December 04, 2009

Massive New UK Internet Wiretapping Plan Announced

Greetings. Remember the controversy over the UK's Phorm "ISPs Spy on Users" Internet ad system?

Phorm was eventually beaten back, but it was small potatoes compared to what the surveillance-happy folks in Jolly Old England have got up their sleeves now.

Britain's Virgin Media ISP has announced a stunning plan to actually spy on the data content of Internet users -- using law enforcement grade equipment -- in search of illegal file sharing.

The scope of the plan is breathtaking. File sharing protocol packets will be opened and the contents run through music fingerprinting systems to try determine if files are licensed or not. At this stage of the plan, any positive "hits" will be anonymous, but one can imagine how long that aspect will remain in force. And of course, if this sort of system can be justified to "protect" the music and film industries, it's a small step to arguing that all traffic should be monitored for any Internet content considered to be suspicious, illicit, or inappropriate by Her Majesty's government -- it's basically just a matter of how much communications and processing power you're willing to throw at the task.

There is no opt-out or opt-in. All files carried by any of the three primary file-sharing protocols are subject to inspection, with initially about 40% of subscribers being included in the "lucky" test group. And remember, these are private user-to-user Internet connections being monitored -- not postings on public Web sites where license fingerprinting can be reasonably justified.

What Virgin has announced is essentially the same concept as monitoring telephone calls in hopes of overhearing something illegal being discussed.

The question here isn't whether or not people should inappropriately trade licensed materials -- they shouldn't. The issue is Internet users -- including innocent, law-abiding subscribers -- being subjected to having their data content searched by whim of their ISPs, when such behavior would not (we assume!) be tolerated on conventional telephone calls (but what of VoIP phone calls traversing the Internet? A fascinating question of ever increasing importance ...)

Notably, the answer to these dilemmas is contained in a single word, which you've seen me use many times before: encrypt! As far as I'm concerned, all Internet traffic should be routinely and pervasively encrypted, not just to protect civil rights, but to protect economic and business security as well.

In fact, a spokesman related to the new Virgin ISP spying project notes that, "encryption of the data packet would defeat us."

Sounds like good advice to me.


Posted by Lauren at December 4, 2009 06:29 PM | Permalink
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