Congress Comes to 'Help' Run the Internet - Page 2

I don't see a whole lot of allowance in Harris' statement for the value of security functions carried out by the ISP. I see an ideological commitment to privacy that devalues functions that almost all customers want and that are provided completely in good faith. Unfortunately, it's Harris' agenda I hear influencing the committee. It's certainly not in fashion to defend the interests of ISPs. The best I see coming out of this is an onerous regulatory burden. The testimony essentially dismisses the value of DPI for "ongoing" security functions, including spam filtering, and asserts that there are better ways available, as if ISPs wouldn't use better ways if they could.

As Paul Ferguson of Trend Micro said on the matter, "DPI, in and of itself, isn't necessarily evil. It is how it is used which can bring up concerns." I was inclined to get all indignant about this, but Ferguson is right that there's an obvious logical ground on which to proceed.

The advertising functions bring revenue to ISPs, and it would be a mistake to ban them arbitrarily. The alternative for ISPs is to charge more for their subscriptions. If ISPs make such DPI functions opt-in and they disclose exactly what they are doing with the data, then I can't see a good reason to object. Why would anyone sign up for it? Perhaps they could make it worth your while, for instance by cutting a dollar or two off your monthly subscription fee. Maybe I wouldn't sign up for that, but I bet a lot of people would, and who are we to tell them they can't?

On the other hand, adopting an extremist view of DPI, like that of the CDT, in legislation would be a great victory for Internet malefactors everywhere. Defense in the network isn't perfect, but users need all the help they can get, and they're no good at protecting their own PCs.

It's also worth noting that ISPs are required under CALEA (the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) to maintain systems for performing DPI to service requests by law enforcement. There's even an IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) specification for meeting CALEA requirements. The law says nothing about the capabilities being used only for law enforcement. So ISPs are required to have this capability.

Some people have such an irrational distrust of ISPs that they want them legally hamstrung, so they will be just dumb conduits for data, the electric companies of Internet data. Ironically, at the same time that we're talking about making the electric grid smarter, we're talking about making the Internet dumber. This is not a step forward.

Security CenterEditor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.