Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eye is for Internet: the wonders of DPI

The debate over net neutrality is about more than just potential discrimination on the Internet and the wisdom of legislating a government mandate that all data traffic be treated the same.

Net neutrality is more than weighing the pros of regulation to insure access to content, applications and services of our choice, with the cons of potentially stifling needed investment in infrastructure because turning a profit under such a regulatory regime might be threatened.

It turns out net neutrality is also about deep packet inspection.

You haven't heard of DPI? It's sort of like cloning. A fine example of amazing science and technology, with a hint of Frankenstein.

DPI simplistically stated is a bunch of tools that network operators can install to collect data about traffic on their pipes. Not just run-of-the-mill data, but really deep and highly personal data. For you techies, OSI Level 7 deep. The digital equivalent of those X-ray glasses sold in the back of comic books that see through peoples' clothes.

Benevolent uses of DPI include identifying viruses, collecting data for business purposes and assisting law enforcement track down criminals.

Malevolent uses include spying on users like you.

Yup, network operators who spend millions for DPI can, in addition to managing traffic for business reasons, peek in to your email, chart your video habits and keep records of the various applications you use.

As the FCC refines and vets ideas in the current rulemaking process, the question of whether consumers have a right to be free from Internet Provider eavesdropping under the net neutrality rubric is an interesting one.

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