Enterprise Software

Is AT&T our new Big Brother?

Since the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) was passed, network operators have been shielded from a requirement to ensure that copyright material does not travel their bandwidth. As a result, legal challenges have fallen mainly on peer-to-peer sharing sites and user-generated sites, such as YouTube and MySpace. But AT&T seems to be looking at changing that.

Since the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) was passed, network operators have been shielded from a requirement to ensure that copyright material does not travel their bandwidth. As a result, legal challenges have fallen mainly on peer-to-peer sharing sites and user-generated sites, such as YouTube and MySpace. But AT&T seems to be looking at changing that.

In a small panel discussion at CES on digital piracy, representatives from NBC, Microsoft, AT&T, along with several digital filtering companies, discussed whether it was the right time to start filtering network traffic for copyrighted content.

From the New York Times:

Such filtering for pirated material already occurs on sites like YouTube and Microsoft's Soapbox, and on some university networks.

Network-level filtering means your Internet service provider – Comcast, AT&T, EarthLink, or whoever you send that monthly check to – could soon start sniffing your digital packets, looking for material that infringes on someone's copyright.

The question remains if this level of filtering can be done to a level of accuracy. Developers of filtering technology say it can, but it has not yet been proven.

There has been widespread criticism from consumer activists that content filtering would violate customers' privacy.

From CNET's News.com:

"Content filtering is like the cops knocking on everyone's door to make sure there are no stolen goods inside," said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge, a digital-rights public interest group. "Searching packets on a network throws out the whole idea of innocent until proven guilty."

What are your thoughts? Is content filtering reasonable? Or do you think that network providers should limit themselves to providing connectivity? What outcome do you see?

Additional information:

AT&T To Police For Copyright Infractions (Wired)

AT&T. Your World, Delivered… to the MPAA (Digital Daily)

AT&T to police the Internet (last100)

25 comments
deepsand
deepsand

not to protect the users and their machines, but the content providers. I.e., it's us that they don't trust, and "Trusted Computing" is merely a vehicle for their controlling what we do. A pox on all their houses.

gparsons
gparsons

Hello?! This is the company that may have illegally wire-tapped you in cahoots with the federal government and is lobbying Congress, to the tune of millions of dollars, for legal immunity from that, before we get to learn the extent of what that whole wire-tapping thing was all about.. Are you kidding me?!!! Squander your freedom and give your fourth and second amendment rights away. See who comes knocking down the door and see what you can do about it. I will be a criminal by then!

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

I hope they enjoy filtering P2P traffic that is encrypted, encapsulated in packets that look like they are for VOIP or other apps, or any other technique used to bypass the filters. How about the Internet is free and open as it was originally intended to be. Or shall shall the local state department of transportation now become responsible for catching DUI's, finding illegal items in vehicles, etc, instead of law enforcement performing these tasks?

swheeler
swheeler

If cloaking p2p sharing becomes necessary, that only means there's one more step to setting up your connection. It solves nothing to snoop packets 24/7 on all customers. It's just an incentive to innovate. I've rode the file sharing wave and learned how to find what I want when I want it. A couple years ago my computer was connected non-stop for music and tv downloads. I'm not much of a user now though, because the content I want is already offered by networks and artists. After a crash wiped my file collection, I had no desire to rebuild it. Phase over.

JCitizen
JCitizen

in this country and tremendous improvements in national back bone bandwidth I just can't see how we need less traffic instead of more. If the digital cable TV companies can make money selling streaming video over cable then I can't see why the internet companies can't do the same. Most of them charge the same so far; the ISPs I have done business with charge for tiered bandwidth; 785kbs - 1.5Gbs - 3Gbs most commonly. It should be that 24/7 no matter what time of day or whether you use all that or part of it all day.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I think not. The same laws that apply to the content of telephone calls carried by AT&T also apply to the content of IP packets. Regardless of the DMCA, what I [u]knowingly[/u] send and receive during my on-line sessions is private. AT&T has no business examining such transmissions absent a law enforcement agent with a warrant.

