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Public Policy topic: Deep Packet Inspection

I was invited to testify today at the Subcommittee of Internet and Telecom on Capitol Hill today along with others. I was joined by Dr David Reed from MIT, Robert Dykes, CEO of NebuAd (that develops DPI technology), Alissa Cooper from the Center of Democracy and Technology and Scott Cleland who is a blogger and does work for the telecoms.

The topic was specifically what/if any public policy or government oversight should apply to Deep Packet Inspection technology.

I won’t go into the details of this technology but I cited in my testimony the Wikipedia defintion of DPI which states:

Deep packet inspection (DPI) (or sometimes complete packet inspection) is a form of computer network packet filtering that examines the data and/or header part of a packet as it passes an inspection point, searching for non-protocol compliance, viruses, spam, intrusions or predefined criteria to decide if the packet can pass or if it needs to be routed to a different destination, or for the purpose of collecting statistical information. This is in contrast to shallow packet inspection (usually called just packet inspection) which just checks the header portion of a packet.[1]

Deep packet inspection (and filtering) enables advanced securitydata mining, eavesdropping, and censorship. Advocates of net neutrality fear that DPI technology will be used to reduce the openness of the Internet. DPI is currently being used by the enterprise, service providers and governments in a wide range of applications. functions as well as internet

(funny moment: Dr Reed told me & members of Congress that the Wikipedia definition was wrong “as often the case with Wikipedia” which drew a laugh. But then 20 minutes later I restated the definition and he agreed it was correct and he misheard me. Chalk one of for Wikipedia and UGC!)

Anyway, members of Congress and the chair of this subcommittee is particularly concerned about DPI and privacy policy.

I have two distinct opinions about DPI.

I believe that DPI has tremendous benefits if used properly, where the consumer, web applications and advertisters can win together. Why should i ever see a pick up ad if I’m never never never going to buy one.

I’m happy to share my data so that I see the most relavant advertising or find the most useful information. That value exchange works for me. At the same time our privacy needs to be maintained. There are ways to do this.

But the part of DPI that worries me is how it could impact the principle of network neutrality. Some are worried that ISPs could use DPI to deny the principle of network neutrality.

And that’s a problem.

The web has thrived and growing because it’s open.

It needs to stay that way.

Getting involved in public policy was very interesting to me. I hope I have the opportunity to do it again.

Update: Here are some photos I took today.