YOUR ISP MAY BE SPYING ON YOU — Big Brother Trumps Privacy

There is a little secret that your ISP probably does not want you to know.  And you certainly will not see it listed anywhere as part of your ISP’s advertised services.

Since July 1st  many ISPs, including Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, have started efforts to actively scrutinize their customers’ Internet activity.  What are they looking for?  Evidence related to downloading or sharing of copyrighted material, including music, movies and software.

In other words, rather than passively allowing traffic to course through their networks (a hands-off policy known as “Net Neutrality”), major ISPs have been cajoled  by various interests, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), into acting as copyright police.  Although this partnership has been in the works since 2011, it officially kicked off on July 1, 2012.

Under the deal, ISPs that find suspicious copyright infringing activity will begin a “graduated response”, which starts with notices to the customer and then increasing levels of pressure meant to deter the activity.  Should it continue, the customer may find bandwidth throttled down or, in the most severe instances, Internet service could be suspended.

But you have nothing to fear — do you?  After all, only kids are pirating music, right?  Well the same equipment that enables an ISP to identify pirated music and movies also enables the reading of emails, personal data and any other information sent over the Internet.  It is akin to the Post Office opening your mail and reading it before sending it on to its destination.

ISPs accomplish this using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).  With DPI equipment, not only can ISPs examine the precise content of your traffic, but personal data like your age, location, and shopping records can even be logged and sold to marketing companies.

Not long ago I wrote about how Comcast ran into hot water with the FCC [.pdf] over the use of DPI.  Those days now appear to be over.  It seems that privacy and net neutrality are increasingly at odds with pressure from various forces in the entertainment industry, not to mention government interests.

In fact, Wired Magazine recently reported on the astounding Orwellian scope of the NSA’s massive new data facility.  “Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital pocket litter.”  The article notes that the NSA “has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas.”

So whether it’s your ISP, the government or hackers, one thing is certain, expect the increased use of tools to monitor your Internet activity.  When it comes to the Internet, it is probably safe to assume that Big Brother is watching.