Phone calls made and received over the Internet are not subject to the same legal constraints as calls made or received over landline lines. If the caller wishes to make a prank call or a nuisance phone call, the only thing that stops them is their own conscience.
So, what is the problem with calling over the Internet? Is it really against the law to call a person and send them an unsolicited message? Are there any legal restrictions on telephone calls over the Internet? The answer is a definite no and yes!
Telephone calls over the Internet, whether they are received or sent, are not considered to be communications within the same meaning of “communication” that applies when sending or receiving a message via the telephone system. The Communications Act of Canada defines communication as “a communication by means of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds or intelligence.” This includes the exchange of information by two or more people through the use of any device, including a telegraph or telephone. It also applies to other forms of communication like radio or television.
In the United States, where telephones and the Internet are widely used, telephone calls over the Internet are not regulated in the same way as regular telephone calls. Federal law, however, does have some commonalities with regard to electronic mail. An e-mail, for example, may have a sender’s address as a part of its header but it is not considered a communication in the same way that an electronic mail received in a regular mail box would be. It is generally considered legal to send e-mails, but illegal to send electronic mail, which has been sent in the form of a communication, as spam.
There are some exceptions to the rule of non-regulation regarding telephone calls over the Internet. Some telephone companies allow calls made over the Internet to be placed on a toll free number that has been specifically designated for this purpose. While this can provide some protection for subscribers, many companies do not offer such a service.
For others, there is no such restriction on the use of the Internet. For example, a provider of online services such as an instant messaging service can allow calls to be made to a fax machine, phone line, or any other phone numbers that the Internet user can reach. The only thing that limits these calls is the user’s conscience and judgment and the law of personal privacy.
Telephone calls made over the Internet may still have some limitations, though. As already mentioned, telecommunications laws in the United States prohibit the telephone carrier from knowingly selling or giving out the phone number of a caller. Therefore, a caller using a cell phone to make a telephone call to a person cannot be sure of who is on the other end of the call.
Telephone calls over the Internet cannot be easily monitored, because the calls are made and received without the subscriber’s knowledge. It is this lack of awareness, as well as the fact that many users prefer to be left in the dark as to who is making or receiving the calls, that can cause many users to be confused about the legality of the calls they make.
Some telecommunication laws have been passed to protect people against being tricked into giving up their identities. Although there are some protections for users of the Internet, the use of the Internet and the proliferation of free VoIP services has made it easier to communicate with a distant loved one or to make a prank call to a spouse.
So if you are concerned about what you might be doing when you make phone calls over the Internet, you should take steps to ensure that you are not breaking any laws. by not making personal calls that you did not intend to make and by making sure that you are aware of your rights under telecommunication laws.
A person who has never used free VoIP services should look for one or more services that are compatible with their phone, so that they can use them as an alternative to regular phone services. Many VoIP providers even allow people to place a toll free number on their home phones that will forward phone calls to their homes instead of to the outside world. This can make it possible for a person to place a voice message to someone who lives abroad and then to know that the message was heard, read, and received by a real live person.