DPI Web Content

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is a networking technology that Internet Service Providers (e.g. Rogers, Bell, Shaw, etc) use to monitor customers' data traffic, mediate its speed, and improve network security.
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The Singular Challenges of ISP Use of Deep Packet Inspection

Written by Alissa Cooper

Massive growth in data processing power has spurred the development of deep packet inspection (DPI) equipment that potentially allows providers of Internet service and other intermediaries to collect and analyze the Internet communications of millions of users simultaneously. DPI has come to permeate numerous Internet policy debates, including those related to net neutrality, behavioral advertising, content filtering, and many others. Although the policy concerns that DPI raises differ in each case, one theme that recurs throughout these debates is the potential for DPI to essentially eliminate online privacy as it exists today, absent pervasive use of encrypted communications. As a technology that can provide Internet service providers (ISPs) and their partners with broad and deep insight into all that their subscribers do online, its potential to facilitate privacy invasion has been described in the most dire of terms: as “wiretapping” the Internet (Barras, 2009, p. 1), “unprecedented and invasive ISP surveillance” (Ohm, 2009, p. 1417), and even “the end of the Internet as we know it” (Riley and Scott, 2009, p. 1).

ISPs’ use of DPI has drawn scathing privacy criticism despite the fact that numerous other entities are capable of conducting content inspection. Content delivery networks and caching services could have similar capabilities, as can individual Internet users employing firewalls, home gateways, or packet sniffers. Likewise, many of the services that DPI can facilitate for ISPs – security protections, behavioral advertising, and content filtering, for example – have been offered for years by web- and software-based service providers.

There are several characteristics inherent to ISPs and their use of DPI that significantly increase the privacy stakes as compared to these other entities, however. ISPs are uniquely situated in three respects: they serve as gateways to all Internet content, switching ISPs can be difficult for Internet users, and their use of a tool as powerful and versatile as DPI makes it prone to mission creep. An exploration of each of these factors reveals that they are difficult or impossible to mitigate. Taken together they form the fundamental basis for the heightened privacy alarm that has characterized DPI debates. (more…)

Deep Packet Inspection and Control over Communication

Written by Fenwick McKelvey

Building the overpasses of Long Island lower than the height of public buses of the time enforced a subtle policy of segregation. Robert Moses, the architect of the overpasses and many major public works of 20th Century America, believed the poor would ruin Long Island’s beaches. The low clearance of the overpasses barred public transit buses from the beach area while allowing affluent motorists to freely drive there. The story about segregating the poor from the beach illustrates how technologies have acted as tools of social control (Winner, 1986, pp. 22-23).

Deep packet inspection (DPI) marks a new period in the history of social control and, again, we must question the politics of control embedded in the technology. The control embedded in DPI differs from the architecture of overpasses; DPI runs through software and thus its mode of control is more fluid than concrete. Control does not block, but works by “increasing the probability of a desired outcome rather than its absolute determination” (Samarajiva, 1996, p. 129). The Internet appears open but the opaque software of deep packet inspection now subtly controls Internet traffic by gently guiding our communications into fast and slow lanes.[1] In this short essay I will identify what is significant about DPI’s capacity to control communications. I do so by first naming the nature of this control, secondly sketching its operation, and finally by speculating on the challenges it poses to democratic society. (more…)

Welcome to Deep Packet Inspection Canada

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) equipment is intended to “identify the applications being used on the network, but some of these devices can go much further; those from a company like Narus, for instance, can look inside all traffic from a specific IP address, pick out the HTTP traffic, then drill even further down to capture only traffic headed to and from Gmail, and can even reassemble e-mails as they are typed out by the user.” Not all equipment is similarly developed and so some can drill down to reassemble e-mail, whereas others cannot. This website is meant to be the largest repository of publicly accessible information concerning the use of deep packet inspection in Canada, so that Canadians gain insight into how the technology is used by Canadian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and why they are using the technology.

Website Objectives

The website has five particular goals to achieve:

  1. To develop the largest publicly accessible repository of information concerning the use of DPI in Canada;
  2. To explain to Canadians in non-technical language whether and how their ISP uses DPI technologies;
  3. To provide regular analyses of current uses of DPI in Canada, as well as abroad when relevant;
  4. To facilitate discourse about DPI technologies amongst Canadians;
  5. To provide research and analyses of DPI technologies that could be used by government agencies, including privacy and information commissioners.


American and Canadian Politics Surrounding Deep Packet Inspection

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is a networking technology that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use to manage their networks, generate targeted advertisements, improve network security and billing reliability, and generally survey data traffic to gain actionable intelligence. The technology broadly has the capability to examine subscribers’ data traffic and mediate the traffic based on characteristics that a subscriber’s ISP is interested in – this can focus on searching for characteristics of viral outbreaks on the network, to identifying SPAM email, to delaying peer-to-peer filesharing sessions – and is usually stated as being used to improve network reliability and fairly provision network resources amongst all subscribers. This short essay aims to introduce you to some background surrounding the politics of deep packet inspection in Canada and the United States. We begin by looking at the American situation, proceed to unpack regulatory occurrences in Canada, and then note comparisons between the two nations as it pertains to regulating the uses of DPI equipment. Ultimately, I suggest that Canada has been situated in a way that provides superior regulation of the technology than is seen in the United States but that increased vendor and ISP transparency into the technology is required for a healthy democratic state.


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