BBPellet
BBPellet

My view is that there should be no content filtering period. If they are downloading/posting illegal content...it is up the the owners of that content to persue the offenders...not those that provide the pipe or the server resources to do so. Personally, I feel copyrights should be abolished, one does not own ideas...just create them and add to them. If we have open source software, and code....why not open source content too! I see no differance between the two, both are ideas that are created by a human for a human purpose, both of which can be developed in to new and better ideas, and that no single person can not tangibly own them. Then why should they have a right to it! IT is owned by everyone who likes that idea and can be altered in any way that one sees fit. But that is my view....

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

My thoughts! If there is sufficient reason to determine that a server (or desktop acting as a server) is breaking the law, then they should block it/disconnect it. But sniffing packets is an invasion of privacy without a court order. An ISP is there to provide bandwidth and access to the Internet. If someone is repeatedly going to illegal sites and downloading, then by all means, disconnect them or warn them. If they are part of a botnet, then send a mesage stating to fix the problem or they will be disconnected. If it is not fixed then temp disconnect until they call for support. But actively scanning all users packets crosses a line that shoul dnot be crossed. It is imposed that everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Just the same way that MS treats it's customers. I have no problem with banning illegal activity, or banning certain websites that are following illegal practices. But it should not be done until it is proven that these sites are hosting illegal content. Just my thoughts, take them as you see them. Edited to fix the title, because it says IS AT and cut it off...hmmm...

aerospaced
aerospaced

My fear is that they trip apon someone doing something wrong and give it to the police and then the police are unable to do anything, because the information was taken illegally. This gives the villan an opportunity to pick up and set up shop elsewhere. I have never had much for the file sharing The majority of what I have is bought by me. the rest belonged to my wife before we got married. I personally believe that when you download a cd/movie you never paid for, you have stolen that product. Whether you walked up to walmart and took a new cd off the shelf or downloaded it and burned it off; you have still stolen that product. I feel that this is wrong. BUT; for those of us who legally buy a cd/movie we enjoy making the product liquid and movable. When you buy blank cd/dvd's a portion of the markup goes to the record/film industry per the negotiated deal. ( I do not remember the exact cite it might be googled by ??? vs ris or something like that.) My wife and I rip a cd five minutes after we get home and put in on the xbox (which has been converted to a media server for the home theater system) where we can access it with the mp3 players to move it on and off of our players. We truely enjoy being able to do this. MY point I am trying to get to is at what point does at & t stop. why did they volunteer. Who are they going to pass the charges on to? If they do not charge the customer, then what is in it for them. Such software would be great to sniff out corporate secrets and no one would be the wiser. information could be sold to competitors, if say verizon was passing important information over the internet, at & t could sniff it out and profit from the information. We are taking a very scarry step into the grey fog! one solution I have held for years is to have an online clearing house. The user purchases the product online, each time it is copied, they must produce their registered id. With the exposure to lose of annonimity(i cannot spell) they lose thier braveness. Several years ago I almost lost my job over a cd which had a secret root kit in it. it took over my server and opened an exploite which was taken avantage of. All I did was play the cd on the desktop while i was working. Had I illegally downloaded the cd it would have had that removed and I would have never got in such trouble. But, because I played a legal cd, the manufacture had placed a root kit in the cd to stop pirates, and the pirates were using it to break into the honest users' pc to steal music.....by the way, sony company was the maker of the cd.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I agree with you Pond Scum. Here we are trying to keep the crackers from stiffing our packets and all of the sudden it's OK for the ISP to do it?? I just can't shift gears fast enough to get a handle on that. I feel they ought to get court orders and I don't mean the kind Bush wants that go on forever.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

if they want to play this role! Having a temp-disconnection until their system is clean (botnet) can be run on a temp disconnect of say 30-min. A warning sent to the system stating that a permanent disconnect will happen if they do not clean their system. As for sites hosting illegal items, yes, block them, put them away for a short while. But they would need to be careful about these. There should be large penalties for blocking 'legal' content. If the ISP's want to police their networks, let them -- WITH rules, and allow them to be punished severely for breaking those rules, or banning sites that are not illegal. As for sniffing packets, this is a bunch of BS. There is no reason to sniff packets from the ISP. That is purely an invasion of privacy

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

It's a valuable resource that can be smothered & crippled by regulation. Sometimes, I've found unofficial resources to be more reliable & accurate then the official ones. If an authority figure get's a stick up his butt, he could have an legitimate but unofficial source shut down. People put too much faith in people, espcially those in authority.

