The Government Wants to Spy on Your Packets

Hold onto your tinfoil hats because the government is seeking to chip away at your online privacy through the use of deep packet inspection. Despite what I’m about to tell you, there are good uses of this technology when it comes to managing and monitoring a network. So don’t shoot the technology, but feel free to take potshots at those trying to use it to suggest that ISPs monitor your surfing habits for illegal images, even those including child pornography.

MSNBC has gotten a hold of a proposal made by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to AOL that highlights the use of DPI tools from an Australian company called Brilliant Digital Entertainment. The company is pitching its CopyRouter product (PDF) to help ISPs monitor web traffic, compare it against a list of known child pornography files, and if it makes a match on existing traffic, send the offending subscriber a message warning them that they were about to download child pornography. According to MSNBC, the presentation also says Brilliant Digital could then pass the offender’s IP address over to law enforcement agencies.
Wow, that right there would violate the 4th Amendment preventing unreasonable search and seizure, and would put ISPs in the role of web traffic cop — a role none of them relish. Remember in August when the FCC yelled at Comcast for using deep packet inspection to find and block P2P files? During the hearing related to that enforcement order, FCC chairman Kevin Martin compared Comcast’s tactics to opening up a person’s mail and then deciding which letters to send on. Later, Gigi Sohn, head of the Free Press used that same analogy in describing what ISPs were doing when they used deep packet inspection from NebuAD and Phorm to view a user’s web surfing habits.
As much as I viscerally loathe the exploitation of children, I have to say that just because some of the country’s online “mail” may contain child pornography, it doesn’t justify the use of such software by private companies to enforce federal laws. Because while today it may be child pornography, and tomorrow, information on explosives, followed by those communicating with terrorists…and pretty soon wrapping your PC in foil starts to look appealing. Hey maybe aluminum prices will go up.