FBI's "right" to pick your Internet apps

In a little-noticed document, the FCC has declared that the government has a right to ban applications that don't support a backdoor for law enfordement, Declan McCullaugh reveals.

On Cnet's VOIP Blog, Declan McCullaugh points to an "obscure policy document" (PDF) released late last Friday, in which the FCC quietly gives the FBI the right to approve or disapprove of what applications people use. One of the four principles this document announces says, "Consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement." 

Says Declan:

The FCC didn't offer much in the way of clarification. But the clearest reading of the pronouncement is that some unelected bureaucrats at the commission have decreeed that Americans don't have the right to use software such as Skype or PGPfone if it doesn't support mandatory backdoors for wiretapping. (That interpretation was confirmed by an FCC spokesman on Monday, who asked not to be identified by name. Also, the announcement came at the same time as the FCC posted its wiretapping rules for Internet telephony.)

Nowhere does the commission say how it jibes this official pronouncement with, say, the First Amendment's right to speak freely, not to mention the limited powers granted the federal government by the U.S. Constitution.

What's also worth noting is that the FCC's pronunciamento almost tracks the language of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Almost.

But where federal law states that it is the policy of the United States to preserve a free market for Internet services "unfettered by federal or state regulation," the bureaucrats have adroitly interpreted that to mean precisely the opposite of Congress said. Ain't that clever?

The rest of the principles the FCC announced:

  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected
    nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of
    their choice.
  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected
    nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that
    do not harm the network.

  • To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected
    nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers,
    application and service providers, and content providers.

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