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AT&T to Help MPAA Filter the Internet? 219

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the real-man-in-the-middle-attack dept.
Save the Internet writes "Ars Technica is reporting that the MPAA is trying to convince major ISPs to do content filtering. Now, merely wanting it is one thing, but the more important point is that 'AT&T has agreed to start filtering content at some mysterious point in the future.' We're left to wonder about the legal implications of that, but given that AT&T already has the ability to wiretap everything for the NSA, it was only a matter of time before they found a way to profit from it, too."
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AT&T to Help MPAA Filter the Internet?

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:23PM (#20673785) Homepage Journal

    Arr, where isOliver Wendell Jones and his swashbuckling Banana PC when ye need them!

    Now, merely wanting it is one thing, but the more important point is that 'AT&T has agreed to start filtering content at some mysterious point in the future.' We're left to wonder about the legal implications of that, but given that AT&T already has the ability to wiretap everything for the NSA

    Avast, all the p2p sites need to do is mask the activity by sendin' and receivin' "noise" (content of random or random packets of encoded content with pre-arranged means of embedding send and receive commands, encoded by phrases passed by other means.) Arr, I be reading too many cryptographer tales.

  • AT&T has agreed to start filtering content at some mysterious point in the future.
    too bad the MPAA/RIAA dont sue them every time someone finds a way to share songs. that would be a great and ironic use of their legal team
    • Re:if only (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RobertM1968 (951074) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @08:19PM (#20675163) Homepage Journal

      Actually, there are numerous cases in the past (around 2000-2002) of "content owners" trying to sue OSPs and ISPs. When good lawyers have been involved on the part of the OSPs/ISPs, as long as take-down notices have been properly handled, the cases have been thrown out of court. Some smaller ISPs and OSPs - in some of the earliest(IIRC) have settled. That trend died after the "content owners" started losing the cases against bigger OSPs/ISPs. I seem to remember NetCom as being one of them. The initial problem - back then - was that some of the suits pre-dated the DMCA (the DMCA not always being a bad thing). In some of those earlier cases, judges (with no technical knowledge of how the Internet works) had even ruled against ISPs/OSPs - ones that would have been protected by the DMCA.

      Now, there has been an argument that an ISP/OSP who does start filtering that "unfilterable" content is opening themselves up to tons of lawsuits for anything they miss - part of the argument is that they are no longer providing the role of (just) a transport mechanism, since they are picking what content does - or does not - go through their pipes.

      This situation may grow into something that tests that legal theory. I've personally talked to lawyers who think such actions would damage an ISPs/OSPs Safe Harbor claim. But then again, it's not their opinion (since it hasn't been tried yet) that matters... it's the outcome of any lawsuits that stem from AT&T failing to filter content that they should have.

      While they may get blanket immunity from the **AA over such errors, other content owners have been looking for a wedge in (again numerous lawsuits) to hold OSPs/ISPs liable. After all, it is far more profitable - I mean easier to recoup losses - to win a lawsuit against an AT&T than against John Doe.

      This also brings in the grey area of certain judges deciding that if AT&T can manage to filter certain types of content or traffic, then everyone should - opening more doors to suing OSPs/ISPs. At least in that particular case, the OSPs/ISPs have one particular clause in the DMCA still in their favor - which is (poorly paraphrased) an exclusion from being required to do so if that method makes the service unusable or creates ridiculous undue hardship on the ISP/OSP (for instance, a 20 person ISP needing to hire a team of thousands, or install tens of thousands of servers to be able to filter traffic in real time). That part of the DMCA though is kind of vague on specifics... leaving it open to interpretation... thus, what AT&T can do, and afford to do... most ISPs/OSPs cannot - but would a judge of questionable technology and Internet knowledge understand that?

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:31PM (#20673909)
    > We're left to wonder about the legal implications of that

    No we're not. When AT&T permitted NSA to infiltrate/subvert its network in order to monitor all domestic and foreign Intarweb traffic, it broke enough privacy laws that the legal consequences would require the dissolution of the company.

    Unlike Arthur Andersen and the Enron scandal, AT&T and the other US telcos are "too big to fail". Because no penalty can be assessed without bankrupting AT&T, no penalty can be assessed, period.

