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.
If you’re Canadian, and haven’t exiled yourself from society for the past several weeks, then you’ve heard about the Federal Conservative Party’s ‘dreaded’ Bill C-61″An Act to amend the Copyright Act”. While a lot of people have been talking somewhat broadly about the issues of digital locks, and posing their own examples about how Canadians will be criminalized when they use media in sensible ways, I wanted to talk about how Mac Preview threatens to criminalize a lot of Mac users.
I’ll start with a quick quotation of how Apple describes Preview:
If you’ve got PDFs to read, or images to view, Preview makes it easy. This built-in PDF file viewer allows you to view, work with, and print PDF files; view and edit images (including JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PICT, and other image file formats). (Source)
Preview is an awesome integrated part of OS X, and it makes my daily life a lot nicer – no longer is Adobe something that I have to put up with on a regular basis! Another great feature of preview is the ability to print .PDF files that you already have opened. This might seem stupid to bring up, but it turns out that this feature is pretty important in the present computing environment that I find myself in.
We live in a society where there is a strong desire to commoditize everything – water, energy, pollution, and each packet of data that is passed along digital networks. This desire comes from a position that (at least in part) holds that by giving everything a value, by associating costs with the degradation or poor management of commodities, it becomes possible for society to operate more ‘efficiently’. This is the great myth of capitalistic societies; that the deregulation of social goods provides a means to maximally divide wealth, opportunity, and power across the society. In Canada it is NAFTA, and its associated market pressures, that have been largely responsible for the deregulation of social programs and Crown Corporations that were previously responsible for providing core services to Canadians. We now see the specter of similar efficiencies mobilizing to ensure that bandwidth is distributed more efficiently, that people pay proportionate fees for the bandwidth and the actions they use that bandwidth for. In the process, private corporations will limit the possibilities of the Internet – they will stifle innovation by militating how their networks can be used and, as a result, inhibit development that can unexpectedly occur at each bend of these digital highways.
The Notion of Commons
It is possible that you’re not entirely familiar with the notion of the Commons, save for having heard in news reports of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, without any real guidance as to what the catchphrase means. To put it quickly, the Commons identifies all places, spaces, items, and products that belong to society at large rather than to any particular individual. This can be better explained by turning to town squares and roads. In the case of town squares, they operate as public space that is available to any and all members of the public to use. Because there is a greater advantage to having those spaces available to a large number of people than if there were not they continue to remain in public hands. By having squares as a public space it is possible to hold various town functions, rallies, readings, and other social events, whereas if they were privately owned the these goods would not have a space where they could be grown, potentially stunting the growth of the community’s identity.