Implications of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) Internet Surveillance for Society

By Christian Fuchs

This research paper analyses societal implications of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technologies.

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) surveillance technologies are communications surveillance tools that are able to monitor the traffic of network data that is sent over the Internet at all seven layers of the OSI Reference Model of Internet communication, which includes the surveillance of content data.

The analysis presented in this paper is based on product sheets, self descriptions, and product presentations by 20 European security technology companies that produce and sell DPI technologies. For each company, we have conducted a document analysis of the available files. It focused on the four following aspects:

  1. Description and use of the Internet surveillance technologies that are produced and sold.
  2. The self ­description of the company.
  3. The explanation of the relevance of Internet surveillance, i.e. why the company thinks it is important that it produces and sells such technologies.
  4. A documentation of what the company says about opportunities and problems that can arise in the context of Internet surveillance.

The assessment of societal implications of DPI is based on opinions of security industry representatives, scholars, and privacy advocates that were voiced in white papers, tech reports, research reports, on websites, in press releases, and in news media. The results can be summarized in the form of several impact dimensions:

  1. Potential advantages of DPI
  2. Net neutrality
  3. The power of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for undermining users’ trust
  4. Potential function creep of DPI surveillance
  5. Targeted advertising
  6. The surveillance of file sharers
  7. Political repression and social discrimination

The conducted analysis of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technologies shows that there is a variety of potential impacts of this technology on society. A general conclusion is that for understanding new surveillance technologies, we do not only need privacy and data protection assessments, but broader societal and ethical impact assessments.

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Implications of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) Internet Surveillance for Society (pdf)

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