Deep Packet Inspection in Perspective: Tracing its lineage and surveillance Potentials

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Christopher, Parsons
digital communications data packets , packet inspection technologies , surveillance technologies
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are responsible for transmitting and delivering their customers’ data requests, ranging from requests for data from websites, to that from filesharing applications, to that from participants in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) chat sessions. Using contemporary packet inspection and capture technologies, ISPs can investigate and record the content of unencrypted digital communications data packets. This paper explains the structure of these packets, and then proceeds to describe the packet inspection technologies that monitor their movement and extract information from the packets as they flow across ISP networks. After discussing the potency of contemporary deep packet inspection devices, in relation to their earlier packet inspection predecessors, and their potential uses in improving network operators’ network management systems, I argue that they should be identified as surveillance technologies that can potentially be incredibly invasive. Drawing on Canadian examples, I argue that Canadian ISPs are using DPI technologies to implicitly ‘teach’ their customers norms about what are ‘inappropriate’ data transfer programs, and the appropriate levels of ISP manipulation of customer data traffic.
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