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Stunning new filtering plan contradicts its “Your World” marketing campaign

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson confirmed that the telecom and internet giant is “very interested” in a “technology based solution” to monitor data passing through its networks for rogue peer-to-peer traffic.

“It’s like being in a store and watching someone steal a DVD,” said Stephenson. “Do you act?”

Such a move would affect more than just AT&T’s subscribers, as the company’s network investments represent a sizable chunk of the internet’s backbone – which results in almost all Internet data passing through its network at some point. Given that AT&T has, so far, been pensive about the scope of such a project, many are assuming the worst.

More importantly, AT&T may forfeit its end of the deal in what Slate’s Tim Wu calls “the grand bargain of common carriage:” legal immunity from whatever claims might arise from data its network transports, in exchange for offering network service to anyone in a nondiscriminatory fashion. “AT&T's new strategy reverses that position and exposes it to so much potential liability that adopting it would arguably violate AT&T's fiduciary duty to its shareholders,” writes Wu.

In an absence of any official word on why AT&T wants to implement such a project, many people think that the primary motivator is an alarmed response to the growing percentage of traffic attributable to P2P activity; various surveys claim that anywhere from 30 to 90 percent of all internet traffic is P2P related. Lately, ISPs both large and small have been testing the waters with a variety of traffic-shaping initiatives, including Comcast, which last year found itself in the middle of a scandal over how it handles BitTorrent traffic.

According to AT&T – as well as anecdotal reports and commentary from other ISP employees – Internet users should expect a more managed Internet experience in the near future, as technology is finally becoming sophisticated enough to allow for such large-scale projects.

“We recognize we are not there yet but there are a lot of promising technologies,” said AT&T executive James Cicconi, “but we are having an open discussion with a number of content companies … to try to explore various technologies that are out there.”

If anyone has the expertise to deploy such a large filtering project, it would be AT&T: the company was already caught red-handed with powerful data-mining hardware, which it used to gather information on the nation’s web traffic for the NSA.

“The volume of peer-to-peer traffic online, dominated by copyrighted materials, is overwhelming. That clearly should not be an acceptable, continuing status,” said NBC Universal’s general counsel, Rick Cotton. “The question is how we collectively collaborate to address this.”

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RE: Uh, no
By Annonchinil on 1/28/2008 3:30:03 AM , Rating: 2
Uh No, its like walking into the store, seeing the cashier look at you and immediatly began to yell at her that she is "discriminating" at you because you might steal a DVD and demand that she close her eyes and cover her ears so you can shop without having your "rights" infringed.

Anyways AT&T isn't the courts, they can assume anything they want against you as long as they don't do it because you are a black gay guy.

On the subject on whether the internet is public or private I don't think it matters as much because you are going to have a hard time arguing that having lines of code (or whatever)seperated into the "I am illegal software" group is actually private information on that person that they might not even reach or that they will not have information on.

I think that by its very nature the information is not private and is very specific and is sorted into broad legal and illegal categories for this kind of tracking to be legal. Kind of like the dogs they use in airports, you either have illegal substances or not. Its not like using this they can find that large catalogue of gay porn you ordered.

RE: Uh, no
By Polynikes on 1/28/2008 7:31:07 AM , Rating: 2
Uh, yeah... Not really.

To be honest, for people who are not AT&T customers, this is more like getting accosted by an AT&T employee, then having said employee take your wallet and look through it, then take a certain type of object, regardless of content (picture, credit card, whatever) they find away because they think it MIGHT be illegal for you to have in your pocket (or packet).

Now maybe you think it's alright for backbone owners to look through people's data because people like you "have nothing to hide," but you're being very short-sighted. The internet is a public place, but your data is your business alone. Granted, it's stupid not to encrypt important data, but ISPs and especially other companies who happen to own a piece of the infrastructure your data travels along have no right to look at your data. If you let the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world do this, it'll only be a matter of time before they start filtering other types of data. Maybe they'll decided that attachments larger than 5MB in an email is sucking up their bandwidth, and before you know it those packets just start disappearing, and you get emails back saying "uh, what attachment?"

This issue is not just about copyright- or non-copyright-infringing data, it's about what companies are doing with people's data en-route to its destination. A lot of P2P traffic is pirated material, but P2P and especially BitTorrent are being used a lot more for perfectly legal data sharing, and this will only continue to increase. Our internet infrastructure is getting taxed enough as it is, but the amount of data that people are trying to send, regarless of protocol, is only going to increase, and Comcast and AT&T's methods are merely plugging a hole in a dam. Eventually they're gonna have to wake up and start upgrading their infrastructure or all their efforts to lower the amount of bandwidth passing through their tubes will be in vain.

RE: Uh, no
By Annonchinil on 1/28/2008 11:33:16 AM , Rating: 2
What the hell are your arguments? Your data is your data? And they can't monitor it because some of it is not illegal? No right to look at your data? Where did you get that from? Way to use broad generalisations about your rights.

Everyone can monitor you all they want, there are only limits placed on what they can and can do and I doubt this type of monitoring is going to be illegal only because it has something to do with you or your "data". As I said before they aren't the courts and aren't held to the same standards, they can make as many generalizations about you as they want.

RE: Uh, no
By Christopher1 on 2/1/2008 1:26:44 AM , Rating: 1
Actually, no, people cannot monitor you all they want... that is how the stalking laws came about, which I have used 3 times in the past 5 years against people who are now sitting in prison.

Someone cannot monitor what you are doing, where you are going, etc. unless they have a warrant from the courts or are a law enforcement officer carrying out an investigation or have been given permission by the LEA's to act on their behalf, and even then there are limits on when and how long the LEA's and their authorized agents can do so.

There is also the problem with if the ISP's have a person who is not.... scrupulous and they will make it appear that you have been doing something you were not by changing IP logs.
That is a big danger today with people not liking what you are speaking out about if they work for the ISP's.... luckily, most have methods in place to make sure that no one can do that.

It also isn't a broad generalization of your rights to say that a person cannot look through your mail without a warrant.... this is the electronic equivalent of that! So if they cannot look through your mail without your permission (and if they do, it is a crime with up to a year in prison!), they cannot look through your internet traffic without due cause either.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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