A most-important concept and a topic worth serious consideration and comprehension is net neutrality and deep packet inspection. This article on Ars Technica goes into these topics with care and attention to detail, yet written to be accessible by the non-technical folks.
These issues matter greatly for a society interested in free speech and unfettered expression of free thought.
Imagine a device that sits inline in a major ISP’s network and can throttle P2P traffic at differing levels depending on the time of day. Imagine a device that allows one user access only to e-mail and the Web while allowing a higher-paying user to use VoIP and BitTorrent. Imagine a device that protects against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, scans for viruses passing across the network, and siphons off requested traffic for law enforcement analysis. Imagine all of this being done in real time, for 900,000 simultaneous users, and you get a sense of the power of deep packet inspection (DPI) network appliances.
Although the technology isn’t yet common knowledge among consumers, DPI already gives network neutrality backers nightmares and enables American ISPs to comply with CALEA (government-ordered Internet wiretaps) reporting requirements. It also just might save the Internet (depending on who you believe).
Savetheinternet.com has spearheaded the network neutrality drive in Congress, and it has a shorter definition available: “Put simply, Net Neutrality means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership, or destination.”
In fact, the Center for Democracy & Technology, which stands up for freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet, has no problem with many of DPI’s projected uses. In its FCC comments regarding network neutrality, the group laid out a host of possible practices along with its thoughts on them (pp. 7-10). Blocking security threats, spam, and illegal content is unobjectionable to the CDT, as is prioritizing any content requested by the subscriber and prioritizing traffic based solely on the type of application (like VoIP). But blocking any traffic or actively degrading it would be off limits, as would priority given to traffic from specific ISPs or web site operators who have paid an additional fee.