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UK ISPs Resistant to Monitoring Users 79

ethericalzen writes "An article from BBC News online states that ISPs in the UK are resistant to the government's desires for monitoring their users' data. The government seeks to have ISPs turn off the access of users who are 'persistent pirates'. The ISPs are citing technical and legal reasons for why they do not wish to do this. Legals reasons include surveillance laws which prohibit ISPs from monitoring a user's data unless compelled by a warrant. Technical reasons include an inability to accurately identify copyrighted material that is legally being transferred over p2p clients, and copyrighted material that is being transferred illegally over p2p clients."
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UK ISPs Resistant to Monitoring Users

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  • by esocid ( 946821 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @03:58PM (#22439264) Journal

    A spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) said the 2002 E-Commerce Regulations defined net firms as "mere conduits" and not responsible for the contents of the traffic flowing across their networks.
    Is that a british term for tubes?
  • Traffic management (Score:5, Interesting)

    by esocid ( 946821 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:09PM (#22439430) Journal

    "If you exceed that threshold we will drop your speed for five hours from when the excess is recorded,"
    This is what happened at the university I went to. It only applied to your upload bandwidth but if you exceeded whatever imaginary number they didn't disclose to you, you would get an email and your bandwidth slashed for a day or two. I'm sure a percentage of this was due to people's computers getting hijacked by trojans/viruses because they insisted that you not connect to the network without having some sort of AV (if you ran windows) and would target specific IPs in the dorms that were either hijacked or simply uploading via p2p.
    I'm not quite sure what would happen if any ISPs did that here since no one yet has any pay per usage service, although Time Warner [slashdot.org] is proposing something like that. It'll be interesting to see what effect, if any, the situation in the UK will have over in the US.
    • by clark0r ( 925569 )
      i use this isp.

      the numbers are published, the speed cap is temporary and they only do it in the hours specified, to those who are heavy users. i'm a heavy downloader, so i just schedule all my downloads for 1am onwards, seems to work for me.

      also - they keep increasing speeds for users free of charge, and with these increases come increased caps and usage limits in those set hours.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:11PM (#22439454) Homepage
    Legals reasons include surveillance laws which prohibit ISPs from monitoring a user's data unless compelled by a warrant.

    Silly UK government! The secret password to get around the law isn't "piracy", it's "TERROR"!
    • I know where you're coming from but that excuse doesn't fly with a large proportion of the populace after 30 years of republican terrorism and the government knows it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Chris Burke ( 6130 )
        Uh, okay, well how about this:

        9/11 TERRORISTS WITH US OR AGAINST US 9/11 THINK OF THE CHILDREN TERROR TERROR!

        There, did that turn your brain off? No? Shit! Why does this crap only work in America?!
        • Because our Baby Boomers grew up differently than the rest of the world's I'd wager. There's still a sense of honor and balance, as well as self-sacrifice in the rest of the world's population that is very much hard to find in America as of late.
        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Could it be because the 9/11 attacks only occurred in, *gasp*, America?!

          Seriously though, if you look at ANY nation in the world that's had to deal with terrorism as a long term issue (England and Ireland, Russia and former USSR states, practically all of the Middle East) these kind of knee-jerk government (re)actions are immediately attacked as government attempts to seize more power. In comparison, the U.S. is the spoiled, naive brat after being bullied for the first time in their life.

    • Well done sir! I tip my hat to you.
  • Verbose = 1 (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Itninja ( 937614 )
    Seriously, is someone getting paid by the word here?

    Technical reasons include an inability to accurately identify copyrighted material that is legally being transferred over p2p clients, and copyrighted material that is being transferred illegally over p2p clients.
    Try this:

    "Technical reasons include an inability to accurately identify the legality of copyrighted material that is being transferred over p2p clients."
  • Yeah, right (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Someone in the UK protesting more monitoring of its people? I don't believe it.

    United Kingdom: Twenty million people watching another twenty million people. A final twenty million kicking each other to death for fake Burberry baseball caps.
  • I welcome this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Malevolent Tester ( 1201209 ) * on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:14PM (#22439500) Journal
    I'm glad the UK government is cracking down on file sharing. In particular, I'd like them to crack down on their own habit of sharing my personal information with every single bloated, inefficient, fuckwitted, semi-competent IT services provider who made a sufficient donation to the Labour party at the last election (Crapita, this means you)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Lets not forget junior members of staff downloading entire databases onto unencrypted DVDs and dropping them down the sofa or the Navy losing laptops with the details of an entire years worth of potential recruits...

