October 10, 2010
Josh Silver, “Deep
Packet Inspection: Telecoms Aided Iran Government to Censor
Internet, Technology Widely Used in US,” Democracy Now!,
June 23, 2009,
David Karvets, “Obama
Sides With Bush in Spy Case,” Wired, January 22, 2009,
“Deep-Packet Inspection in U.S. Scrutinized Following Iran
Surveillance,” Wired, June 29, 2009,
Declan McCullagh, “Bill
Would Give President Emergency Control of Internet,” CNET
News, August 28, 2009,
Kevin Bankston, “From
EFF’s Secret Files: Anatomy of a Bogus Subpoena,” Electronic
Frontier Foundation, November 9, 2009,
Gwen Hinze, “Leaked
ACTA Internet Provisions: Three Strikes and Global DMCA,”
Electronic Frontier Foundation, November 3, 2009, http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/
Michael Geist, “The
ACTA Internet Chapter: Putting the Pieces Together,” Michael
Geist Blog, November 3, 2009,
Tim Jones, “In
Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are
Worse Than Bush’s,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 7,
Steve Aquino, “Should
Obama Control the Internet,” Mother Jones, April 2, 2009,
Noah Shachtman, “U.S.
Spies Buy Stake in Firm that Monitors Blogs, Twitter,”
Wired, October 19, 2009,
Noah Shachtman, “CIA
Invests in Software Firm Monitoring Blogs, Twitter,”
Democracy Now!, October 22, 2009, http://www.democracynow.org/2009/10/22/cia_invests_in
Lewis Maltby, “Your
Boss Can Secretly Film You in the Bathroom - The Countless
Ways You Are Losing Privacy at Work,” AlterNet, March 17,
2010, http://www.alternet.org/rights/ 146047/your_boss_can_secretly_film_you_in_the_bathroom_
- _the_countless_ways_you _are_losing_privacy_at_work.
Elliot D. Cohen, Mass
Surveillance and State Control: The Total Information
Awareness Project (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
Corporate Media Sources:
“Copyright Overreach Goes on World Tour,” Washington Post,
November 5, 2009, financial sec., G01.
Lynn Demos, Ben
Solomon, Steve Wojanis, Trisha Himmelein, Emily Schuler,
Claire Apatoff, Erin Kielty, and Tom Rich (DePauw
Alyssa Auerbach, Tyler
Head, Mira Patel, Andrew Nassab, and Cristina Risso (Sonoma
Jeff McCall, Dave
Berque, Brian Howard, and Kevin Howley (DePauw University)
(University of San Diego)
Noel Byrne and Kelly
Bucy (Sonoma State University)
Mickey Huff (Diablo
Following in the steps of its predecessor, the
Obama administration is expanding mass government surveillance of personal
This surveillance, which includes the monitoring
of the Internet as well as private (nongovernmental) computers, is
proceeding with the proposal or passage of new laws granting government
agencies increasingly wider latitude in their monitoring activities. At the
same time, private companies and even some schools are engaging in
surveillance activities that further diminish personal privacy.
In spring 2009, Senate Bill 773, the
Cybersecurity Act of 2009, was proposed,
which gives the president power to “declare a cyber security emergency” with
respect to private computer networks, and to do with these networks what it
deems necessary to diffuse the attack. In a national emergency, the
president would also have the power to completely shut down the Internet in
The proposal requires that certain private
computer systems and networks be “managed” by “cyberprofessionals” licensed
by the federal government.
The bill permits the president to direct the
national response to the cyber threat if necessary for national defense and
security; to conduct “periodic mapping” of private networks deemed to be
critical to national security; and to require these companies to “share”
information requested by the federal government.
Such steps toward increased control over private computer networks have been
taken amid an ongoing program of mass surveillance begun by the George W.
Bush administration supposedly in response to the attacks of September 11,
In January 2002, the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
established the Information Awareness Office (IAO)
“imagine, develop, apply, integrate,
demonstrate and transition information technologies, components and
prototype, closed-loop, information systems that will counter asymmetric
threats by achieving total information awareness.”
Bush administration, such
surveillance technology was developed and subsequently deployed through
major US telecommunication and Internet service providers (ISPs) to conduct
mass, warrantless dragnets of all domestic and international electronic
traffic passing through switches in the US.
This technology includes so-called “deep packet
technology, which employs sophisticated algorithms to parse all Internet
contents (data, voice, and video), searching for key words such as “rebel”
Presently no legislation exists that disallows use of such technology to
conduct mass, warrantless surveillance. In fact, in January 2009, as David
Karvets reported in Wired, the Obama administration sided with the Bush
administration by asking a federal judge to set aside a ruling that kept
alive a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration’s authority to eavesdrop
on Americans without warrants.
