comment on politics here, I think a discussion on government control of telephone users is warranted. And telcos and politicians have long been bed-fellows, as exemplified by the number of telcos with politically-savvy people in Brussels and Washington DC (and yes, we have some folks on standards bodies in Brussels).

Read on to see the two items this week.

Opening up the network

Ars Electronica mentioned the 40th anniversary of a ruling, the Carterphone decision, that forced the AT&T telco monopoly to allow other (safe) devices on their networks. While not necessarily the largest shift in opening up AT&T, it was a key decision. The article goes on to list different decisions related to opening up AT&T’s network and their relative impacts on the eventual end of AT&T’s monopoly.

Of note, the discussion around open networks is not over. Skype has been trying to use the same Carterphone principles, that a safe device should not be barred from a telecom network, to get wireless companies to allow them to create devices for mobile networks.

Closing down on anonymity

In a decision that affects people more directly, the UK government will now require that anyone buying a pre-pay account show some means of official ID that will then be entered into a national registry. Criminals often use pre-pay phones to hide their identity, and so it is understandable why the government wants to do this.

Nonetheless, while there are many objects one can purchase and own that put our names in some sort of government registry and that can be used to identify us, such as a car, the scale and personal nature of mobile phones makes this feel quite different. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that there has been a great outcry, since there are many law-abiding citizens looking for a bit of privacy (not to mention the many who don’t want to be part of some gargantuan government database).

One always has to find the right measure of government intrusion. Is the government then our friend and foe?

Image from gotplaid?

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