Net neutrality: an introduction and opinion from the European Data Protection Supervisor
Hard on the heels of my complaint that Peter Hustinx’ Opinion is obscure (The European Data Protection Supervisor is like Cnut facing down a tide of bureaucratic encroachment into our privacy), and that there is no open debate on net neutrality in Europe (Does Neelie’s Compact for the Internet signal the end of net neutrality in Europe?), the EDPS publishes a new Opinion that is the best introduction to the concept and issues I have yet come across.
Net neutrality refers to an ongoing debate on whether Internet service providers (‘ISPs’) should be allowed to limit, filter, or block Internet access or otherwise affect its performance. The concept of net neutrality builds on the view that information on the Internet should be transmitted impartially, without regard to content, destination or source, and that users should be able to decide what applications, services and hardware they want to use. This means that ISPs cannot, at their own choice, prioritise or slow down access to certain applications or services such as Peer to Peer (‘P2P’), etc.
Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor on net neutrality, traffic management and the protection of privacy and personal data
The paper includes an excellent introduction to the arguments for and against allowing ISPs to analyse the packets they deliver for their customers, relating the IP headers to the name and address on a snail mail envelope (which must be read), and the payload to the confidential data inside the letter (which should be read only under the strictest of conditions). He explains why ISPs are monitoring communications, where they are obligated to do so (for security purposes), where they are in my opinion doing so illegally and my certainty doing so immorally (as in deep packet inspection), and the subsequent dangers of the potential commercialisation of users’ private communications. He concludes
ISPs’ increasing reliance on monitoring and inspection techniques impinges upon the neutrality of the Internet and the confidentiality of communications. This raises serious issues relating to the protection of users’ privacy and personal data.
I thoroughly recommend this document to all users of the internet – and I beseech our political leaders to not merely read it, but actually heed it.
Sadly, of course, they will no more take my advice than they will that of M. Hustinx. Politics is a game of quid pro quo, or in the modern idiom, you scratch my back… Governments can print money; ISPs want some. ISPs control the internet; governments want some. So government will allow the ISPs what they want in return for a hand on the lever of control. And as always, it is the poor bloody user that will pay the price.