Last week my advisor, Dr. Colin Bennett, and I launched a new website that is meant to provide Canadians with information about how their Internet Service Provider (ISP) monitors data traffic and manages their network. This website, Deep Packet Inspection Canada, aggregates information that has been disclosed on the public record about how the technology is used, why, and what uses of it are seen as ‘off limits’ by ISPs. The research has been funded through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s contributions program.
Deep packet inspection is a technology that facilitates a heightened awareness of what is flowing across ISP networks. It has the ability to determine the protocols responsible for shuttling information to and from the Internet, the applications that are used in transmitting the data, and (in test conditions) can even extract elements of data from the application layer of the data traffic in real time and compare it against other packet signatures to block particular data flows based on the content being accessed. Additionally, the technology can be used to modify packet flows using the technology – something done by Rogers – but it should be noted that DPI is not presently used to prevent Canadians from accessing particular content on the web, nor is it stopping them from using P2P services to download copywritten works.
I see a lot of the network neutrality discussion as one surrounding the conditions under which applications can, and cannot, be prevented from running. On one hand there are advocates who maintain that telecommunications providers – ISPs such as Bell, Comcast, and Virgin – shouldn’t be responsible for ‘picking winners and losers’ on the basis that consumers should make these choices. On the other hand, advocates for managed (read: functioning) networks insist that network operators have a duty and responsibility to fairly provision their networks in a way that doesn’t see one small group negatively impact the experiences of the larger consumer population. Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) has become a hot-button technology in light of the neutrality debates, given its potential to let ISPs determine what applications function ‘properly’ and which see their data rates delayed for purposes of network management. What is often missing in the network neutrality discussions is a comparison between the uses of DPI across jurisdictions and how these uses might impact ISPs’ abilities to prioritize or deprioritize particular forms of data traffic.
As part of an early bit of thinking on this, I want to direct our attention to Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to start framing how these jurisdictions are approaching the use of DPI. In the process, I will make the claim that Canada’s recent CRTC ruling on the use of the technology appears to be more and more progressive in light of recent decisions in the US and the likelihood of the UK’s Digital Economy Bill (DEB) becoming law. Up front I should note that while I think that Canada can be read as ‘progressive’ on the network neutrality front, this shouldn’t suggest that either the CRTC or parliament have done enough: further clarity into the practices of ISPs, additional insight into the technologies they use, and an ongoing discussion of traffic management systems are needed in Canada. Canadian communications increasingly pass through IP networks and as a result our communications infrastructure should be seen as important as defence, education, and health care, each of which are tied to their own critical infrastructures but connected to one another and enabled through digital communications systems. Digital infrastructures draw together the fibres connecting the Canadian people, Canadian business, and Canadian security, and we need to elevate the discussions about this infrastructure to make it a prominent part of the national agenda.
Last week I was a participant at the COUNTER: Counterfeit and Piracy Research Conference in Manchester, UK. I was invited to be part of a panel on deep packet inspection by Joseph Savirimuthu, as well as enjoy the conference more generally. It was, without a doubt, one of the best conferences that I have attended – it was thought-provoking and (at points) anger-inducing, good food and accommodations were provided, and excellent discussions were had. What I want to talk about are some of the resonating themes that coursed through the conference and try to situate a few of the positions and participants to give an insight into what was talked about.
The COUNTER project is a European research project exploring the consumption of counterfeit and pirated leisure goods. It has a series of primary research domains, including: (1) frequency and distribution of counterfeits; (2) consumer attitudes to counterfeit and pirated goods; (3) legal and ethical frameworks for intellectual property; (4) policy options for engaging with consumers of counterfeit; (5) the use of copyrighted goods for the creation of new cultural artifacts; (6) impacts of counterfeiting and control of intellectual property.
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.
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.
[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.
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).