Will Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) alter the net as we know it?

Posted on January 17, 2012  /  0 Comments

In their paper ‘The end of the net as we know it? Deep packet inspection and internet Governance‘, authors Ralf Bendrath and Milton Mueller explore the ways in which internet governance is responding to DPI.

At present, the structure and dynamics of the internet is such that the intelligence is at the edge of the network, with only the header of the IP packet being referred to as it traverses the network. With DPI, service providers can scan the payload segment of the packet in real-time and handle in differently, based on pattern recognition.

The article refers to 3 arguments that supports the internet’s end-to-end structure:

Without DPI With DPI
Technological Flexibility Efficient, Scalable Additional overheads
Political Freedom Content is not a barrier Invasion of privacy, Opportunities for regulations on censorship
Economical Openness Multiple ISPs compete on an equal playing field Increases the network’s ability to discriminate



The authors model a framework for technology-aware policy analysis (based on the ACI, Actor-Centered Institutionalism framework) to understand the dynamics between actors, interests, political interactions, influence of institutions etc. The ACI framework deals with real actors who are guided or influenced by cognitive interactions and institutions (subject to hierarchical decision making and so on), where technology is the output, not the input. The challenge lies in explaining how technologies affect the subsequent decisions of socio-technological system. With technology-aware policy analysis, the technological change is the trigger of the policy output with it’s potentially disruptive nature, actors, institutions and interactions between the players affecting the policy process.

DPI can be applied in numerous cases such as bandwidth management, content regulation, copyright enforcement, targeted advertising, government surveillance and network security. The authors apply their framework to actual cases within the bandwidth management and copyright enforcement use cases that highlight the instances where technology determines politics and vice-versa. However, the cases within this paper are confined to western societies and democratic governments. Therefore, there is potential for enhancement and further research in to the forces affecting the policy process and internet governance of developing world.

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