Privacy activist “will quit job to take on Virgin Media”

A leading privacy advocate is proposing to quit his day job to lead a full-time fight against Virgin Media’s use of deep-packet inspection (DPI) technology.

Privacy activist

Virgin has signed a deal with Detica to use DPI to identify illegal traffic on its network. Virgin insists the technology won’t be used to identify individuals, but to monitor the degree of illegal file-sharing that’s taking place.

Alexander Hanff – now of Privacy International and the man behind the NoDPI website that campaigned vigorously against behavioural-advertising firm Phorm – says Vrigin’s use of such technology is illegal.

We feel it is a breach of our rights, our right to privacy in our digital communications

“Under RIPA [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] and PECR [Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations], consent or a warrant is required to do this,” Hanff told PC Pro. “We feel it is a breach of our rights, our right to privacy in our digital communications”.

Although Virgin says it isn’t planning to identify individual file-sharers, Hanff believes this will be the logical next step. “At the moment it’s trying to gauge the scale of file-sharing, but this [technology] allows them to do what they wish,” he said. “You can’t send a three-strikes notice to people who can’t be identified. Anonymity goes out of the window.”

Now Hanff has offered to quit his day job and lead a full-time fight against Virgin Media’s plans if he can generate enough donations through the NoDPI website. “Anywhere betweeen £30,000 and £40,000 should be enough to allow me to mount a campaign,” Hanff claims, who said the fight against Phorm has already cost him and his family around £40,000. “This [campaign] could send a clear message to ISPs not to implement similar systems themselves.”

Legal search

A spokesman for Virgin Media insists the company’s use of DPI isn’t illegal. “There are exceptions [in the RIPA regulations] for network management purposes and this falls into that category,” he said.

The spokesman admitted that DPI could be used to hunt down individual file-sharers but that it was impossible with the current technology provided by Detica.

The company intercepts peer-to-peer traffic packets and inspects the data to see if it matches a database of copyrighted material. Detica then keeps a tally of the overall level of illegal content on Virgin’s network. “The IP address information is discarded,” Virgin’s spokesman claimed.

Virgin denies that it’s been forced to implement such measures at the behest of Universal Music, with whom it signed a deal to provide a legal download service earlier this summer. “It wasn’t a condition [of that deal], but hand-in-hand with developing a legal music service we are helping to identify illegal file-sharing,” Virgin’s spokesman said.

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