January 08, 2008

Internet Content Filtering -- and the Wicked Witch Rises

"I'll get you, my pretty -- and your little dog, too!"

Greetings. The New York Times is reporting that NBC, Microsoft, AT&T, digital filtering companies, and other assorted spooks were all abuzz at the Consumer Electronics Show over the prospects for spying on and preventing -- oops, I mean "filtering" -- of Internet content at the network level, as demanded by the RIAA, MPAA, and, well, you know the drill.

This topic has come up so often lately that I wouldn't even mention it again here except for a quick prediction and an observation.

Prediction: Such attempts to detect, block, or alter Internet traffic flows by ISPs will accelerate widespread user moves toward pervasive Internet encryption and "underground" applications, on a scale that couldn't even be imagined today.

That's not to endorse piracy. As I've noted many times before, I've been very sympathetic to the intellectual property concerns involved. However, I must admit that as these guys have become more and more intrusive (remember the calls for DRM to be embedded into A/D converters?), my sympathy is waning with increasing speed. Content filtering conducted by individual Web sites is between those sites and their users. Spying on or interfering with the core Internet and primary user connections is unacceptable prying and interference.

Observation: The closing paragraph of the NYT story reads:

After the session, [Mr. Cicconi of AT&T] told me that ISPs like AT&T would have to handle such network filtering delicately, and do more than just stop an upload dead in its tracks, or send a legalistic cease and desist form letter to a customer. “We’ve got to figure out a friendly way to do it, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

I particularly enjoy the word delicately in this context. I'm reminded of the Wicked Witch of the West's concern in 1939's The Wizard of Oz:

"These things must be done delicately ... or you hurt the spell ... "

If ISPs and their brethren insist on trying to turn the Internet into a commercial surveillance pipeline, we can be sure that the Net's technology and users will find suitable responses. There is, after all, more than one way for a house to fall on a witch.


Posted by Lauren at January 8, 2008 08:43 PM | Permalink
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