Top ISPs agree to become copyright cops
This is a frightening development with serious long-term implications for Internet users. At first glance, it does make sense for ISPs to monitor for "copyright" content and to alert for violations. But...
With technology what is assumed to be happening and what actually has to take place are two different kettles of fish. Just monitor for copyright materials and alert on that, right?
Well no. As powerful as computers are, they are not omniscient. They don't "know" what is legit and what is not. So we must ask, "How will ISPs monitor for copyright material violations?" That my friends is the $60 question. If all they do is monitor connections to thepiratebay.org and like sites, it wouldn't that big a deal. But this would not be an effective way to monitor for copyright violations.
Since there are multiple ways to distribute data on the Internet, to be truly effective an ISP would have to analyze every single data packet that travels on their network to search for violations. The difference between the two procedures is that the first is akin to a cop (or a random stranger) sitting in a parking lot monitoring who is entering and leaving a grocery store. Creepy, but not illegal. The second method has the cop (or a random stranger) strip-searching every person and searching everything they carry each time they enter and leaving the store. Think TSA type airport security everywhere you go. That's the difference we have to consider.
Well fine, it is only software, it isn't a human actually doing the evaluations, it will all be automated, and they're only looking for specific traffic patterns right? No one is actually reading my data right? Well.....
The trouble with software is that it can trip on false positives. This type of data analysis is not an exact science with simple if file = this do that type logic. Human type analysis will still be needed to sort out the wheat from the chaff. But worse, once the infrastructure for one type of search is in place, it becomes relatively simple to add on others. If ISPs are monitoring for copyright violations, they might as well look for child porn, terrorist plots, students cheating on exams, spouses cheating on each other, who says unflattering things about politicians, etc. etc.
If you think I exaggerate on those examples, well we're talking about the potential deployment of technology TO CATCH COPYRIGHT VIOLATIONS!!!! That already is in the benign WTF category, and it is potentially the key to the Pandora's box of the wholesale invasion of our privacy.
We may not think of it this way, but ISPs are already using this type of technology, but to protect their customers. This type of data capture and analysis is exactly what your ISPs Virus/Malware and Anti-Spam solutions do. They copy your data streams, and analyze it for software or e-mail with malicious intent. The process is the same, technologically speaking, but the intent or purpose behind the technology is completely different.
What is changing is the intent behind analyzing your data. When we shift from protection of customers to analyzing customer's personal behaviour for violations of an arbitrary moral code, then we have stepped over a very fine line with nasty implications.
Data Inspection (or DPI) is a tool to be used, wisely or unwisely. Like fire it can be incredibly helpful (our society wouldn't exist without fire) but it can also be destructive on a horrific scale. I hate to think that the downfall of our privacy on the Internet started because someone lifted a copy of Katy Perry's latest album.