New Technologies and Regulatory Gaps [3:26 pm]
Sterling-based NeuStar is the carriers’ digital directory for all phone calls in North America. More than 800 telephone companies have numbers in the database. NeuStar assigns blocks of available telephone numbers to carriers. It also manages the directory for common short codes: five- or six-digit codes that people punch into their cellphones to take part in sweepstakes or to vote for game-show contestants, for instance. And about one out of every four Internet transactions is routed using a NeuStar database, as NeuStar handles traffic for domains that include .biz, .us, .org and .info.
NeuStar’s databases are so powerful that the FBI a few years ago sought direct, unfettered access to one containing 310 million phone numbers in the United States and Canada. The telephone companies that pay NeuStar to run the database denied the FBI’s request, but they did allow NeuStar to create a site where authorized law enforcement officials with court orders can obtain carrier information on telephone numbers.
NeuStar is part of an evolving telecom industry that is creating caches of information attractive to the government without clear guidelines governing who may have access and under what circumstances. Its registries fall under international, U.S. government and trade association rules, including those set by the Federal Communications Commission.