    Now that the precedent has been set for some crimes (to date, those involving national security), there's nothing to stop it from being applied to other crimes (namely, those involving copying pictures of a cartoon mouse, or sounds emitted from a plastic-titted starlet).

    As prophesized by the late, great Douglas Adams, the legal implications to AT&T are as follows:

    "Have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?" said Mr. Prosser.
    "How much?" asked Arthur.
    "None at all," replied Prosser.

    • by Danathar (267989)
      If I put on an explosive belt with C4 and a pressure trigger that bulldozer will be damaged quite a a lot.
      • If I put on an explosive belt with C4 and a pressure trigger that bulldozer will be damaged quite a a lot.

        So, in the context of this discussion, wtf does that mean? You gonna hack AT&T's Gibson?
        • by Danathar (267989)
          nah...no context at all. Just how I could stop the bulldozer :) or at least take it with me
    • by thegameiam (671961) <thegameiam&yahoo,com> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @07:16PM (#20674511) Homepage

      When AT&T permitted NSA to infiltrate/subvert its network in order to monitor all domestic and foreign Intarweb traffic, it broke enough privacy laws that the legal consequences would require the dissolution of the company.


      Source please?

      Here's a thought experiment for you: you're a big company with lots of government contracts. A well-known government law enforcement agency comes to you and says "we need you do X, and it needs to be secret." Wouldn't you think that you could presume that the actions the government asks you to do are by definition legal? Or if they turn out to be illegal, you have reason to have acted in the manner you did, which dramatically lowers any punishment.

      Has any controlling legal authority (to use former VP Gore's phrase) actually ruled that AT&T et. al. violated the law as opposed to having done something which smells bad?

      I'm not a lawyer (thank God), but I've hung out with a bunch to know the difference between unpleasant acts and illegal ones.

      Now, mind you, the above has no bearing whatsoever on any dealings between AT&T and the MPAA - I prefer my ISPs to behave as common carriers in the technical and legal sense. I do know that an ISP which actively filters then becomes more responsible when *bad stuff* gets through, so AT&T could be buying themselves a barrel of trouble if they implement this on a widespread basis (as opposed to an ad-hoc, subpoena-driven basis).
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sssssss27 (1117705)
        So if a member of the government asks you to do something that you know is illegal you would do it?
        • by thegameiam (671961) <thegameiam&yahoo,com> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @08:11PM (#20675101) Homepage
          No, of course not.

          However, if a member of a law enforcement branch of the government says "this is legal" and it's plausible, I might answer differently.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jsebrech (525647)
            However, if a member of a law enforcement branch of the government says "this is legal" and it's plausible, I might answer differently.

            Now imagina you have a staff of hundreds of lawyers at your disposal. Would you say "hey, let's not ask the lawyers if this is legal, and let's just blindly assume it is"?

            AT&T has every tool to know the exact legality of their actions. "We didn't know" is not a valid defense.
      • Wouldn't you think that you could presume that the actions the government asks you to do are by definition legal?

        Good lord no, and not even from an ideological perspective. If I were running a company, I would hope that my lawyers would thoroughly investigate what we were being asked to do, because from a purely pragmatic viewpoint we want to make sure we don't expose ourselves to lawsuits from our customers. The government enjoys a lot of protection from those, but people simply doing favors for the go

        • Fair point.

          Has anyone who has standing to do so actually ruled that AT&T did anything illegal as opposed to unpleasant? Perhaps they do have legions of lawyers after all...

          (also, there are PR implications in refusing a direct order when it's couched in national security too...)
      • by neomunk (913773)
        You apparently DON'T know the difference between "unpleasant acts and illegal ones" if you think the bar of legality is that if a government agent does something (or asks you to), it's legal.

        Here's a hint, in the U.S. even the President is required (by law, ironically) to obey the law.

        • I should have been more clear.

          I was not saying "because the government said / did X is was necessarily legal"

          I was saying "because the government said / did X, the entity who was asked for assistance does have a reasonable presumption that X is legal" - i.e. they can be shown to be acting in good faith.

