ITU agrees deep-packet inspection of internet traffic

By Graeme Burton
07 Dec 2012 View Comments
An eye in close-up superimposted by a screen of random numbers

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which has unilaterally "assumed" control of the governance of the internet, has agreed in sessions held behind closed doors on a new standard covering deep-packet inspection.

Further reading

Deep-packet inspection examines the data part (and possibly also the header) of a packet as it passes an inspection point, such as a firewall.

The agreement paves the way for national governments to assert their rights to analyse all internet traffic passing over networks in their jurisdictions, including encrypted traffic.

The agreement was revealed by ITU's media relations spokesperson, Toby Johnson.

However Johnson, a former freelance journalist, said that adoption of the agreement would improve quality of service, enabling internet service providers (ISPs) to prioritise particular traffic, such as voice or data from users paying a premium for a better quality service.

"These buy-side advantages are mirrored by advantages on the supply side, in that ISPs are granted another tool to curb their capex [capital expenditure] and opex [operational expenditure] costs as the demand for network infrastructure expansion continues to grow," he wrote in a blog post today publicising the decision.

The standard, which goes by the codename Y.2770 and is entitled, "Requirements for deep-packet inspection in next generation networks", did contain privacy safeguards, he asserted. "The standard deals with the identification of the application used rather than the inspection of users' content. The standard does not allow access to users' private information and allows measures to ensure the secrecy of correspondence," wrote Johnson.

The posting suggests that the ITU will pitch the decision as helping the internet to become more pervasive in the third world, enabling it to reach the two-thirds of the planet's population that don't currently have internet access.

"ISPs have, in the past, used 'over provisioning' of bandwidth to meet the requirements of network applications. However, as new high-bandwidth internet applications emerge, over-provisioning has been detrimental to sustainable network evolution. Deep-packet inspection thus presents a fine-grained, long-term traffic management solution to aid ISPs in contending with volumes of traffic rising at an exponential rate," he added.

Privacy campaigners, though, have not been mollified, believing that it represents the thin end of a highly illiberal wedge. 

[Please turn to page two] 

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