Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra
Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University
Preliminary Sketch of 25 August 2001, additional refs 9 October 2002
© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2001-02
This document is at http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/DV/enum.html
My most recent work on this topic is in a conference paper for the ISOC-AU Forum on New Protocols and Standards-Setting in Australia, held in Melbourne on 3 December 2002.
Around 1980, an attempt was made to create a super-directory of people. It was undertaken through the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and took the form of the X.500 series of standards. For a variety of reasons, including technical weaknesses and the explosion of the Internet, X.500 failed to catch on. One related technical feature has survived, however: the (Lightweight) Directory Applications Protocol (LDAP).
A new attempt is being made to create the world directory of people. An alliance between the telecommunications industry and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is seeking to create a standard called ENUM.
It is explained in the relevant Request For Comments document (RFC 2916) as "the use of the Domain Name System (DNS) for storage of E.164 numbers". E.164 is the International Telecommunications (ITU) standard that defines the format for telephone numbers, specifically for ISDN. For example +61 2 6288 1472 is interpreted as an international dial-code 61 (Australia), followed by the subscriber trunk dialing code 2 (Canberra), followed by a local telephone number within that domain.
Telephone numbers used to identify a socket in a wall to which a telephone was attached. It was associated with a location, and could be be inferred to be associated with a household, a company, and specific individuals; but the association was loose.
For some time now, telephone numbers have been migrating away from being socket-identifiers. For mobile phones / cell-phones, they identify a hand-set or a chip-card within a hand-set. The hand-set or chip-card is in most cases much more directly associable with an individual than was the case with wall-sockets and fixed telephones.
Moreover, the location of hand-sets is an intrinsic function of the design of cellular technology. The system has to know which small, geographical cell the hand-set is currently within, in order to establish a link between the hand-set and the nearest base-station. A combination of national security, law enforcement and corporate marketing interests, using as a justification the location of callers to emergency numbers like U.S. 911, is driving a movement to make hand-sets locateable to within a few metres in the near future.
The effect of ENUM would therefore be to establish a single unique contact number for each individual. If it was successful, it would represent a unique personal identifier, with all of the threats to privacy and freedoms that this entails.
Worse still, ENUM is to support mobile devices, and hence represents a location and tracking tool. Rather than just each person's data being subject to consolidation and exploitation, each person themselves would thereby be directly subjected to surveillance and interception. Simply put, this is a tool to chill non-conformism that Hitler and Stalin didn't even dare to dream of.
In an enlightened era, it might be expected that the ENUM initiative would be the subject of careful consideration from a public policy perspective. Nothing could be further from the truth. The intended standard is being devised by engineers who resent intrusions by people who don't belong to the fraternity, and who decline to expose the idea to public debate.
The movement needs to be exposed, and the ITU and IETF forced to either abandon their tool for despots, or recognise the enormous implications of such a standard, abandon the pretence that their work is value-neutral, and open the activity up to public scrutiny and participation.
ACA (2002) 'ENum' Australian Communications Authority, at www.aca.gov.au/committee/nsg2/enum.htm
Cybertelecom (2002) 'DNS: ENum', at http://www.cybertelecom.org/dns/enum.htm
Faltstrom P. (2000) 'E.164 number and DNS' RFC 2916, Information Engineering Task Force, September 2000, at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2916.txt
IETF (2000) 'E.164 Number and DNS', Internet Engineering Task Force, RFC2916, September 2000, at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2916.txt?number=2916
ITU (2001) 'ENum' International Telecommunication Union, at www.itu.int/osg/spu/enum/index.html
ITU (2001) 'ITU ENUM Activities' International Telecommunication Union, at http://www.itu.int/infocom/enum/index.html
NGI (2001) 'ENum Reference Materials', Center for Next Generation Internet, at http://www.ngi.org/enum/
Rutkowski A. (2001) 'The ENUM Golden Tree: The Quest for a Universal Communications Identifier' inform 3, 2, April 2001 (97-100), at http://www.ngi.org/enum/pub/info_rutkowski.pdf
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Created: 25 August 2001
Last Amended: 25 August 2001, additional sources at 9 October 2002
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