US ISPs to Start Monitoring Users by July 12

It’s getting to the point where no matter what you do, there will always be somebody watching over your shoulder …

Say you are an Internet Provider and have a customer base that has selected you for one reason or the other. What would convince you to start policing your users on behalf of another company or organization? According to CNET, U.S. American ISPs like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon or Cablevision have agreed to “policies designed to discourage customers from illegally downloading music, movies and software”.

I cannot think of many reasons. Some ISPs might be part of a larger media company, or have stakes in media companies. Others may see this as a great way to drop the average bandwidth usage of their customer base to save costs. But beyond that?

ISPs have to create their own infrastructure to automate the system, which will not only be used to monitor the majority of U.S. Internet users, but also to keep track of infringements and the penalizing of users.

If you now thought, wow automated, that spills trouble, you may be right. Even worse than the automatic flagging and notification of users, is the fact that ISPs have a wide array of what the RIAA calls mitigation measures at their disposal. No, public flogging is not part of that catalog, but reducing the bandwidth of the customer or even terminating services permanently is (which according to Cnet none have agreed on).

I always thought that separation of power existed for a reason. With this new system, ISPs gain executive and judicative powers over their customers. And while those are restricted to the Internet connection, it still is a recipe for disaster.

I see several issues here. First automatic monitoring and detection will surely lead to false positives, which in turn could be very problematic for affected customers. While we do not know how the implemented measurements work, we could see solutions that are less from perfect. Hashes might work, but using a different compression engine or changing the files included in the distribution would be enough to circumvent those filters.

Name based filters have their same set of issues. Would the system detect that THG.rar is a copy of the movie The Hunger Game? What if someone names the copy TheHG.rar instead? The icing on the cake is that encryption will render the monitoring useless.

Another unanswered question is if customers have a say in the process, if they can lawyer up or even sue ISPs for monitoring their traffic or alleging them of copyright infringement when they have not done such a thing. I hope many do sue their ISPs if it should ever come to this.

Back to the original question: Why do you think have the ISPs agreed to monitor and penalize their customers?

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