Tig2
Tig2

Is content filtering reasonable? Or do you think that network providers should limit themselves to providing connectivity? What outcome do you see?

DadsPad
DadsPad

It is like thowing the baby out with the bathwater. While I have sympathy with people/companies that hold patents, like many other changes in our society, this needs a lot of innovative changes. The way inexpensive movie/songs are being offered for download are but one example. Freedom is never more precious than when it is lost. I don't know who originally said that, but it is true. China felt they had to clamp down on the free internet. Other countries are sure to do the same. The bigger ATT gets and the more powerful its investors, the more pressure to do these things might happen. I think if this is implemented by ATT, lawsuits may go to the supreme court for a resolution.

armstrongb
armstrongb

Is the issue copyright abuse or insufficent bandwidth? ISP's are not law enforcement agencies. ISP's provide access to the internet. Inspecting every packet will greatly impact everyone and not do much to combat a problem that the ISP has no legal standing to resolve. Many ISP's are using the bogeyman of copyright abuse to throttle traffic. Perhaps the Comcast's and AT&T's of the world should not offer "unlimited" usage if their networks are not able to support the traffic of their paid subscribers. I would be fine with metered service instead of all I can eat. If a network user is violating copyright then it is up the copyright holder to seek a remedy not some vigilante ISP control freak sniffing every packet.

Tig2
Tig2

And that is the crux of it. At what point does it become necessary to tell a vendor that we will not tolerate this level of privacy invasion? And what is the best way to communicate that message- if indeed, that is the correct massage?

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

All it takes is one nosy jerk to screw everything up! Even if caught & properly punished for their actions, the damage is still done. Plus, there's the hassle of straightening up all the damage caused by said jerk!

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

As we IT professionals all know, the potential for abuse here is astronomical. Once the ISPs start filtering, they can grab anything they like, probably start rerouting and screening things as well. All it takes is one unscrupelous jerk at the ISP to start filtering for bank statements, emails with certain keywords, et cetera and this could be a brand new venue for identity theft or worse.

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

But, are consumers willing to take up the burden of protecting their rights? Saying no isn't enough, it takes vast resources as well. Many can gripe all they want, but who has the steadfast will AND resources to combat this malarkey? I have the will but not the resources.

JCitizen
JCitizen

not less. Even the power companies are jumping on board; by transmitting information over the powerlines. We shouldn't have to put up with the highjinks of any one ISP - if competition is being stiffled in some areas then it is time to hit our congressman. It is an election year after all.

brian.mills
brian.mills

I think this falls under a similar category to wire-tapping (not the post-9/11 illegal kind) and police stakeouts. I believe the technology should exist to be able to do this, but at the same time I believe this technology should only be used when there is already suspicion of guilt, much the same way that police departments pull phone records or stake out a suspect's home or business. While I personally have no illicit activity to hide from my ISP, I don't particularly want them snooping on my email passwords and bank account information, even if all they see is an encrypted stream. I think that with the proper approval process, like a search warrant, this technology would greatly improve investigations of cybercrime. But without a system of checks and balances in place to protect those not already suspected of a crime, this would be an unnecessary (and wrong in my opinion) invasion of privacy.

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

I agree with what you say. This has a high potential for abuse. Especially if someone in authority becomes disgruntled with someone. I have nothing to hide as well, but I don't like the possibility of being monitored during all my online activities. Also, What If say a student is researching file sharing & accused of illegal activities that he's innocent of? I often feel like America is on a slippery slope into becoming a police state. Content creators have the right to fair compensation for their works, but consumers have the right to be treated in a fair, respectiful manner. It goes both ways.

Kdavenport
Kdavenport

If a federal warrent is needed to tap a phone line (electronic data), why would it not be the same case for Internet traffic (Electronic Data).. In many cases the ISP is the same as the phone service provider. If we let stuff like this happen there will be no rights and privacy left. Corprate America needs to follow and be accountible for the same laws that the rest of us do.

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