CBC News has a story on the Canadian Privacy Commissioner opening “an online discussion on deep packet inspection, a technology that allows internet service providers and other organizations to intercept and examine packets of information as they are being sent over the internet.” There are numerous privacy, civil liberty, and legal questions (pdf) about this sort of surreptitious tracking of Internet users.
I previously blogged about these secret surveillance programs and privacy and civil liberty questions that surround them. In the U.S., Charter Communications, CenturyTel Inc., WOW!, Broadstripe, and Metro Provider have all used such controversial systems to track customers, according to a report (pdf) by Free Press and Public Knowledge.
CBC News reports:
[T]he privacy commissioner launched a website where the public can discuss a series of essays on the technology written by 14 experts. The experts range from the privacy officer of a deep-packet inspection service vendor to technology law and internet security researchers.
The website also offers an overview of the technology, which it describes as having the potential to provide “widespread access to vast amounts of personal information sent over the internet” for uses such as:
- Targeted advertising based on users’ behaviour.
- Scanning for unlawful content such as copyright or obscene materials.
- Intercepting data as part of surveillance for national security and crime investigations.
- Monitoring traffic to measure network performance.
The latter can be used by ISPs to give priority to some applications over others — a practice that has upset those who strongly believe in “net neutrality,” in which all internet uses and applications are treated equally.
Unfortunately, “The discussion on the website isn’t a public consultation. Nor is it expected to result in policy, as the privacy commissioner’s office doesn’t have jurisdiction over internet management, [a spokesman] said.”
Essay authors include:
- Brooks Dobbs, the privacy officer for Phorm, a British firm that uses the technology to offer more tailored advertising.
- Richard Clayton, treasurer of the Foundation for Information Policy research, who alleges that internet service providers will commit criminal offences by using Phorm.
- Stéphane Leman-Langlois, a criminology professor at the University of Montreal who believes that all the potential uses of deep packet inspection will be put to use sooner or later and net neutrality is “almost certainly a thing of the past.”
- Harry Abelson, a professor of computer science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who believes deep packet inspection should be banned, as it violates privacy and affects the reliability of information delivery.