Privacy vs. the Internet: Americans Should Not be Forced to Choose

September 25, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (202) 675-2312 media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - The Senate Commerce Committee continued exploring the issue of Internet privacy and online marketing today with a hearing on Internet service providers' (ISPs) use of deep packet inspection (DPI). Use of this technology allows ISPs to scrutinize Internet users' e-mail and browsing activities, to monitor usage and communications traffic, and sell that information to advertisers or turn it over to government officials. The risks posed by this technology are significant and should not be underestimated. The ACLU urges members of the committee to zealously guard the privacy of the American people.

The following can be attributed to Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel:

"Anything we do on the Internet, everything we read, everything we see – all of it is available for unwanted scrutiny with deep packet inspection. Internet service providers can access a complete record of Americans' transactions including our search terms, the pop up ads that appeal to us, the stories we read, the blogs we visit and post to, and anyone we're associated with on the Internet. Without clear guidance from Congress, all of that information can be reviewed by ISPs and might be sold to advertisers or turned over to the government. Until Congress explicitly establishes what records ISPs may collect, with whom and under which circumstances they may shared, and severe penalties for non-compliance, Internet users will have no online privacy.

"Even without DPI, a good deal of information is already collected about Internet users just by visiting certain websites or using certain web browsers. Only the most tech-savy users can avoid websites that collect personal data. But no user can avoid DPI. Companies that use DPI implicitly force users to waive their right to privacy in order to use the Internet.

"The committee should also consider how the use of DPI could affect Internet speed and pricing based on content, usage or application. It is easy to see how DPI may undermine the Internet's role as a dynamic forum for the free exchange of ideas. I hope lawmakers carefully guard against the misapplication of DPI technologies, and zealously protect the privacy of the American people. Congress must be Americans' firewall on this issue."

For more information about the ACLU's work on Internet privacy, go to: www.aclu.org/privacy/

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