deep packet inspection: the end of the internet as we know it?
During the explosive rise o the Internet, one undamental principle governed: All users and all content were treated alike. The physical network o cables and routers did not know or care about the user or the content. The principle o nondiscrimination, or “Net Neutrality,” allowed users to travel anywhereon the Internet, ree rom intererence. Nondiscrimination, in various orms, has been a oundation o communications law and policy or decades.In the early days o the Internet, nondiscrimination was easy to uphold because it was not technologically easible or service providers to inspect messages and evaluate their content in realtime. But recently, electronics manuacturers have developed so-called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)technology capable o tracking Internet communications in real time, monitoring the content, anddeciding which messages or applications will get through the astest.Here’s how it works: Messages on the Internet are broken down into small units called packets. Eachpacket contains a header and a data eld. The header contains processing inormation, including thesource and destination addresses. The data eld contains everything else, including the identity o thesource application (such as a Web browser request, a peer-to-peer transer, or an e-mail), as well as themessage itsel (part o the contents o a Web page, le or e-mail). Packets are much like letters – theoutside o the envelope is like the packet header, and the inside, like the data eld, carries the message.Historically, Internet communications were processed using only inormation in the header, becauseonly that inormation is needed to transer packets rom their source to their destination. By contrast,DPI technology opens and reads the data eld in real time, allowing network operators to identiy andcontrol, at a precise level, everyday uses o the Internet. Operators can tag packets or ast-lane or slow-lane treatment – or block the packets altogether – based on what they contain or which application sent them. The rst DPI devices were used or manual troubleshooting o network problems and to block viruses, worms and Denial o Service attacks. Initially, DPI was not powerul enough to monitor users’ Internet communications in real time. But today, DPI is capable o ar more than security – it enables newrevenue-generating capabilities through discrimination. This new use o DPI is changing the game. In act, improper use o DPI can change the Internet as we know it – turning an open and innovative platorm into just another orm o pay-or-play media. Although early uses o real-time DPI by ISPs have been geared toward targeted advertising and reducing congestion, manuacturers market the technology or its ability to determine and control every use o a subscriber’s Internet connection. When a network provider chooses to install DPI equipment, that provider knowingly arms itsel with the capacity to monitor and monetize the Internet in ways that threaten to destroy Net Neutrality and the essential open nature o the Internet.