Why AT&T's Plans To Filter The Internet Will Only Do More Harm To AT&T (And Everyone Else)

from the not-a-good-idea dept

AT&T announced last summer that it was going to start filtering traffic for copyrighted content -- so we're still not entirely sure why many in the press seem to think it was something new when discussed at CES a few weeks ago. However, this new burst of attention has many more people pointing out all the reasons this is bad for AT&T itself. As we said, this seems to make no sense at all, unless it's some bizarre attempt to come up with an excuse to get rid of net neutrality. In that post, we noted that any filtering would likely open up additional liabilities for AT&T, potentially losing its safe harbors from being a service provider (safe harbors that AT&T itself spent a lot of effort lobbying to have put into the law). Tim Wu has a lot more detail on that aspect of this plan (which he calls "corporate seppuku"). However, there are many other problems for AT&T as well. For example, it won't take long for someone to accuse AT&T of violating wiretap laws, a charge which may be accurate. But the biggest point is that this won't even do what they hope it will do. It won't stop unauthorized transfers from happening and it won't reduce network traffic. As we've discussed in the past, every move to do this kind of filtering will only drive up the market for encryption technologies, and that encryption actually adds more overhead to internet traffic. The PC World article linked above notes that 20% of all bittorrent traffic is encrypted, and if that number goes up, as it will under a filtering regime, the network load will only increase. So, if AT&T actually thinks (as it sometimes claims) that filtering will decrease the burden on the network, it's likely very mistaken.

Filed Under: encryption, filtering, liability, network neutrality
Companies: at&t

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  1. identicon
    Tom Greenhaw, 21 Jan 2008 @ 5:54am

    I backup my files from my work computer to my home computer. I use AT&T at home.

    If I understand this correctly, copyrighted files that I've purchased, whose license allows copy for backup purposes will be blocked by AT&T. No reasonable person would agree that this is acceptable.

    Additionally, how will iTunes or Amazon sell copyrighted files if they can't transfer it to me.

    For the life of me I can't understand how they could do this without making their service of no value to its customers.

    If all they are doing is blocking ports or protocols suspected of abuse, it is a false sense of security. It would be easy to use http or ftp to send the data in a way that could not be blocked without redering the service useless.

    This rhetoric is more likey an exercize to cloak AT&T with a shield from accusations that it is complicit to copyright violation. A legal clarification should be made to protect the ISPs from abuse of the network by criminal customers. I don't think its appropriate or fair to expect the ISPs to police the content flowing over their network beyond what is expected by contract or law.

    Examples of content that is unlawful would be spam and child pornography. Instead of wiretapping all content, it seems logical that wiretaps of traffic be made in response to complaints. These laws should be enforced and it seems a relatively trivial matter to deal with this type of criminal activity throgh existing channels.

    Unfortunately, all complains I've made in reporting this type of abuse is ignored. There appears to be little budget to police true criminal activity on the Internet. To me this is a much bigger issue that should be adressed.

    The protection of copyrighted material being transferred over the internet is the responsibility of the entertainment industry. They have every right to develop technology that is convenient to legitimate use without promoting flagrant distribution of their work. It is not the responsibility of the ISP to enforce this on behalf of copyright holders.

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