from the political-ambitions-over-common-sense dept
We’ve already covered NY AG Andrew Cuomo’s ridiculous crusade to get ISPs to censor content in a misguided attempt to stop child porn. Obviously, stopping child porn is a good goal, but Cuomo’s approach actually makes the problem worse and sets a dangerous precedent. First, rather than actually tackling the root of the problem, Cuomo simply demanded that ISPs block any site that he and a group he supports consider to be child porn. Of course, they have no legal requirement to block them (section 230 of the CDA was written to make it clear that ISPs are not at all liable here), but Cuomo got around that by promising to shame publicly any ISP that didn’t implement his plan. This is the lowest of the low of political tricks, and it would simply be lying. An ISP may be quite committed to stomping out child porn, and could recognize that Cuomo’s tactics actually make the problem worse, by not targeting the actual pornographers — and Cuomo would still publicly splash their names across the news as not wanting to stop child porn.
In fact, a recent look at the details of Cuomo’s highly publicized campaign found that Cuomo clearly exaggerated the extent of the problem for political benefit, forcing ISPs to block all of Usenet, despite 99.9997% of the 3.7 billion available Usenet articles being perfectly legitimate content. But that’s not stopping Cuomo. In fact, he’s going even further.
He’s been sending ISPs a presentation from a company called Brilliant Digital that’s offering a “deep packet inspection” system that could scan every file sent across an ISP’s network and try to determine if it was child porn. Yes, Cuomo is suggesting that ISPs spy on every single file sent over their network now, 4th Amendment be damned. Brilliant Digital even claims that its system can trick users into sending files unencrypted, so even those who send encrypted traffic could be spied upon. Cuomo claims that he’s not endorsing the product, but just thought ISPs would be interested in looking into it. Yet, given his heavy handed tactics earlier in this effort, it’s pretty clear what message he’s sending.
But why Brilliant Digital? If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the company has an extremely sketchy past that has been touched on before. It was, effectively, one of the first surreptitious “adware” installs, back in the day, when it tried to secretly distribute a “legit” P2P file sharing system that would sit on top of the popular Kazaa and give you the option of paying for songs rather than just straight file sharing them. The software was downloaded and secretly installed on one million computers, before it was revealed.
This is the company our politicians want spying on every packet sent across the internet?
Not only that, but Brilliant Digital is also (of course) rather aggressive on the patent front, suing Streamcast for daring to make use of a hash system for trying to identify music tracks being shared over a P2P network. So we have an Australian spyware company that wants to scan every bit of traffic and identify it (even if it’s encrypted), and it’s being pushed by a US politician who has a history of trying to publicly shame companies into doing his bidding, even if it involves lying about them. And, the whole damn thing almost certainly violates the 4th Amendment.
Last week, we wrote about Paul Ohm’s suggestion that we should create a stronger privacy law that outlawed deep packet inspection, as that would pretty much stop any attempt to break net neutrality without requiring special net neutrality laws. It’s worth noting that such a law would also have the added benefit of making it doubly clear to Cuomo that such a program is quite illegal.