      • How about MI6 workers getting shit faced at lunchtime and leaving a laptop with state secrets in the pub? Not something you'd see James Bond doing is it.
        • No, he can hold his drink. But he probably gets his data copied by the KGB honeytrap he picked up at the local casino.
    • Don't worry a lot of the data never actually reaches the incompetent IT service provider since it goes missing before it can get there.
  • The next step will be for the British government to mandate the evil bit [rfc.net].
  • by Doug52392 ( 1094585 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:19PM (#22439586)
    Those idiot lobbyists and corporate CEOs think ANYONE that uses BitTorrent is a pirate. But are they? Let's see, here's what I (at least attempt to because I have Comcast) use BitTorrent for:

    1. Downloading large Linux install DVD images
    2. Download legal, open-source programs
    3. Download legally free files

    The problem with this is that I bet NO ONE will actually sit there and read all the traffic logs. A computer will just flag customers who even so much as transfer a packet through a BitTorrent port as a 'persistent pirate' and cancel their service.

    A computer can only say YES this person is using BitTorrent or NO he's not. The computer CAN NOT find out exactly what someone is downloading, and weather it's legal.

    So if the UK wants to fall behind everyone in the Internet age and cancel EVERYONE out of the Internet, not much we can do but hope it doesn't happen.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      What they seem to forget is that p2p is used by everyday average joes and janes. The stuff they really want to stop but can't is the mass downloading and selling. What are they gonna kill after p2p? well thats ftp of course. If p2p stops then ftp will rise again but will return underground.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by KublaiKhan ( 522918 )
        Darknets work well, also. WASTE is fairly popular, for instance, though finding the right network is sometimes a bit of a slow process--they're secretive by nature and all that.

        I suppose this could lead to a bit of a class system online--those who know where to find all the interesting bits, and those who are just regular users. Moreso than usual, anyway.
    • by bob.appleyard ( 1030756 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @05:14PM (#22440290)

      Deep packet sniffing can be employed, but that would be terribly costly. Considering the amount of traffic that a typical UK ISP would be dealing with, you're already talking about some massively parallel computer just to handle that. To then go and do some pattern matching stuff on every packet to see if it's a case of copyright infringement would not only be hell to actually code, it would take a ridiculous amount of computing power. What's worse, this could be defeated by encryption.

      Some kind of shallow packet sniff could be done to check for hashes of copyrighted material, and ban people referring to that hash. That requires a database of infringing hashes, and new materials could be appearing all the time. It would also require knowledge of how every P2P protocol communicated these hashes. There is always the chance of mistaking some unrelated innocent communication with an illicit one, that will increase with the size of the copyright database and the number of protocols checked. And this can be defeated with encryption too.

      There is another way of approaching this problem. Take a protocol, say, BitTorrent. You could use your database of copyrighted works, and check out trackers of those works for whether UK IP addresses are connected. You have a problem choosing which trackers to check, as you usually only get a name and a description. This one can't be beaten by encryption, but some elaborate series of proxies could elude it.

      One of the common weaknesses with all of these approaches, beyond what has already been mentioned, is that the infringing works must first be identified. This could be done by downloading all the files and then manually checking them or by using some kind of fingerprinting technique. This is going to be either expensive in terms of equipment (big server farms for fingerprint analysis) or in terms of people checking the files manually.

      The problem here isn't really technical, it's economic. Although most of the costs of blocking customers will have to be done by the ISPs, it will probably be up to the media companies to pay for identifying (say) trackers/hashes for copyrighted works. As this brief analysis seems to suggest that most of the cost is in the identification stage by a long margin, there would have to be a significant payout to justify this investment. I'm not convinced that it's there.

      The other aspect of this is that the actual costs of P2P file sharing can only be guessed. Without at least some kind of checking described above it will remain that way. You don't know how many people are sharing this stuff, and you don't know how many of them would have bought it if they couldn't share the stuff. These are unknown risks, so deciding what kind of effort should be expended in avoiding them is a very very difficult task. It's hard to tell whether you've spent more money preventing the risk than the risk would have actually cost. Inevitably, they will have to choose whether to step off the ledge and actually do something on a big scale, or give up altogether. It seems to me that option with least risk business-wise would be to give up trying to stop it and use other means to reduce the probability of it occurring such as lowering prices or offering a better service than pirates.

      • Deep packet sniffing can be employed, but that ...

        Kind of glad I don't have mod points at the moment. I'd go nuts trying to choose between interesting, insightful or informative.

    • Sure they can, and in a way that would make government types drool. All they have to do is set up a government-maintained white list of all "legitimate" torrent trackers, and force ISPs to block access to any tracker not on the list. Of course, anyone with enough money/influence will be able to buy himself onto that list, which is why I said officials will like the idea. Plenty of opportunity for more bribes.
    • Actually, I've legally downloaded non-open source programs with the blessing of the copyright owner, because I bought the software key from them and they like to distribute the binary via bittorrent.

