December 6, 2012
Members of the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) have agreed to work towards implementing a standard for the Internet that would allow for eavesdropping on a worldwide scale.
At a conference in Dubai this week, the ITU members decided to adopt the Y.2770 standard for deep packet inspection, a top-secret proposal by way of China that will allow telecom companies across the world to more easily dig through data passed across the Web.
According to the UN, implementing deep-packet inspection, or DPI, on such a global scale will allow authorities to more easily detect the transferring and sharing of copyrighted materials and other protected files by finding a way for administrators to analyze the payload of online transmissions, not just the header data that is normally identified and interpreted.
“It is standard procedure to route packets based on their headers, after all it is the part of the packet that contains information on the packet’s intended destination,” writes The Inquirer’s Lawrence Lati, “but by inspecting the contents of each packet ISPs, governments and anyone else can look at sensitive data. While users can mitigate risks by encrypting data, given enough resources encryption can be foiled.”
Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist widely regarded as the ‘Father of the Internet,’ spoke out against proposed DPI implementation on such a grandiose scale during an address earlier this year at the World Wide Web Consortium.
“Somebody clamps a deep packet inspection thing on your cable which reads every packet and reassembles the web pages, cataloguing them against your name, address and telephone number either to be given to the government when they ask for it or to be sold to the highest bidder – that’s a really serious breach of privacy,” he said.
Blogger Arthur Herman writes this week for Fox News online that the goal of the delegates at the ITU “is to grab control of the World Wide Web away from the United States, and hand it to a UN body of bureaucrats.”
“It’ll be the biggest power grab in the UN’s history, as well as a perversion of its power,” he warns.
The ITU’s secretary general, Dr. Hamadoun I. Toure, has dismissed critics who have called the proposed DPI model invasive, penning an op-ed this week where he insists his organization’s meeting in Dubai poses “no threat to free speech.”
“It is our chance to chart a globally-agreed roadmap to connect the unconnected, while ensuring there is investment to create the infrastructure needed for the exponential growth in voice, video and data traffic,” Dr. Toure claims of the conference, adding that it presents the UN with “a golden opportunity to provide affordable connectivity for all, including the billions of people worldwide who cannot yet go online.”
Despite his explanation, though, some nation-states and big-name businesses remain opposed to the proposal. The ITU’s conference this week has been held behind closed doors, and representatives with online service providers Google, Facebook and Twitter have been barred from attending.
In a report published this week by CNet, tech journalist Declan McCullagh cites a Korean document that describes the confidential Y.2770 standard as being able to identify “embedded digital watermarks in MP3 data,” discover “copyright protected audio content,” find “Jabber messages with Spanish text,” or “identify uploading BitTorrent users.”
On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a Senate resolution that asks for the American government to oppose any efforts by the United Nations to control the Internet.