Iran, Traffic Analysis, and Deep Packet Inspection

iranelectionLet me start with this: I am woefully ignorant and Iranian politics, and have no expertise to comment on it. I’ll save my personal thoughts on the matter for private conversations rather than embarrass myself by making bold and ignorant statements here. Instead, I want to briefly note and comment on how the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is talking about Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and the data traffic that is flowing in and out of Iran.

The WSJ has recently disclosed that Iranian network engineers are using DPI to examine, assess, and regulate content that is entering and exiting Iran. They note that the monitoring capacity was, at least in part, facilitated by infrastructure that was sold by Nokia-Simens. The article proceeds, stating that traffic analysis processes have been experimented with before, though this is the first major deployment of these processes that has captured the attention of the world/Western public. This is where things start getting interesting.

The article notes that;

The Iranian government had experimented with the equipment for brief periods in recent months, but it had not been used extensively, and therefore its capabilities weren’t fully displayed – until during the recent unrest, the Internet experts interviewed said.

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Canadian Privacy Advocates and Their Privacy Commissioners

advocatesclose1Colin Bennett, in his recent text The Privacy Advocates: Resisting the Spread of Surveillance, does a nice job creating a developing a typography for privacy advocates. Of a minor controversy, his text doesn’t include data protection commissioners as ‘privacy advocates’, even if they self-identify as such, on the basis that he wants to reflect on the roles that actors from civil society now play. Privacy, when understood in terms of regulatory capacity and relevant actors, cannot be sensibly talked about just in terms of ‘official’ advocates (e.g. data commissioners) because civil society is often deeply involved in the actions, reactions, and positions that the commissioners are forced to assume. In essence, privacy advocates are sometimes friends of, foes of, or ambivalent towards the privacy commissioners (I’d use another typography for this relationship, but I’ll wait for it to be publicly presented before talking about it here. It’s really snazzy though.).

Privacy advocates, in Bennett’s terms, are classified as such:

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Deep Packet Inspection and the Confluence of Privacy Regimes

insiderouterI learned today that I was successful in winning a Social Sciences and Human Research Council (SSHRC) award. (Edit September 2009: I’ve been upgraded to a Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship). Given how difficult I found it to find successful research statements (save for through personal contacts) I wanted to post my own statement for others to look at (as well as download if they so choose). Since writing the below statement, some of my thoughts on DPI have become more nuanced, and I’ll be interested in reflecting on how ethics might relate to surveillance/privacy practices. Comments and ideas are, of course, welcomed.

Interrogating Internet Service Provider Surveillance:
Deep Packet Inspection and the Confluence of International Privacy Regimes

Context and Research Question

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are ideally situated to survey data traffic because all traffic to and from the Internet must pass through their networks. Using sophisticated data traffic monitoring technologies, these companies investigate and capture the content of unencrypted digital communications (e.g. MSN messages and e-mail). Despite their role as the digital era’s gatekeepers, very little work has been done in the social sciences to examine the relationship between the surveillance technologies that ISPs use to survey data flows and the regional privacy regulations that adjudicate permissible degrees of ISP surveillance. With my seven years of employment in the field of Information Technology (the last several in network operations), and my strong background in conceptions of privacy and their empirical realization from my master’s degree in philosophy and current doctoral work in political science, I am unusually well-suited suited to investigate this relationship. I will bring this background to bear when answering the following interlinked questions in my dissertation: What are the modes and conditions of ISP surveillance in the privacy regimes of Canada, the US, and European Union (EU)? Do common policy structures across these privacy regimes engender common realizations of ISP surveillance techniques and practices, or do regional privacy regulations pertaining to DPI technologies preclude any such harmonization?

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Twitter and Statutory Notions of Privacy

protectionpersonaldataright[Note: this is an early draft of the second section of a paper I’m working on titled ‘Who Gives a Tweet about Privacy’ and builds from an earlier posted section titled ‘Privacy, Dignity, Copyright and Twitter‘ Other sections will follow as I draft them.]

Towards a Statutory Notion of Privacy

Whereas Warren and Brandeis explicitly built a tort claim to privacy (and can be read as implicitly laying the groundwork for a right to privacy), theorists such as Alan Westin attempt to justify a claim to privacy that would operate as the bedrock for a right to privacy. Spiros Simitis recognizes this claim, but argues that privacy should be read as both an individual and a social issue. The question that arises is whether or not these writers’ respective understandings of privacy capture the normative expectations of speaking in a public space, such as Twitter; do their understandings of intrusion/data capture recognize the complexities of speaking in public spaces and provide a reasonable expectation of privacy that reflects people’s interests to keep private some, but not all, of the discussions they have in public?

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Three-Strikes to Banish Europeans and Americans from the ‘net?

200903281552.jpgThroughout the Global North there are discussions on the table for introducing what are called ‘three-strikes’ rules that are designed to cut or, or hinder, people’s access to the Internet should they be caught infringing on copyright. In the EU, the big content cartel is trying to get ISPs to inspect consumer data flows and, when copywritten content is identified, ‘punish’ the individual in some fashion. Fortunately, it is looking that at least the EU Parliament is against imposing such rules on the basis that disconnecting individuals from the Internet would infringe on EU citizens’ basic rights. In an era where we are increasingly digitizing our records and basic communications infrastructure, it’s delightful to see a body in a major world power recognize the incredibly detrimental and over-reactionary behavior that the copyright cartel is calling for. Copyright infringement does not trump basic civil liberties.

Now, I expect that many readers would say something along this line: I don’t live in the EU, and the EU Parliament has incredibly limited powers. Who cares, this: (a) doesn’t affect me; (b) is unlikely to have a real impact on EU policy.

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Techno-magnates and the Third World

In recent years we’ve seen some of the most powerful men in the world decide to turn their gaze towards the third-world. What has been surprising is that their intent has not been to solely dominate and exploit the most economically disadvantaged peoples in the world, but to try and relieve some of the ills that they face.

Techno-magnates – Bill and Nicholas – and their projects

The two most prominent individuals that have turned their attention to the third world have been Bill Gates, who is spending billions through the Melissa and Bill Gate’s Foundation to try and raise standards of living by improving literacy and fighting disease. The foundation is best known for its in work fighting disease – it has targeted Acute Diarrhoeal Illness, Acute Lower Respiratory Infections, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis (to name a few) as their primary targets.

Nicholas Negroponte, the magnate and visionary behind the One Laptop Per Child Program, want to bring the digital revolution to poor children and let them enjoy the ensuing benefits of the digital revolution. The theory is that, by distributing textbooks electronically, by giving children a way of learning to program, by giving them rugged pieces of technology that can be powered by a bicycle or foot loom, children can receive top-rate education despite living in Less Economically Developed Countries (LECDs).

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