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Russia Using DPI Technology to Implement New Internet Censorship Law

BY Lisa Goldman | Monday, November 5 2012

Three months after the Russian Duma passed a law that gives the government sweeping powers to censor Internet content, it has gone into effect. The law is supposed to apply to child pornography, drug-related material, extremist material, but the vague wording of the law has led most observers and analysts to conclude that the law is manifestly for the purpose of censoring freedom of speech.

In a well-reported feature article, Wired Magazine explains that the government plans to use DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) technology to implement the censorship law, explaining how it works:

“At the end of August, under the chairmanship of Communications minister Nikolai Nikiforov, a working group was held, drawing representatives of Google, SUP Media (the owner of the Livejournal social network), and of all the other big hitters. They discussed how to ensure that the [filtering] mechanism — they used the concrete example of YouTube — how to block a specific video, without blocking YouTube as a whole. And they reached the conclusion that pleased them all,” Ilya Ponomarev, a member of the State Duma and an ardent supporter of the law, told us.

Are we are talking about DPI technology? we asked.

“Yes, precisely.”

Most digital inspection tools only look at the “headers” on a packet of data –- where it’s going, and where it came from. DPI allows network providers to peer into the digital packets composing a message or transmission over a network. “You open the envelope, not just read the address on a letter,” said an engineer dealing with DPI. It allows ISPs not only to monitor the traffic, but to filter it, suppressing particular services or content. DPI has also elicited concern from leading privacy groups over how this highly intrusive technology will be used by governments.

Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, explains that no western democracy would use DPI because it is too extreme a violation of privacy.

"DPI allows the state to peer into everyone’s internet traffic and read, copy or even modify e-mails and webpages: We now know that such techniques were deployed in pre-revolutionary Tunisia. It can also compromise critical circumvention tools, tools that help citizens evade authoritarian internet controls in countries like Iran and China.”

Under the law, Internet Service Providers will be required to install DPI technology. The article includes some interesting information about the expense involved and the rather nefarious means the ISPs are planning to use in order to comply with the law without laying out the equivalent of $100,000 on high-priced technology.

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