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

“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)