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The End of the Public Phone Network

IEEE Spectrum December 29, 2012 A Washington, D.C., committee wants to phase out traditional telephony worldwide, by June 2018 Steven Cherry: Hi, this is Steven Cherry for IEEE Spectrum’s “Techwise Conversations.” The 134-year-old U.S. public phone network is dying—a third of all U.S. households are already cellphone-only. And it’s not just cellular that’s killing it. More and more businesses and households are trading their traditional switched telephone service for voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, services. That’s led to a paradoxical situation, where a huge number of phone calls start out as Internet packets and end as Internet packets, but have to be switched to, and then from, a voice circuit in between. What remains is to put the Internet protocol in the middle of the network as well. And it’s happening. In a 2009 filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, [PDF] AT&T, the largest phone provider in the world, indicated its support for “the transition from the circuit-switched legacy network to broadband and IP-based communications.” It went on to say, “That transition is under way already: With each passing day, more and [are] leaving the public switched telephone network and plain-old telephone service as relics of a bygone era.” And the company called on the government to give a date certain for the last plain old telephone call. In June, a Washington, D.C., advisory group, the Voice Communication Exchange Committee, formed and committed itself to a complete transition to the Internet protocol by a date of its own choosing: June 15, 2018. The changeover will provide some enormous benefits to all of us, not least of which is high-definition voice service, similar to the transition from cathode-ray television to HDTV. And it

By |December 31st, 2012|Categories: Technology|Comments Off on The End of the Public Phone Network

License Plates, Cameras, and Our Vanishing Privacy

(From IEEE Spectrum, 20 December 2012) Steven Cherry: Hi, this is Steven Cherry for IEEE Spectrum’s “Techwise Conversations.” Last year we did several shows about GPS tracking of automobiles, that is, whether the police can attach a tracking device to a suspect’s car, and do they need a warrant for that. As it turns out, that question is almost irrelevant, quaint, even. Today the police have a wide variety of ways to track us, none of which involve actually touching your car. The latest and most disturbing development is the way law enforcement officials can use license plate information culled from video cameras—a practice that turns out to be vastly more common than you might think, because there are way more video cameras photographing license plates than you probably thought. Besides fixed cameras, such as at traffic lights, cops themselves are wielding recording equipment optimized for reading license plates. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, a study by the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy found that “37 percent of large police departments were using [license] plate readers.” At just one of them, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department in California, 49 camera-equipped vehicles took 6 million scans, recording a total of 2 million unique license plates over a two-year period that ended this August. And it’s not just the government. The Wall Street Journal article described vast databases of hundreds of millions of license plate scans by private companies. It cited a single auto repossession agency in Baltimore, whose agents—repo men, as they’re popularly called—scan over 10 million plates each year now. There’s a wide variety of other technologies now being employed by law enforcement: radioactivity detectors, automotive black boxes, navigation systems, automated

By |December 23rd, 2012|Categories: Privacy|Comments Off on License Plates, Cameras, and Our Vanishing Privacy