back to article MPs to probe ISP snooping and throttling

MPs have today launched an investigation into the use of snooping technology by ISPs which allows them to profile customers for advertisers and throttle or block specific types of traffic. An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Communication will examine issues such as the emergence of Phorm's profiling system, and …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "All party" ?

    Any idea what these all party groups include - a fair balance between parties or proportional to the parties in power?

    If it's the latter, we're well and truly fucked, if it's the former, it could be good as the smaller parties for the most part often seem to have a much better clue about this sort of thing. The Lib Dems and Greens etc. are far more clued up than Labour and the Conservatives.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    They're taking an interest...

    ... because they're worried someone will snoop on what they're surfing for and publish it, like Jacqui Smith's husband's porn habits. No doubt a special MP-only ban on ISP snooping will be deemed sufficient as far as they're concerned.

  3. Skizz

    How to convince people that DPI is bad...

    Imagine if the Royal Mail opened and read all your correspondance and then inserted 'relevant' advertisements and then delivered it to you.

    Also, the whole anonymous thing is bollocks. I mean, how can they serve up ads based on browsing habits without keeping a track of what I do - there must be an IP / browsing habit correlation and it doesn't take a genius to find out where an IP address is mapped to (just threaten the ISP with legal action).

    Also, to inspect the packets, the data must be stored locally. What if the data is an obscene image? Would Phorm be liable to prosecution?


  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Whitewash or Hogwash

    Given the overall ambiguity of the questions, I can see that this ‘investigation’ will do little more that put forward a set of pre-prepared, government friendly, answers.

    “Can we distinguish circumstances when ISPs should be forced to act to deal with some type of bad traffic?”

    BAD TRAFFIC? What’s that? Naughty bit packets which bully the nice packets? Is it unwanted traffic (for an ISP surely that is anything over 5MB a month irrespective of the plan that you’re on.) Is it illegal traffic (or is that legal traffic carrying illegal data?)

    If the government, with their IT and legal resources, cannot even frame the questions sensibly then we can only assume that they already have the answers that they want and wrote the questions to provide those answers.

    I doubt that anything will change for the better from this at all.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    God forbid

    that the government should look into the chicanery of "unlimited" downloads and "up to" speeds. Every ISP has enough data to give a realistic figure for both before you sign up but they don't. No car hire company would survive if they advertised cars with unlimited mileage and a speed of up to 120mph then gave customers a car that could only travel 76 miles a week at a speed of 32mph. But then we're just mugs us consumers. We don't deserve any rights.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Good Start

    "An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Communication will examine issues such as the emergence of Phorm's profiling system, and the restriction of bandwidth available to specific applications such as BitTorrent. Both activities are reliant on Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology."

    If you're going to start the article with a technical error there's not much hope for you. