U.N. communications body adopts eavesdropping standards

By on December 5, 2012, 6:30 PM

Despite concerns voiced by Germany, a number of Internet eavesdropping techniques were approved for use by the International Telecommunication Union. The ITU is the specialized U.N. body charged with the facilitation and regulation of information and communication technologies. Cdt.org provides this detailed look at the problems of this accepted proposal, although document's intricacies remain secretive to all but officials.

The adopted proposal provide standardized methods for Deep Packet Inspection, a controversial network eavesdropping technique which can be utilized to identify -- although not necessarily reveal -- the contents of encrypted traffic. Perhaps more disturbingly though, are the ITUs plans to allow ISPs to decrypt traffic. How this would (or could) be done is unknown, but if such ITU standards become widespread enough between private and public organizations, decryption of communications under certain conditions could prove possible at the ISP level.

Ironically, the ITU purportedly spells out rules to protect such decrypted data, requiring that decrypted information be "protected" from modification, theft and loss. However, it does not address concerns of user privacy or safety.

Cnet reports that Germany played advocate for Internet freedom, insisting the ITU "not standardize any technical means that would increase the exercise of control over telecommunications content, could be used to empower any censorship of content, or could impede the free flow of information and ideas."

DPI can be (and has been) used by oppressive governments to block communications, just as it may easily be leveraged to benignly improve quality of service -- DPI itself, of course, isn't inherently good or evil. However, the possibility of its abuse is very real. It's interesting to note that at least several U.N. members already employ DPI technologies at a national level, like IranAfghanistan, China and Russia. Additionally, some companies utilize DPI for various, often seemingly innocuous reasons.

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