My formal dissertation research focuses on deep packet inspection technologies, and how they serve as a nexus for competing political interests. Today, I’m making available a draft chapter from my dissertation. In this first chapter I trace the lineage of deep packet inspection (DPI) systems; how do shallow and medium packet inspection systems function, and what were their limitations, and what is novel about DPI itself?
Chapter one serves as an introduction to the theoretical capabilities of the systems; I am not making a claim that all DPI appliances are capable of achieving all, or even half, of the various use cases that I outline. As such, this writing builds on a much earlier working paper that I produced several years ago; core differences between the past work and current chapter surround the detail given to various uses of DPI and a more limited argumentative position. This limit was imposed because this is the first chapter of the dissertation; my analysis and broader theoretical conclusions about the technology and its applications will come in the last two chapters (six and seven).
This chapter traces the lineage of contemporary packet inspection systems that monitor data traffic flowing across the Internet in real time. After discussing how shallow, medium, and deep packet inspection systems function, I outline the significance of this technology’s most recent iteration, deep packet inspection, and how it could be used to fulfill technical, economic, and political goals. Achieving these goals, however, requires that deep packet inspection be regarded as a surveillance practice. Indeed, deep packet inspection is, at its core, a surveillance-based technology that is used by private actors, such as Internet service providers, to monitor and mediate citizens’ communications. Given the importance of Internet-based communications to every facet of Western society, from personal communications, to economic, cultural and political exchanges, deep packet inspection must be evaluated not just in the abstract but with attention towards how society shapes its deployment and how it may shape society.