Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Month: March 2010

Draft – Deep Packet Inspection: Privacy, Mash-ups, and Dignities

This is a draft of the paper that I’ll be presenting at the Counter: Piracy and Counterfeit conference in Manchester in a few days. It’s still rough around some edges, but feels like a substantial piece. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Abstract:

Privacy operates as an umbrella-like concept that shelters liberal citizens’ capacity to enjoy the autonomy, secrecy, and liberty, values that are key to citizens enjoying their psychic and civil dignity. As digitisation sweeps through the post-industrial information economy, these same citizens are increasingly sharing and disseminating copywritten files using peer-to-peer file sharing networks. In the face of economic challenges posed by these networks, some members of the recording industries have sought agreements with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to govern the sharing of copywritten data. In Britain, file-sharing governance has recently manifested in the form of Virgin Media inserting deep packet inspection (DPI) appliances into their network to monitor for levels of infringing files. In this presentation, I argue that ISPs and vendors must demonstrate technical and social transparency over their use of DPI to assuage worries that communications providers are endangering citizens’ psychic and civil dignities. Drawing on recent Canadian regulatory processes concerning Canadian applications of DPI, I suggest that transparency between civil advocacy groups and ISPs and vendors can garner trust required to limit harms to citizens’ psychic dignity. Further, I maintain that using DPI appliances to detect copyright infringement and apply three-strikes proposals unduly threatens citizens’ civil dignities; alternate governance strategies must be adopted to preserve citizens’ civil dignity.

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Why Mash-up Matters

livemashupdj[Note: this is an early draft of the first section of a paper I’m working on, presently loosely titled “Mash-up Meets Deep Packet Inspection: Culture, solutions, and the demand for transparency”. Other sections will follow as I draft them. I’ve adopted this format based on positive reactions to my similar drafting process last year on ‘Who Gives a Tweet About Privacy?‘ Comments welcome. I’ve excluded full bibliographic information, but retained enough that you can find my sources. Text has been copied and pasted from a word processing document; this may result in some links being broken *cough* footnotes links *cough*]

I’m composing the beginning of this article to the sounds of Girl Talk’s ‘Like This’ from his Feed the Animals album. His artistic technique is to take very short samples from a variety of artists – twenty-nine samples are taken in the three minutes and twenty-one seconds of ‘Like This’ – and remix the work to create entirely new songs.[i] He isn’t a DJ but a self-described musician of the digital era, and when his work was presented to Marybeth Peters of the US Registrar of Copyrights she recognized that his music was amazing. She also recognized it was likely illegal, and the fact that his own creativity clearly imbued his creations offered no defense against copyright infringement: “You can’t argue your creativity when it’s based on other people’s stuff.”[ii] This position is mirrored by Barry Slotnick, head of the intellectual property litigation group at Loeb & Loeb, who has stated that “[w]hat you can’t do is substitute someone else’s creativity for your own.”[iii] Girl Talk’s work is recognized as amazing and creative, even by defenders and advocates of the present copyright regime, but is still questionably legal (at best). Feed the Animals is a popular album that pulls together anthems of pop culture, and its artist has been used as a defender of copyright reform movements,[iv] but it is only one item in a rapidly developing and emerging ‘mash-up’ culture that draws together existing cultural artifacts to in the creation of a recombinant digital culture.

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Deep Packet Inspection and Mobile Discrimination

Throughout the 2009 Canadian Telecommunications Summit presenter after presenter, and session after session, spoke to the Canadian situation concerning growth in mobile data. In essence, there is a worry that the wireless infrastructure cannot cope with the high volumes of data that are expected to accompany increasing uses and penetrations of mobile technologies. Such worries persist, even though we’ve recently seen the launch of another high-speed wireless network that was jointly invested in by Bell and Telus, and despite the fact that new wireless competitors are promising to enter the national market as well.

The result of the wireless competition in Canada is this: Canadians actually enjoy pretty fast wireless networks. We can certainly complain about the high costs of such networks, about the conditions under which wireless spectrum was purchased and is used, and so forth, but the fact is that pretty impressive wireless networks exist…for Canadians with cash. As any network operator knows, however, speed is only part of the equation; it’s just as important to have sufficient data provisioning so your user base can genuinely take advantage of the network. It’s partially on the grounds of data provisioning that we’re seeing vendors develop and offer deep packet inspection (DPI) appliances for the mobile environment.

I think that provisioning is the trojan horse, however, and that DPI is really being presented by vendors as a solution to a pair of ‘authentic’ issues: first, the need to improve customer billing, and second, to efficiently participate in the advertising and marketing ecosystem. I would suggest that ‘congestion management’, right now, is more of a spectre-like issue than an authentic concern (and get into defending that claim, in just a moment).

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IPv6 and the Future of Privacy

There is an increasing urgency to transition to a new infrastructure for addressing space on the Internet, and in this space all individuals and their devices could be uniquely identifiable by their Internet Protocol (IP) address(es). It is in light of this surveillant future that France’s recent ruling that IP addresses are not personally identifiable information is so serious. Further, it is with this longer temporal viewpoint (i.e. not just the here and now) that has more generally worried technologists about governmental rulings concerning binary ‘yes/no IP addresses are private information’.

Before I go any further, let me break down what an IP address is, the distinctions between versions 4 (IPv4) and 6 (IPv6), and then get to the heart of the privacy-related issues concerning the transition to IPv6. The technical infrastructure of the ‘net tends to be seen as dreadfully boring but, as is evidenced by the (possible) computer failures of Toyota vehicles, what goes on ‘under the hood’ of the ‘net is of critical importance to understand and think about. It’s my hope that you’ll browse away with concerns and thoughts about the future of privacy in an increasingly connected biodigital world.

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