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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: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By Rhaido on 1/28/2008 4:17:43 PM , Rating: 2
> "I would assume that is the job of the local police, not the malls builder,owner, or manager"

Point in fact, it's also the duty of the mall owner, up to a certain degree. Many hotels, for instance, have been shut down for not taking reasonable steps to prevent prostitution within them.


I am not arguing against your point but merely curious. Were employees of the hotels charged with a criminal offense or was it a case where an owner/manager of a 15 room hourly rental motel who went to jail and thereby shut down? Loss of license from criminal charge maybe? I am no attorney but can a noncorporeal incorporated entity like a Four Seasons be shut down via a criminal charge generally speaking? Revocation of license or bankruptcy via some form of civil recourse in tort law perhaps?

> " to monitor communications looking for crime is illegal"

To monitor on a common carrier is illegal. The public phone network is such. The Internet, though, is a grey area; there's not a firm body of legal precedent either way.

Personally, I hope the same protections will be accorded to Internet traffic...but as of yet, they don't exist.


Can someone explain the courts on this one? What is the difference between my voice traveling getting certain protection (pre Bush NSA Narus STA 6400 hypothetical) and my data packets getting no protection? Just for simplicity, say I only use copper twisted pair on my end and the same for the other guy on the line receiving either voice or data via oldschool HyperTerminal from me.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By Tamale on 1/28/2008 5:07:48 PM , Rating: 2
That's exactly why the internet is so tough to define legally. Some transport mechanisms go over regular old phone networks, while some go over privately owned data pipes.

When an ISP though is looking to crack down on ITS users, it really does have the right to do this. Every one of its clients is a user of their private network.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By Christopher1 on 2/1/2008 1:16:40 AM , Rating: 1
Sorry, but it's not really a 'private network' considering that most of the internet has been paid for by our taxes.

Now, if that wasn't the case, then I would agree with you - it's a private network if NO public funds are spent on it, otherwise it is a public/private network with the same protections on it as the phone lines (which were also paid for mostly by taxes).


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By masher2 (blog) on 1/28/2008 8:36:45 PM , Rating: 2
> "Were employees of the hotels charged with a criminal offense or was it a case where an owner/manager of a 15 room hourly rental motel who went to jail and thereby shut down"

The "bawdy house" cases I know of have included revocation of operating licenses and in extreme cases seizure of assets (the property itself). I'm not personally familiar with any where criminal charges were filed against the owner/manager, but I'm sure some exist. Quite obviously, the standard of proof is higher in a criminal case.

> "What is the difference between my voice traveling getting certain protection (pre Bush NSA Narus STA 6400 hypothetical) and my data packets getting no protection? "

Legal precedent. Also, remember the telephone network began as a public monopoly, and thus its common carrier status was never in dispute. The Internet began as a series of private networks.


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