Deep Packet Inspection and the Discourses of Censorship and Regulation

boredomIn the current CRTC hearings over Canadian ISPs’ use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to manage bandwidth, I see two ‘win situations’ for the dominant carriers:

  1. They can continue to throttle ‘problem’ applications in the future;
  2. The CRTC decides to leave the wireless market alone right now.

I want to talk about the effects of throttling problem applications, and how people talking about DPI should focus on the negative consequences of regulation (something that is, admittedly, often done). In thinking about this, however, I want to first attend to the issues of censorship models to render transparent the difficulties in relying on censorship-based arguments to oppose uses of DPI. Following this, I’ll consider some of the effects of regulating access to content through protocol throttling. The aim is to suggest that individuals and groups who are opposed to the throttling of particular application-protocols should focus on the effects of regulation, given that it is a more productive space of analysis and argumentation, instead of focusing on DPI as an instrument for censorship.

Let’s first touch on the language of censorship itself. We typically understand this action in terms of a juridico-discursive model, or a model that relies on rules to permit or negate discourse. There are three common elements to this model-type:

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Draft: What’s Driving Deep Packet Inspection in Canada?

routingpacketsFor 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.

Genealogy and the ‘Net

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading some of Foucault’s Society Must be Defended. Over the course of the book Foucault will be radically changing his early positions, and I hope to note and discuss these changes as I come across them. This said, I’ve recently finished the first lecture and wanted to reflect on the power of genealogies, the fragmented character of the ‘net, and synthesize that with Wu and Goldsmith’s account of the Internet and Foucault’s own thoughts on power as repression. There’s a lot to do, but I think that it might be very profitable to at least toy around with this for a bit.


There is a tendency to try and capture knowledge in unitary architectures. Foucault equates this to trying to develop a unifying concept to explain the behaviour of each droplet of water that explodes from around a sperm whale when it breeches. In the very process of establishing a complex formula to receive this information, the act itself is lost.

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