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Conflating DPI with Egypt to exploit a crisis

By 7 February 2011 6 Comments

It’s ironic that Timm Karr of Free Press is blasting american companies for supposedly assisting the Egyptian government to shut down the Internet.  It was less than a year ago that Free Press was asking the FCC to regulate “hate speech” on the Internet which sounds nice until we consider the fact that the government would have the power to determine what constitutes indecent speech.  Karr is now blasting a company called Narus for selling Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology to the Egyptian government to shut down the Internet.  The only problem is that Narus isn’t selling a DPI product and neither DPI or Narus technology is being used by the Egyptians to shut down the Internet.  Furthermore, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong or evil about DPI (see paper on DPI) or any technology that can be used to shut down the Internet.

Narus makes a social media web crawler which can be used to analyze the behavior pattern of individuals and it’s no different from Google crawling the web and the neighborhood and collecting data.  The data and technology can be used for reasonable business endeavors or misused by governments and businesses, but there’s no way to blame or outlaw the existence or sale of the technology itself.  What needs to be criticized and outlawed (assuming a government that listens to the people) is the misuse of technology.  The act of web crawling itself or the technology used to enable it isn’t wrong, but the misuse of that data to persecute political opponents is wrong or social media companies or other web portals helping authoritarian governments is wrong.

DPI which is a general term encompassing a broad range of technologies that can be used to “sniff” (detect) Internet viruses and worms or any type of malicious activity or the very same technology can be misused by authoritarian governments to conduct surveillance on people.  If we outlaw sniffers or the companies that produce those products, it doesn’t really solve the problem of authoritarian governments but it does cripple the immune system of the Internet.

Lastly, it was Cisco and/or Juniper router technology used shut down the Internet in Egypt.  Yes, the very same technology used to build and support the Internet in Egypt was used to shut it down.  Should we start demanding hearings against Cisco and Juniper and ask them why they’re selling technology to Egypt?  It’s ironic that if we got that wish and forced Cisco and Juniper to stop selling routers to Egypt, they won’t need to shut down the Internet because they won’t have an Internet to begin with.


Jim Harper clarified that it’s the network monitoring and analysis that he opposes and wants boycotted by the US government and not the Cisco or Juniper routers, but that’s entirely missing the point.  The very same network monitoring and analysis can be done by any router in conjunction with an attached computer sitting on a mirrored port running data analysis software.  The fact that some marketing person at Narus makes it sound like they have somewhat of a unique technology is irrelevant because any hardware and software combination can be configured and programmed to do the same thing.  The fact is that any technology that can be used by police for legitimate anti-crime or anti-terror purposes can be misused against political dissidents by authoritarian governments.  Attacking and demanding boycotts of the technology or the company that makes it is misguided.

If we have a problem with a specific technology for specific terrorist governments, the more direct course of action is an export ban and not a government boycott.  But export bans on technology are useless because it only prohibits the legitimate acquisition and use of technology and it does nothing to prevent the misuse of those technologies.  A banned government or terrorist group will simply buy the same product using intermediaries or they’ll buy it from copycat companies operating outside of the US.  For example, a lot of software images designed to run on Cisco routers can’t be downloaded from certain countries and that only makes it easier for government to conduct surveillance on businesses and individuals.  The intension of an export ban was to prevent surveillance but the outcome is just the reverse.  The only thing export bans accomplish is cripple US technology companies and legitimate customers abroad and it is the wrong tool for shaping foreign policy.


  • Tweets that mention Digital Society » Blog Archive » Conflating DPI with Egypt to exploit a crisis -- Topsy.com said:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ryan Radia, GeorgeOu. GeorgeOu said: http://bit.ly/gj0fOL Let's stop selling routers to Egypt so they can't shut down their Internet. Oh wait, they wouldn't have an Internet. […]

  • Seth Finkelstein said:

    > It was less than a year ago that Free Press was asking the FCC to regulate “hate speech” on the Internet

    Nonsense. That’s ridiculously alarmist and scare-mongering, the sort of thing you passionately denounce when done by “the other side”. The letter in question SPECIFICALLY STATED it was aimed at (my emphasis) “and to explore non-regulatory ways to counteract”.

    There really is a both-sides-do-it here.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @Seth Finkelstein

    I stand by my assertion and I backed it up based on Free Press’ letter to the FCC. It’s not scaremongering when it’s backed up by the facts.


    And don’t try to tell me they’re only asking for speech to be monitored. The clear goal is government pressure to control speech at a minimum. When you ask the FCC to monitor speech and do something to influence the outcome, I don’t care if you call it something other than regulation because it is regulation.

    So no, this isn’t scaremongering. This is pointing out euphemisms for regulation. It’s like how FCC Chairman Genachowski keeps trying to say he’s not trying to regulate the Internet when he clearly is. Heck, he’s reached as high up as the application stack with his letter to Apple.

  • Seth Finkelstein said:

    They were quite clear here:


    “Free Press does not and will never support FCC regulation of content on the Internet. Period. Nor do we believe that the FCC has the authority to engage in such regulation. Indeed, our support of NHMC’s request for inquiry is contingent on the fact that NHMC explicitly rejects the notion of any content regulation as a remedy for hate speech.”

    And also addressed your argument:

    “Nevertheless, we understand that some parties, because of mistake or willful ignorance, will always insist that any discussion of the impact of media in our society is the front-door, back-door, side-door, and/or garage-door to a free speech violation. That view – well-intentioned or not – distorts the guarantees of the First Amendment.”

  • George Ou (author) said:

    That’s nice Seth, but it doesn’t wash their hands in this. If the FCC is to monitor the situation, the purpose at the very least is to inflict pressure. And whether or not the FCC has authority to directly act is irrelevant because they do many things through threat. For example, the FCC already forced Comcast to carry more Spanish language channels and other diversity measures as a part of their merger obligations.

    Once the FCC starts monitoring speech on the Internet, it has the leverage to exert pressure. The FCC data also becomes a talking point for some members of congress to implement new regulations.

    You’re free to be in favor of the FCC monitoring decency on the Internet and exerting pressure, but don’t tell me that’s not “regulation” because it is regulation in everything but name.

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