Forget Neutrality — Keep Packets Private

Daniel Berninger argues that more than just neutrality is at stake with the “net neutrality” debate – its also a matter of privacy:

Never mind net neutrality, I want my privacy. As in packet privacy. The telcos say they need to sell non-neutral routing of traffic to recover the cost of building broadband networks. Moving from the Internet, where a packet-is-a-packet, to something that looks suspiciously like the 20th century telephone network requires remarrying the content and connectivity that TCP/IP divorced. It requires deep packet inspection. It requires looking at the content of communication.

AT&T does not plan to roll out two physical pipes to every end point in order to sell Google enhanced access. The new telco plan calls for content-based routing to separate traffic into media and destination specific VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). Laws exist to address the substantial privacy threats created by the fact telephone companies know Mr. Smith called Mr. Jones, but the privacy risks associated with “content routing” replacing “end point routing” enter an different realm.

Coping with billing disputes still means retaining data. Under what circumstances might a third party get access to the data derived from content routing? Content routing in one context enables content filtering in another. Lessons Cisco accumulates in providing content filtering equipment for the Great Firewall of China apply to directly to content routing ambitions of telcos in the U.S.

The telcos do not claim a right to listen in on calls to enforce the business versus consumer pricing policies. What makes it appropriate to use packet inspection to accomplish the same thing? The pitch for content routing gets presented in terms of quality of service guarantees that benefit users, but there are other customers for content routing. Law enforcement and criminal enterpises will have plenty of uses for data obtained through deep packet inspection. One can imagine champagne will flow at the NSA should the telcos get their wish.

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