  • This sounds like the first cannon fire in the legal war to no longer be required to practice net neutrality. They can use this as the justification to change what traffic goes across the internet they provide.
    • But they don't provide the whole internet, so they're going to provide a branded experience. A shitty experience. An experience that puts them at a competative disadvantage.

      I mean. What's to stop a politically submissive cash cow from cutting off the pr0n? You think prohibition was bad? That could spark the first coup in my lifetime.
    • It's already happening to your email [slashdot.org]. Big brother does not want you to share stories about how you got locked away and tortured for five years without charges, so the free internet must die. You will not be allowed to run a server of anykind. When you do, ATT will drop it on the floor. ATT and friends are dependent on government protection of their racket and will be happy to treat you the way AOL, Yahoo and M$ have treated people in China. Oppressive governments can not tolerate truth.

  • by msauve (701917) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:35PM (#20673969)
    ISPs burn themselves by getting into content filtering. Force them make a choice between "common carrier" status, where they aren't responsible for the traffic they carry, and being subject to suit over delivering damaging traffic, like viruses and DOS attacks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rsmith-mac (639075)

      Repeat after me:

      ISPs are not common carriers
      ISPs are not common carriers
      ISPs are not common carriers

      I'm not sure why everyone keeps thinking otherwise, but ISPs are not common carriers. They already do actions that would be in violation of common carrier status, and no, no one has or will be suing them for it.

      • ISPs are not common carriers

        ISPs in the United States are not "common carriers" for the legalese sense of "common carriers". But they are "common carriers" in the broader sense of "entities providing communication services with similar immunities to common carriers", such as entities compliant with Title 17, U.S. Code, section 512 [copyright.gov]. Likewise, uses of a copyrighted work under 17 USC 108 through 112 [copyright.gov] are not "fair uses", which in the strict legal sense refers only to uses under 17 USC 107 [copyright.gov], but they are "fair uses" under common parlance.

    • How about they start by filtering all the SPAMMERS on their network. Hmmm?
  • by rossz (67331) <`ogre' `at' `geekbiker.net'> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:35PM (#20673987) Homepage Journal
    The first time some porn gets through their filters, I'm going to sue their ass. Hey, just because I typed, "hot teen lesbian action" doesn't mean I actually want to see that stuff!
  • by The Ancients (626689) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:36PM (#20673995) Homepage

    Companies such as Endace [endace.com]. A start up from a NZ university, they've been on the Deloitte/Unlimited 50 fastest growing companies for several years (peaking at 1000% growth).

    Someone has to make the product to enable this functionality, and if this goes ahead, it will prove very lucrative.

  • I've always thought that over time, more and more services will become completely encrypted end to end.

    Personally I think that is a good thing.

  • Encryption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamacat (583406) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:38PM (#20674025)
    Neither MPAA nor ISPs should be able to see the content we are exchanging and be in the position to filter it. Even with SSL, where the server can theoretically be accessed by anyone, the computational requirements of establishing a session will choke the filters. Add some captchas and you are gold.
  • by isaac (2852) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:39PM (#20674041)
    How many times must this myth bubble to the surface? ISPs ARE NOT COMMON CARRIERS (at least in the USA).

    If ISPs were common carriers, there would be no 'net neutrality' debate - it'd be a settled matter.

    -Isaac
    • by BootNinja (743040)
      Actually, I thought that was the whole point of the Net Neutrality Stink. The Telecoms wanted congress to enact legislation to allow them to create a tiered internet. As a response opponents decided to lobby for the opposite: a law that explicitly forbids such a thing.
      • by isaac (2852)

        Actually, I thought that was the whole point of the Net Neutrality Stink. The Telecoms wanted congress to enact legislation to allow them to create a tiered internet. As a response opponents decided to lobby for the opposite: a law that explicitly forbids such a thing.

        No. The cable companies lobbied the FCC (not congress) to explicitly classify cable internet access as an "information service" not a "communications service" - which they did. Independent ISPs sued, and the US Supreme Court held that the FCC

        • by BootNinja (743040)
          Thanks for clearing that up for me. Net neutrality is one of those things where it's hard to find the truth of the matter because both sides are saying different things.
  • This being slashdot, I figure someone out there will have an informed opinion on the technology they plan on using to perform this task. I'm particularly interested in how they plan on preventing uncooperative isp's from using this as a competative advantage.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Chances are the competitive ISPs traffic goes through an AT&T controlled network at some point in time.

