AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Iran. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that
European telecommunications companies have helped the Iranian government
develop one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms to monitor and
control communications on the internet. This capability was provided in
part by a joint venture of the German-based Siemens AG and Nokia, the
Finnish cell phone company.
The Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called
“deep packet inspection,” which enables authorities to block
communication, gather information about individuals, as well as alter it
for disinformation purposes.
The Wall Street Journal also reports that
China’s internet censoring mechanism is believed to use deep packet
inspection, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the media reform group Free Press says the same
technology is also being widely deployed here in the United States.
To find out more about deep packet inspection and concerns about how
this kind of technology can be used, we’re joined via Democracy Now!
video stream by Josh Silver, the executive director of Free Press,
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Josh. Explain what they’re doing in Iran and
then how the same technology is being used here.
JOSH SILVER: Well, yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the
Iranian government had secured this system from a German and Finnish
company that will look through everything, both land line telephones,
mobile telephones, email, websites, looking for keywords and actually
monitoring the entire traffic going through one chokepoint in Iran.
been disputed by the European company, but the validity of the report
What’s scary about this is that this technology that monitors everything
that goes through the internet is something that works, it’s readily
available, and there’s no legislation in the United States that prevents
the US government from employing it.
And that’s what’s really the
cautionary tale here.
AMY GOODMAN: Your report is called "Deep
Packet Inspection: The End of the Internet as We Know It." Why does it threaten the internet, overall?
JOSH SILVER: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, if you look back
to the 1930s, when telephone service became ubiquitous around the United
States, lawmakers realized then that there was this new communications
infrastructure and there needed to be consumer protections so that the
government and others could not unlawfully or unethically monitor and
listen in to the private conversations of American citizens.
established laws that prevented that from happening. In those laws, it
made it so that the government requires a legitimate warrant, issued by
a judge, that lets them do such monitoring.
Now we don’t have that. So what we have is this sort of free-for-all,
where the policy that governs the internet has not caught up with the
technology. So you have these incredible systems, built primarily by
companies like Cisco out in California, that have the ability to do
Now, we’re not saying that AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are like the
Iranian government, but we do see a problem where even our own
president, with his progressive internet policy agenda, last year
flipped on this issue and actually supported a
that granted immunity to the largest phone and cable companies for
turning over citizens’ private records to the government, which was
illegal at the time.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Your organization, a couple of years ago, raised
questions about what Comcast was doing, in terms of this issue. Could
you explain that?
JOSH SILVER: Sure. Last year, we filed a suit at the Federal
Communications Commission and actually sanctioned Comcast Cable, for the
first time any major carrier being punished for blocking so-called
That is, they were discriminating against certain
internet content over others. And the reason these issues are so
important is that all communications - phone service, web service,
radio - is all moving towards an online connection, all going through the
So this is really about the future of all communication in
JUAN GONZALEZ: And how does packet inspection work?
JOSH SILVER: The way deep packet inspection works is that you have
sophisticated equipment that literally watches the entire internet, and
it watches for every piece of data, voice, video that goes through and
pulls out key words, it pulls out key - both written and spoken, and
looking for things like "rebel" or "grenade" or what have you.
it will trigger that, and that will go to
the NSA version, in this case,
in the country of Iran.
But the potential of this technology to give government this
sort of Big
Brother monitoring ability, which goes way beyond any of the
constitutional protections that are in our original Constitution, are
really a cautionary tale and should have everyone in this country on
It is notable that there’s been very little follow-up coverage
of this issue since yesterday’s Wall Street Journal piece.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s happening in China, Josh Silver?
JOSH SILVER: Well, China has very similar systems.
What’s a little bit
interesting about what happened yesterday is that Iran seems to be - and
again, this has not been completely proven - but according to the Wall
Street Journal, it appears that Iran is actually monitoring this web
traffic in one single chokepoint on the web, whereas China does it in
many different locations.
That’s not a big difference, but everyone
knows that the Chinese government is terrible on protecting the privacy
of their citizens.
But we do have a situation where this is starting to
become ubiquitous in countries with bad human rights records, and it’s
one that we have to get some legislation on, both internationally and in
the US Congress, if we’re going to sort of stem this.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh, can you talk more about how this can be deployed here
at home, how it’s done without our knowledge, and what you feel can be
done about it?
JOSH SILVER: Well, it’s widely known that the major carriers,
particularly AT&T and Verizon, were being asked by
the NSA, by the
Bush administration, during the last seven, eight years, since
particularly, where they were asked to deploy sort of off-the-shelf
technology made by some of these companies like
Cisco that would do what
I just described, that would listen to monitor content moving across the
web and across the voice lines across this country.
It was found that
they did it, and a law was introduced in the Congress that would
actually - would grant them immunity. It was written by telephone
lobbyists. Again, Obama came out against that law and said we must
punish these carriers for doing this, because it’s illegal, and then he
flipped, under enormous pressure from the lobbies.
The technology is there. It’s going to get better. It’s very - relatively
very easy for phone, cable companies, and thus the government, to
monitor and listen and watch what we do every day on the web and on our
phones. The only thing that’s going to protect us is hard, concrete laws
passed by the US Congress that will make it illegal, and then effective watchdogging by the government to make sure that those laws are upheld.
So, in order to do that, people need to pay attention. People need to
talk to their members of Congress about it. They have to go to our
website, freepress.net, and get involved and make sure that these basic
protections are upheld.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Josh, on a related matter, the President Obama’s
nominee for as chairman of the FCC was recently approved by the Senate.
He is supposedly especially an expert on the internet. What do you see
in terms of changes in FCC policy now that he’s been approved?
JOSH SILVER: Julius Genachowski is set to be approved by the Senate any
day now, and it’s good news. From everything we know about Julius Genachowski, he’s a good guy.
He is committed to enacting the policies
of President Obama, which, as I mentioned, are very good for the most
part. They are committed to net neutrality. They are committed to
getting affordable, ubiquitous internet into every community, rural and
urban, rich and poor, across the country.
But as is always the case, as we look at the massive lobby that is in
the form of the cable and phone companies, which is as big as the
military or pharmaceutical industries, the proof is in the pudding.
proof is in whether or not the administration actually makes good on
their promises and gets the kind of future-proof networks installed that
they promised. It is notable that Obama did pass a $7.2 billion stimulus
package that goes towards building out high-speed internet across the
But again, this is a cautionary tale, one that reminds the public that
we have to stay involved in these debates, that the public has to pay
attention to crucial media issues, because they’re all tied to the
failure of newspapers and the shuttering of newsrooms across the country
and this fundamental question of,
“Will we have the communications
infrastructure to both produce good-quality, hard-hitting journalism,
like Democracy Now!, and effectively and affordably distribute it around
And if we don’t pay attention to these issues, the
distribution part is not going to work.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh Silver, I want to thank you for being with us,
executive director of Free Press,