US communications giant AT&T has filed a patent for a system that allows an ISP to monitor its entire internet traffic in real-time for signs of copyright abuse and other criminal activity.
The system uses deep-packet inspection to monitor all files that pass through a participating ISP, including files uploaded to Dropbox, or shared over IM. If the contents of a file are matched to a list of prohibited material (e.g. are determined to infringe intellectual property), ‘a responsive action is taken’.
The system is still in its very early stages of development, so what this ‘responsive action’ may be has yet to be determined, although suggested ideas are to ‘terminate the data transmission, to suspend the customer’s account, or to report the existence of the match to an interested party, such as a copyright owner or a law enforcement or security official, or to store the positive match to compare to later matches that are detected in subsequent transmissions to the same user or from the same sender’.
AT&T envisages ISPs co-operating together and sharing databases of prohibited files. Whether ISP’s themselves are so keen on the idea remains to be seen, and customers are unlikely to be impressed at the intrusive nature of the system, which monitors all traffic. AT&T remains enthusiastic however.
We feel it would be remiss of us here at BestVPN not to point out that using a VPN service, which encrypts all your data as it passes between your computer and the VPN server, would foil such a system.