      • Thank you! It's an interesting example, underscoring what I've intuitively known for a while: the things you need to do as a blocker, if you want a low rate of false positives* are

        * Determine what the transferred information is; this is tricky if encrypted, or encoded in a non-standard way.

        * Determine if the transferred information is copyrighted; this is non-trivial as there may be many different representations of a sound, video or even text. I've heard of hashing sounds such that the hashes are simila
    • Well, the UK just slashed the physics research budget by £80 million, so why not cripple the Internet as well?
  • In the USA... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the4thdimension ( 1151939 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:20PM (#22439590) Homepage
    Hey, if it were the US they would comply and keep it under wraps... after all, the government agencies will do what they can to get you immunity later, amirite?
  • by ricebowl ( 999467 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:20PM (#22439596)

    The ISPs are citing technical and legal reasons for why they do not wish to do this. Legals reasons include surveillance laws which prohibit ISPs from monitoring a user's data unless compelled by a warrant.

    But, looking at the American example of attempting to make illegal surveillance being retro-actively legal/non-impeachable (I'm not a lawyer so that may be entirely the wrong term), how long until we brits see the law changed to reduce by half the obstacles?

  • by Odiumjunkie ( 926074 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:22PM (#22439624) Journal
    > The ISPs are citing technical and legal reasons for why they do not wish to do this.

    Uhm, how about not wanting to be forced to abondon ten percent of their paying customers as a reason not to wish to do this?


  • Isn't there anything the PEOPLE can do to have this and other such attrocities repealed?
  • by mrsmiggs ( 1013037 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @04:58PM (#22440112)
    Bargain basement ISP Tiscali have already operated a similar scheme in cahoots with the BPI, but it's all fallen apart because Tiscali want the BPI to pay for the privilege of sending warnings and chucking people off. The most intriguing part is that the BPI are doing the investigation and instead of monitoring the packets of each connection they are monitoring the known torrents and connections to those torrents, which is clearly a far more practical idea than monitoring all packets. The Register have the full story [theregister.co.uk]
  • Night is slowly falling over the UK.
  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @05:11PM (#22440258) Journal
    As always , the government - usually due to absolutely severe lack of knowledge - have to comply with the business out there that usually FEAR more than actually KNOW whats going on.

    Fact is:

    1) The industry have NO clue if the "piracy" either gains or damages their sales, it's pure guessing - no statistics.
    2) The government have to enforce the law, if someone breaks it - they create new laws so it won't happen again, unfortunately this is often based on fear rather than knowledge. You listen to the corporates that doesn't have a clue, and you certainly won't listen to the thieves (eg. pirates).
    3) No way in this life or the next one will ANY ISP or the government EVER be able to monitor the petabytes of data that flows trough their lines each day, there would not even be enough workers for that...even in an overpopulated world. Even if you write intelligent software...someone has to decipher all that information and only a "human" so far . can make the final judgement on whatever case.
    4) You'll only sort out the "clean people" from the "pirates" as the pirates usually are the "savy ones" that only will go deeper (tor anyone?) while the "common morons" are left to take the fall for the rest with their amateur mistakes.

    Man....I sometimes wonder who the "clowns" who got the bright idea to make it the law to force ISP's keep records of all user data-transfers 1-2 years on backlog, it most certainly wasn't anyone with any computer knowledge whatsoever.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ScrewMaster ( 602015 )
      You're making the assumption that the government (any government) will bother with anything complex or intelligent (since lawmakers are rarely either, it seems.) All they'll do is decide what a "normal" Internet user should be allowed to do, and kick-off/arrest/imprison anyone that tries to do anything they don't think is acceptable. So that would include email (forced through the ISP's mail server, so that it can be properly monitored and recorded), browsing (only through government-approved ports and usin
      • No chance.

        Buy some webspace on a *nix provider, one that insists on SSH for management. Get approval. Tunnel all your traffic through a secure proxy outside the UK.
    • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

      3) No way in this life or the next one will ANY ISP or the government EVER be able to monitor the petabytes of data that flows trough their lines each day, there would not even be enough workers for that...even in an overpopulated world. Even if you write intelligent software...someone has to decipher all that information and only a "human" so far . can make the final judgement on whatever case.
      The great Chinese firewall seems to be pretty close.
  • ... toothpaste.
  • So as a vast majority of the content on YouTube constitutes of copyright material (video rips, spoofs, audio tracks), does that mean that anyone accessing the latest J-Lo (I cringe) music video will be barred from the net like a patron of the Queen Vic?

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