Moreover, amendments to the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
passed in 2008 - and voted for by then Senator Obama - had already made it
possible for the federal government to conduct such information dragnets
The 2008 FISA amendments also require electronic
communication service providers such as AT&T and Verizon to,
“immediately provide the Government with all
information, facilities, or assistance necessary to accomplish the
[intelligence] acquisition,” while granting these companies retroactive
and prospective immunity against civil suits, state investigations, and
In addition, in April 2009, the Obama Justice
Department invoked the “state secrets privilege” to bar American citizens
from suing the US government for illegally spying on them.
It also went even further than the Bush
administration by arguing that the US government is completely immune from
litigation for illegal spying and can never be sued for surveillance that
violates federal privacy laws.
The federal government is also presently increasing its capacity to analyze
the massive sea of data on the Internet. As part of an effort to gather more
“open source intelligence,” the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is
Visible Technologies, a data-mining company
analyzes the content of social media Web sites.
Visible Technologies, which has offices in New
York, Seattle, and Boston, was created in 2005, and in 2006 it developed a
partnership with WPP, a worldwide communications firm. This company has the
capacity to examine over half a million sites per day.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also resorted to using federal
court subpoenas to try to gain access to private, online information.
On January 30, 2009, IndyMedia, an alternative
online news source, received a subpoena from the Southern District of
Indiana Federal Court for the “IP addresses, times, and any other
identifying information” of all the site’s visitors on June 25, 2008.
IndyMedia was then prohibited from notifying
visitors of this release of otherwise private and protected information
“would impede the investigation being
conducted and thereby interfere with the enforcement of the law.”
IndyMedia and the Electronic Frontier
challenged the order and the subpoena was eventually dropped.
The Obama administration is also currently working with a group of UN
nations on the development of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
“a new intellectual property enforcement treaty” to prevent illegal
downloading and copying of songs, movies, pictures, and other legally
protected Web content. The new law is being developed in secrecy and might
allow government access to personal content on hard drives thought to be in
breach of copyright.
On November 3, 2009, nations participating in
negotiations on the proposed law met in Seoul, South Korea, for a closed
discussion of “enforcement in the digital realm.”
According to a leaked memo from the conference,
the US is pushing for a three-strikes/graduated-response policy and
proactive policing of ISPs to ensure that any digital copyright
infringements are caught, stopped, and punished.
In addition to the current trend of government surveillance, private
employers are also reading employees’ e-mails, eavesdropping on their
telephone calls, monitoring their Internet access, and watching them through
the use of hidden cameras. Millions of workers carry company-issued cell
phones, which are equipped with a global positioning system (GPS).
The technology required to track cell phones is
inexpensive (costing only five dollars per month for round-the-clock
surveillance of an employee) and is readily available.
Company-issued laptops are also being monitored. Companies usually permit
their employees to use such computers for personal purposes as well as for
business. However, unbeknownst to the employees, all their private files
(such as e-mails, photographs, and financial records) are being inspected by
company techs when the computers are brought in for upgrades or repairs.
Consequently, anything the techs deem
questionable can be disclosed to management. Further, if the company-issued
laptop has a webcam, the employer can use it to eavesdrop on the employee,
even if he or she is in the bathroom.
Such clandestine use of computer webcams has not been limited
to private companies spying on their employees. In one recent case, a
suburban Philadelphia school district issued laptops to its students and
secretly installed software that allowed
school administrators to spy on the students.
As electronic surveillance technologies continue to improve, in the absence
of laws to regulate their use and government watchdogs to ensure that these
laws are followed, privacy in the digital age will predictably continue to
Update by Liz Rose at Free Press
Deep packet inspection is a technology that gives corporations unprecedented
control over Internet communications.
It’s the same technology that allows Iran and
other countries to try to stifle Internet freedom. The use of
DPI is now
pervasive and has spread to next-generation wireless networks. In this
country (USA), the adoption of DPI means that the telephone and cable
companies that provide Internet service can monitor, inspect, and block
Internet traffic, posing a
serious threat to the open Internet.
There are two major developments in this story:
Major telecommunications companies
(including Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, RCN, and COX) have now purchased
Because of this investment, and because
the technology has now been applied to wireless communications, the
industry’s control over the Internet is increasing. The latest
generation of DPI enables companies to monitor and ultimately to
charge people for every use of an Internet connection.
Free Press filed ten pages of comments with the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) about DPI. See pages 141 to 151 of
our comments in the Net Neutrality proceeding on January 14, 2010
Free Press also released a paper titled
Packet Inspection: The End of the Internet as We Know It”
by Josh Silver, in March 2009, before the Democracy Now! story, “Deep
Packet Inspection: Telecoms Aided Iran Government to Censor Internet
Technology Widely Used in US,” ran, and it provides
evidence of the threat posed by corporations having the power to
inspect, block, and choke traffic on the Internet: (see
On April 6, 2010, a federal court ruled
that the FCC does not have the authority under the jurisdiction that
it claimed to stop Comcast - or any company - from blocking or
choking Internet traffic. So right now, there is no recourse when a
company does abuse its power over online communications.
The FCC has indicated that it may move
ahead and try to reassert its authority to set rules of the road for
the Internet, but most observers think it will be a long battle
ahead over the jurisdictional issues as well as over any possible