In many ways, I can credit the NSA along with the excellent reporting of Nate Anderson for why I’m so interested in surveillance technologies. In particular, when the story broke in 2005 that the NSA was likely engaged in massive wiretaps of domestic and international data traffic I was drawn to the power and capacity for the ‘net to be used for truly broad-based surveillance efforts. This interest was heightened when Nate published the first of a set of articles on deep packet inspection (DPI) for Ars Technica. Without these two key moments, along perhaps with some interesting reporting on copyright, I’d probably still be thinking through the conditions of ontological psychology through a Heideggerian or Hegellian lens.
Given that I am engaged in research into surveillance technologies, and have the absolute pleasure to be associated with truly excellent scholars, activists, advocates, collaborators, and friends who share similar research interests, I wanted to take a moment to ask you, my readers, to help us map data traffic. As you may be aware, the NSA is reputed to have installed systems in various networking hubs that lets them examine massive amounts of data traffic. It’s not entirely known how they inspect this traffic, or the algorithms that are used to parse the fire hose of data they must be inundated by, but researchers at the University of Toronto have a decent idea of what ‘carrier hotels’, or major Internet exchange/collocation points, have likely been compromised by NSA surveillance instruments.
The Western world is pervaded by digital information, to the point where we might argue that most Western citizens operate in a bio-digital field that is constituted by the conditions of life and life’s (now intrinsic) relationships to digital code. While historically (if 30 years or so can withstand the definitional intonations of ‘historically) such notions of code would dominantly pertain to government databanks and massive corporate uses of code and data, with the advent of the ‘social web’ and ease of mashups we are forced to engage with questions of how information, code, and privacy norms and regulations pertain to individual’s usage of data sources. While in some instances we see penalties being handed down to individuals that publicly release sensitive information (such as Sweden’s Bodil Lindqvist, who was fined for posting personal data about fellow church parishioners without consent), what is the penalty when public information is situated outside of its original format and mashed-up with other data sources? What happens when we correlate data to ‘map’ it?
Let’s get into some ‘concrete’ examples to engage with this matter. First, I want to point to geo-locating trace route data, the information that identifies the origin of website visitors’ data traffic, to start thinking about mashups and privacy infringements. Second, I’ll briefly point to some of the challenges arising with the meta-coding of the world using Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. The overall aim is not to ‘resolve’ any privacy questions, but to try and reflect on differences between ‘specificity’ of geolocation technology, the implications of specificity, and potential need to establish a new set of privacy norms given the bio-digital fields that we find ourself immersed in.
Over the past few days I’ve been able to attend to non-essential reading, which has given me the opportunity to start chewing through Bruce Schneier’s Beyond Fear. The book, in general, is an effort on Bruce’s part to get people thinking critically about security measures. It’s incredibly accessible and easy to read – I’d highly recommend it.
Early on in the text, Schneier provides a set of questions that ought to be asked before deploying a security system. I want to very briefly think through those questions as they relate to Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) in Canada to begin narrowing a security-derived understanding of the technology in Canada. My hope is that through critically engaging with this technology that a model to capture concerns and worries can start to emerge.
Question 1: What assets are you trying to protect?
- Network infrastructure from being overwhelmed by data traffic.
Question 2: What are the risks to these assets?
- Synchronous bandwidth-heavy applications running 24/7 that generate congestion and thus broadly degrade consumer experiences.
Question 3: How well does security mitigate those risks?
For the past few weeks I’ve been working away on a paper that tries to bring together some of the CRTC filings that I’ve been reading for the past few months. This is a slightly revised and updated version of a paper that I presented to the Infoscape research lab recently. Many thanks to Fenwick Mckelvey for taking the lead to organize that, and also to Mark Goldberg for inviting me to the Canadian Telecom Summit, where I gained an appreciation for some of the issues and discussions that Canadian ISPs are presently engaged in.
Canadian ISPs are developing contemporary netscapes of power. Such developments are evidenced by ISPs categorizing, and discriminating against, particular uses of the Internet. Simultaneously, ISPs are disempowering citizens by refusing to disclose the technical information needed to meaningfully contribute to network-topology and packet discrimination discussions. Such power relationships become stridently manifest when observing Canadian public and regulatory discourse about a relatively new form of network management technology, deep packet inspection. Given the development of these netscapes, and Canadian ISPs’ general unwillingness to transparently disclose the technologies used to manage their networks, privacy advocates concerned about deep packet networking appliances abilities to discriminate between data traffic should lean towards adopting a ‘fundamentalist’, rather than a ‘pragmatic’, attitude concerning these appliances. Such a position will help privacy advocates resist the temptation of falling prey to case-by-case analyses that threaten to obfuscate these device’s full (and secretive) potentialities.
Full paper available for download here. Comments are welcome; either leave them here on the blog, or fire something to the email address listed on the first page of the paper.