      In fact, it must. Otherwise the whole AT&T spying thing would only work on their customers.
  • Fits the pattern (Score:4, Informative)

    by Creamsickle (792801) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:45PM (#20674133)
    It fits the pattern we've been seeing from them. Remember, this is the company that pillaged South Africa's economy [busrep.co.za], rewrote its privacy policy to give itself more leniency [sfgate.com], lobbies against net neutrality [savetheinternet.com], and fights open-access wireless [cbronline.com].

    And don't forget, they shut down the time service too. Bastards.
  • Who are the engineers building this crap? Does the MPAA just dragnet tech schools looking for programmers who can't find work? The people needed to build a mechanism for "filtering the internet" are the SAME PEOPLE who use services like IRC,FTP,BITTORRENT, and USENET to communicate with one another and exchange data. They are NOT going to create a tool that will shut down the closest thing they have to a bastion of technical discussion; usenet/irc. Yes yes yes, flame on, i know that usenet is flooded wi
    • There are lots of very smart people who work for AT&T and other companies who make stuff that can do this.

      Consider the various US firms which helped make the great firewall of China - that certainly takes skill.

      Now, could someone evade detection? Probably. Given the lack of detail in TFA or in TFATILT (the June source for this), the impression I got was that this was a "hey check out that user" sort of system: something which sends an alert about some squicky behavior, and then a human takes a look.
  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:48PM (#20674179)
    Until they can figure out how to filter spam effectively and efficiently, this is just vapor. What do they plan on doing? "Oh look a .mp3 file, lets block it" type filter? That's retarded.

    FTFA:

          "...given the money and time that will be required to implement such a system..."

    Indeed. Did you guys not learn anything from DRM? How about copy protection? Maybe the anti-virus arms race will jog your memory? Oh wait, I know how about 09f911029d74e35bd84156c5635688c0? Still nothing?

    There's always going to be faster gun, and you cannot "invent" a solution around that.
  • ATT you want to see what will make me pay $50 a month for my Internet from the cable company? Start filtering and I'll drop your crappy $20 DSL that day.
  • Where are the greenies when you need them to protest?

    Did it ever occur to anyone the vast processing resources content filtering will require? Processing data of any sort will require energy (not including energy to keep them cool)

    Just imagine AT&T having data centers racked up with network appliances around the world. Their sole purpose; to filter content in real-time for the MPAA/RIAA.

    Such a waste of resources...
  • If I were AT&T I would log and record every piracy attempt that was thwarted and bill the MPAA for the service. Say $0.30 for each one?
    • by Kesch (943326)
      They should charge a percentage of the financial losses they are preventing. At a modest 1%, that works out to $7.50 per mp3.
  • by Nonillion (266505) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:58PM (#20674311)
    God I'm getting so fucking tired of this shit. It won't be long till the RIAA and MPAA will sue you just because you have a broadband connection. They'll simply claim that 'because you have broadband, you have the ability to pirate our works'. The record and movie industry need to shut the fuck up and quit forcing telcos to spy on us, the government does enough of that as it is. In any case, telcos need to loose their 'common carrier status' and be liable to lawsuits if they intend to do this.
    • by pokerdad (1124121)

      It won't be long till the RIAA and MPAA will sue you just because you have a broadband connection.

      Change the words "sue" to "levy" and "broadband connection" to "writable media" and you've basically described the situation in Canada.

  • by phorm (591458) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @07:05PM (#20674369) Journal
    I'm not so much worried about AT&T filtering their customers' traffic... I'm not one of them, and there are often enough other choices. The problem is that this is only true if they're not filtering all the traffic that flows through their backbone, much like the recent NSA todo. If your ISP has traffic that passes through AT&T's network (or heck, uses their infrastructure), are they therefore going to be filtered as well?
    • ISPs only carry traffic either to or from someone who pays them.

      AT&T carries traffic from its customers to other ISPs, and AT&T carries traffic from other ISPs to its customers.

