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MPAA lobbies Obama for Internet filtering

Comment Expensive and doomed to fail
Thu Dec 11 2008, 18:48

THE MOVIE MAFIAA is lobbying US President-Elect Obama's transition team to make Internet filtering a priority in the next administration to block illegal file-sharing of films and television shows. If that proceeds, it will be a costly boondoggle that won't even work.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the litigation and lobbying arm of the Hollywood motion picture studios and the US television oligopoly, posted a position paper (PDF) on Obama's transition website,, exhorting the incoming administration that it is "imperative to curb the theft of online content."

In its paper, the MPAA urges the importance of "the fight against online piracy, including through automated detection and removal of infringing content."

Hollywood might well find sympathetic ears in the new administration.

Vice-President-Elect Joe Biden has represented Delaware in the US Senate for many years. Delaware is a small state that domiciles many US companies because its laws are slanted to favour the interests of corporations against those of shareholders, consumers and the public. As Senator, Biden shilled enthusiastically for the Big Media interests by drafting, sponsoring and voting for a raft of legislation that was lobbied for by the large media corporations. Biden also supported the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping and Internet surveillance as well as retroactive amnesty for the telecoms that perform it.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also signalled in the past year that it might be amenable to considering adopting regulations mandating or facilitating network traffic filtering by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

For their part, the large ISPs, many of which are telecoms and cable companies, would like nothing better than to break down the Network Neutrality doctrine that has enabled the Internet's rapid development and meteoric growth. They would like to impose tiered networks - similar to traditional broadcast and cable television business models - in order to monetise Internet traffic every way they possibly might, by charging content providers, advertisers and subscribers for access and traffic. They view Internet filtering as a wedge to provide them with the technology and regulations to overthrow Network Neutrality.

Furthermore, the large ISPs would likely welcome mandated Internet filtering, because they believe that either the federal government or subscribers would have to pay for the additional infrastructure that filtering would require. They would also like to throttle the rate of growth in network traffic volume - much of which is driven by the ever-widening adoption of media streaming and P2P file-sharing activity - that is forcing them to make larger investments in networking infrastructure to support, squeezing their profitability.

To support its campaign for Internet filtering, the MPAA requested views and information from academia and technology companies. Eleven universities and companies responded, including Advestigo, Audible Magic, Auditude, Gracenote, Intellivision, Magix/AudioID, NTT, Philips, Thomson, University of St. Andrew of Scotland, VidyaTel and Vobile, according to an MPAA spokeswoman.

If only a few of those names look familiar - like NTT, Philips, Thomson and St. Andrews - that's because Internet filtering is a new technology frontier that is, much like the dot-com goldrush ten years ago, attracting startups slavering for federal and telecom money.

The corporate security state establishment sees dollar signs in the prospect of installing pervasive Internet filtering in the US. And it's correct. If approved, the implementation of universal traffic filtering throughout the US Internet infrastructure will be tremendously expensive. It's just the sort of boondoggle that sustains the US military-industrial complex.

But Internet traffic filtering to block media content cannot possibly work in the long run.

That's because, faced with Internet filtering, people will develop and adopt capable and easy to use encryption that defeats it. At best, Internet censors will find themselves locked into a technology arms race in which they'll always be playing catch-up and cannot win.

Suppose Internet filtering is in place and can detect and block copyrighted movie and televison files.

And suppose that I have an online respository of such files and that I want to make them available to you for download over the Internet.

Initially, I encrypt the files and provide you with the keys along with the files. Those who are filtering traffic acquire copies of those files and start filtering the encrypted versions too. All I have to do is change my encryption keys and they are back at square one again.

The filtering censors change their approach. They start filtering based on my encryption keys, that is, they trigger blocking of file transfers when they detect my known encryption keys. That cat and mouse game could go on for a long time, but it won't. I'll get smarter.

I can distribute my public key to affiliated sites... and elsewhere. You can encrypt your public key using my public key, and request a file. I can then encrypt that file using your 'public' key - which has never traversed the Internet in its unencrypted form - and send it to you. The Internet filterers won't be able to detect what file is being sent. Checkmate.

Infinite variations of such encryption schemes are possible, including the use of one-time encryption keys and file sharing sources at many Internet addresses, but the point is that Internet filtering to block file transfers cannot be successful for very long, and it will fail.

That's why Internet filtering is a potentially very costly bad idea that can never succeed. µ



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