America's ISPs set to spy on your network access to help entertainment industry

Douglas Rushkoff writes on CNN about the new US "six strikes" copyright regime, an unholy alliance between the major entertainment companies the the nation's largest ISPs, which gives your ISP carte blanche to spy on all your private Internet traffic on the off chance that you might be interfering with Universal Music's profit-maximization scheme. If you attract enough unsubstantiated copyright accusations, you and your family -- or your business -- could lose your Internet access.

As I understand the new agreement and subsequent comments, which are about as cryptic as a copy-protected DVD, ISP's have agreed to implement a standardized "graduated response plan" through which offending users are warned, restricted and eventually cut off from the Internet for successive violations. The companies are supposed to be developing systems that keep track of all this, so that the letters and usage restrictions happen automatically. The fact that they are all agreeing to participate makes it harder for any one company to win the disgruntled customers of those who have been disciplined by another.

But now that they're free from individual blame, there's also the strong possibility that the ISPs will be doing the data monitoring directly. That's a much bigger deal. So instead of reaching out to the Internet to track down illegally flowing bits of their movies, the studios will sit back while ISP's "sniff" the packets of data coming to and from their customers' computers. While they're simply claiming to be protecting copyright holders, ISPs have a lot to gain from all this as well.

For instance, in many cases the Internet subscriber might have no knowledge of the infraction that the ISP detects. A houseguest might log onto one's home network simply to check e-mail. Because his sharing software might be running in the background (even when he's not downloading files himself) he is in effect sharing his own movie files wherever he goes. Your ISP sniffs the packets, so you are nabbed. The same is true for those of us who run "open networks" so that neighbors and others nearby can get free Internet access when they need it. (In the old days, that used to be considered polite.)

Will your Internet provider be spying on you?


  1. as i understand it – and i certainly do not understand it – they field a swarm of fake torrent clients to eavesdrop on which IP (given even dynamically assigned IP would be traceable for an ISP’s detailed records) is receiving/sending the latest Bieber vid (or other deemed valuable copyrighted item).  but how will they get around the “open wireless AP”  problem?  after “six strikes” (how was 6 decided? i’m more of a 7 man m’self) they shut down the internet access of the local starbucks? …nah.  something is ‘other’ here.

  2. The complexities of monitoring at the ISP level are huge (that means “expensive” in corporate speak). The public impression is that it’s like looking for blood in a stream of water and then matching the DNA back to a person, but it’s more like looking for people who had hot dogs for lunch in a stream of sewage. The way non-snooping ISPs are going to compete is they’ll be able to offer the same service at a lower price because they’re not paying for this nonsense.

    1. Yes, which is why the content industry will use legal measures to cow or drive out of business any ISP that doesn’t play ball. And if the relevant laws don’t exist, then the industry’s selected representatives will obligingly provide them in exchange for the usual consideration.

  3. What do the ISPs get for doing the copyright policing? You can’t tell me they are doing this for nothing in return. There has to be something these ISPs are getting for spending time and money on monitoring. I would like to know what that is.

    1. They are also content providers. What they think they’re getting is more people buying premium cable channels and pay-per-view shows. Some of them even make the TV and movies themselves and think it will increase sales of DVDs and movie tickets.

      1. They will find out that is not the case. People don’t have the spare cash like they used to and their viewing habits have changed. Things are not going to go back in time no matter how much these big corporations crack down on piracy.

        1.  These are the same morons who will, with a straight face, tell you that every download is a lost sale. I mean – I think they actually believe it.

      2. in the long ago halcyon days when the FCC still kept a mandate to keep the channels of communication for an informed electorate; one media corporation could not own both the local radio/TV station and the local newspaper.  this important rule has now been all but destroyed via “campaign financing” (graft) of course.

        what would be delightful (and unlikely) would be to see some brave politician(s) demand that the FCC update the rule (and actually enforce it) to the 21st century via the consideration of media company having to be separate from ISPs.   of course Comcast and Murdoch has that already violated everywhere, as you indicate above.

  4. Six Strikes has been as clear as mud.
    It seems to be a cartel boondoggle to waste more money in their war on consumers.
    The group in charge of sending out the messages, is run by the head of a PR firm.
    The group supposedly collecting the “evidence” has yet to be named, and most likely is using the same flawed IP address captures as used by the cloud of copyright trolls plaguing the courts.
    Is anyone surprised by the strike against MegaUpload happening when cyberlockers are something this IP capture tech can’t track?

    I await an AG to get off their behinds and ask how a private company is allowed to meddle in the contracts between users and ISPs.  There is also a large amount of revenue for states to consider getting, if ISPs want to play a role in this private system they should not have access to rights of way and other deals offered by the public.  Why should a single tax dollar be paid to the participating firms, which in many areas enjoy monopoly status denying customers the right to pick a firm not spying on them.