      A bunch of ISPs are themselves customers of AT&T. This is true of any of the big players - nobody carries anything for free: "peering" is what happens when two ISPs agree that metering their back and forth traffic isn't worth the cost of doing so.
      • Well, it's assumed that when you're peering the balance of traffic is roughly equal, so if they were charging each other for it, they'd be paying the other roughly the same thing, so there's no point in billing it out.
        • You occasionally get cases where it's not that the balance of traffic is equal, but that the value of the traffic is equal: consider the Level3 vs. Cogent battle a year or so ago - L3 eventually had to give up and re-peer Cogent, because L3's users complained louder than Cogent's.
  • Ok, am I reading this right? Encrypting day-to-day traffic is going to soon be the new norm? Seriously, in the arms race between ISP's and networks the ISP's can't win. All that will happen is the networks will be more sophisticated, use better encryption, etc, etc. ISP's should instead focus on going after the big fish instead of trying to make it impossible/cumbersome for people to transmit certain information. I hope AT&T is smart enough to realize this. . .
    • They already mod down encryption traffic. Doing remote Xlogins and ssh are unusable with many DSL and cable ISP's intentionally thanks to the p2p crowd encrypting everything and taking 97% of the traffic.
  • Good luck with that, MPAA and interested ISPs... Trying to control the flow of information of the internet is so easy, that nothing at all could go wrong!
  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @07:59PM (#20674985)
    So lets see what will happen. People will start encrypting their connections. Then presumably AT&T will block or degrade encrypted connections ( thus causing security issues ). Now, queue stenography. TCP/Noise in images, audio and video clips. With a strong cipher encrypted data is mathematically indistinguishable from noise unless you have the key. Lets see their filters distinguish between an audio stream recorded using a noisy microphone and a stream containing an encrypted stream overlay. I'm sure their servers won't have any problem whatsoever trying to do image analysis on every single webcam simultaneously. Then you can proceed to trying to distinguish a noisy video from one with encrypted data embedded in it. Really, AT&T and pals, here is a message for you. The great firewall of China fails at censoring the net, and that one is run by the fucking government. You seriously think you can do better ( worse) than the PRC and still make a profit? Good fucking luck.
  • Does this mean that AT&T will now become personally responsible for every infringing packet that does slip through? And what happens when they block legal content?

    This can of worms, which I totally bet was opened without consulting with their engineering and programming staff first, is as ugly as it can possibly get.

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @08:14PM (#20675127)
    What in the hell is going on. The sad thing is.. IT WILL happen and you wont be able to do a dam fucking thing because that is how America works.

    I for one, welcome our regular censoring, anti american corporate overlords.

    The system is broken, and the country is dead.
    • Flamebait me, but its the truth. Keep protending your opinion matters. You're nobodies. Your rights will be decided for you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PhreakOfTime (588141)

      If I had mod points, I would use them.

      Whats worse, is that when it fails the first time around... something will be presented to MAKE people demand this 'filtering'.

      The country is dead, and its a great fear of mine as to what is going to happen when that critical mass of people realize that reality.

      will it be by conquest or consent? Well, we are where we are now, because WE consented to it.

  • Guy In Cart: Lovie? What's it like to have Comcast? Lovie: Well, when downloading a song do you ever get the similar feeling of watching a Bears game when Rex throws a 30 yard pass to Mushin for a touchdown. Guy In cart: No. I have AT&T Lovie gets in his car and starts chuckling as he drives off
    • Guy In Cart: Lovie? What's it like to have Comcast?

      Lovie: Well, when downloading a song do you ever get the similar feeling of watching a Bears game when Rex throws a 30 yard pass to Mushin for a touchdown.

      Guy In cart: No. I have AT&T

      Lovie gets in his car and starts chuckling as he drives off

  •   This sounds like the Great Firewall of China. Oops, It is exactly like it. Chinese government filters internet content and MPAA wants to do same thing.c
  • Seems like examining data and then deciding to pass it on or not (filtering), would void their "common carrier" status. Or has something changed?

    Seems if they technically "can" filter, then that opens the door to "forcing" them to filter -- if for no other reason than to classify the traffic as legal or illegal -- if they can do that, seems like it's a no brainer to see some state telling AT&T to enforce their decency / obscenity standards.

    Another area -- if someone speaks/writes/posts/ (whatever) abo

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