Is Your ISP Snooping On You?
The RIAA, MPAA and other entertainment industry advocacy groups may have the ability to negotiate privately with lawmakers about Internet policy, but your Internet traffic may no longer have any meaningful privacy at all. At the end of this year, several US ISPs are going to start rolling out a program that involves monitoring traffic for copyright infringement and, if it is detected, taking mitigation measures.
What it Does
The current setup of the anti-copyright effort involves a six strikes program that includes increasingly punitive measures. Though the ISPs and entertainment industry spokespeople quoted in several different media sources claim that the program is not designed to be punitive at all, it does involve having your Internet speed choked and, possibly, having your account canceled altogether.
When the program is finally rolled out, ISPs including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner cable will start looking for traffic that they believe demonstrates a copyright infringement. The main targets will be peer-to-peer filesharing networks, particularly bit torrent.
The system is called the Copyright Alert System. If copyright infringement is detected on your Internet connection, you will receive an e-mail alert from your ISP and, if the infringements continue, a series of six steps will follow. The first few steps involved receiving e-mail alerts and, possibly, having your Internet connection restricted to a walled garden where you are required to go through educational tutorials about copyright infringement. Following that, your ISP may choose to slow down your Internet connection for a certain period of time.
According to industry spokespeople, there are contingencies built into the plan for people who have their wireless connections hacked or who run them open and who end up becoming unwittingly involved in copyright infringement. You can only claim that this happened one time, however.
How Do You Know?
As was stated above, consumers don’t really have any input into the system and it was largely negotiated in secret. It’s also impossible to tell whether or not your ISP is monitoring you, but it seems like that’s a pretty good bet, given the fact that the entertainment industry has so much pull with ISPs.
One way to prevent being monitored is to use a VPN connection. This encrypts your Internet traffic so it is basically a random series of ones and zeros as far as anybody trying to monitor it can tell. It also conceals your IP address, preventing any downloading you do from being tracked back to you. Piracy is illegal for a reason, but this is one case where everybody is being treated as if they are already guilty of it. After all, the entertainment industry certainly couldn’t go through your CD collection without a warrant to see if any of them had been copied.