    They have made so many different comments about how the system will respond with later versions being once you get 6 strikes they unenroll you in the program, and then the cartel will just send shakedown notices directly.

    Keeping records of accusations, and then requiring a payment to have the chance to challenge one of these notices.  Then being faced with highly limited allowed answers, one from the bizzaro world of nothing is public domain since 1929 so you can’t say you were sharing something in the public domain.

    Given the numerous stories of how the cartel and their employees can’t be bothered to look past a name to see if it actually is infringing, this system will result in several lawsuits as they flag people left and right and consumers will eventually file lawsuits.  But hey at least there is a lawsuit escape clause in their agreement, if they get sued they can pull out of the program.  Shall we just all sue now preemptively?

  5. But now that they’re free from individual blame, there’s also the strong possibility that the ISPs will be doing the data monitoring directly.

    Speculation makes for great alarmist headlines.

  6. So the question is: what are good VPNs?

     iPredator (which Cory had mentioned elsewhere) I’ve read is rather slow. HideMyAss (a popular VPN) I’ve heard lots of bad things about.

    Do people have recommendations on VPNs? As it seems that having a good VPN (who one trusts ?) is going to become a necessity.

  7. If in fact the ISPs decide to run modified torrent clients to watch who connects to various industry-supplied torrents from their own netblock, one potential way to circumvent that plan is to blacklist your own ISP in your torrent client. You’ll then only connect to peers from other ISPs. Of course, if the alliance devises a system to share this info quickly, then it wouldn’t help much. I wonder if there are legal grounds for preventing that sharing of info?

    1. Use rechargeable credit cards to pay for your internet using bogus names. There is no law that I’ve heard of that dictates you need to use your real details for a line and ISP. Even if a credit check needs to be done, it’s up to the provider to ask you for your *real* details.

      1.  While a great option for improving the privacy of many services (cell phones, in particular), hard wired internet service is invariably tied to your address. In this case, you may be able to manage some degree of obfuscation, but it could be relatively easily circumvented.

  8. Similar Law is heading to implementation here in Canada (Bill C-11). 

    A dark age approach-eth. Yes, we will invent ways around, ways to hide the true content from a ‘sniff’ –  for example by adding irrelevant content to the front of a stream – but this continuing war … all this wasted energy.

    We need to lobby for law that protects internet privacy (law that defines online activity as Private) , law that guarantees recourse under the law, law that sets prerequisites (like a warrant from a Judge) before anyone can use private online info to prosecute or break contracts citizens are party to. 
    And to put all this to bed for good – a small surcharge on every internet account that goes into a fund that pays artists and copy right holders a piece of the pie as recompense for what they do (what DO rights holders DO – anyway?). I think that with the power of corporations as it is right now, that good law is unlikely – without some sort of revolution; like a grass roots movement of internet users who sign on to the above outlined narrative and lobby in their millions for those laws to be enacted.Dog, I hate the way things are.

  9. We had some teenage boys visiting a few weeks ago and I immediately got two nastygram emails from Comcast warning me that they were alerting the copyright owners that I’d been downloading movies via bittorrent. Comcast subscribers be forewarned.

  10. With the ubiquity of the internet and the amount of consumer services (including telecom services) moving to the internet, blocking internet access for a household can be akin to blocking phone service or some other critical utility.  This is like blocking somebody’s phone service because they used the phone to set up an illegal showing of copyrighted material.  Or like blocking someone’s electricity because they are using their electricity to illegally show copyrighted material.  Stupid at best, immoral at worst.

  11. Glad I use Transmission for Mac and it’s option to only connect to encrypted peers.  If that don’t work, guess it’s VPN time.

  12. trouble is, it’s not inspection of the content that gives away torrent usage, it’s the traffic pattern of many connections from your box to all the other clients holding pieces of your files.

    private trackers can help, but as someone on /. recently noted, it only takes one person to sell out a private tracker.

    edit: reply to Cameron

  13. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.  Eventually some ISP will be fingered as snooping at some sort of Government/Corporate/Legal/Medical information that they shouldn’t be.

    From a privacy point of view, this is absolutely insane.

  14. Every time I read about measures like this, my immediate thought is “how difficult would it be to create a webtunnel/vpn that spoofs your IP and replaces it with those of RIAA-affiliated companies, politicians/government departments or (even better) the home IP addresses of the idiots lobbying for these laws?”

    Surely not impossible? Bundle the software in to new builds of bittorrent clients and enable it by default, then laugh as the riaa et al sue themselves off the internet. Imagine how quickly they would lose their appetite for this kind of bullshit if all of the first wave of disconnects were their own businesses, homes and departments…

  15. CNN is owned by Time Warner (ya know Warner Bros).
    Of course they’re gonna be in league with the “entertainment industry” –  They ARE the entertainment industry.

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