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Can the UK Home Secretary order Ofcom to ignore its own legal duties? A court case that effectively began with the trial of a GSM gateway operator will soon decide the answer to that difficult, and potentially expensive, question.
Years ago, there was a growing market for cheap overseas phone calls. Readers who are grey of beard and long of memory will remember the adverts for these phone numbers: you'd call the gateway number before dialling the country of your choice. Your call would then be forwarded without paying the eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s.
Piece - Equipment - Crucial - Companies - GSM
The piece of equipment crucial to these companies was a GSM gateway. Effectively a giant phone with hundreds of SIM cards, these gateways took advantage of mobile phone companies' overseas calling deals to forward domestic calls onwards, neatly working around telcos' billing departments. Think of them like a VPN for voice calls and SMS messages.
UK Home Office re-bans cheap call gateways because 'terrorism'
Use - Ofcom - Home - Office - Direction
After their use was outlawed by Ofcom, then briefly re-legalised before being banned again by a Home Office ministerial direction on the grounds of national security, one of the GSM gateway operators has now asked the High Court for a judicial review. That will settle what looks like a simple question: can government ministers order Ofcom to stop carrying out its statutory duties?
If the answer is "yes", nothing will change: the Home Office can continue ordering Ofcom to start or stop doing stuff on the grounds of national security and there will be nothing anyone can do to challenge those decisions, even when people suspect that national security is not the true reason. If, however, the answer is "no", Ofcom could be forced to re-legalise GSM gateways – and potentially pay compensation to operators whose businesses were outlawed...
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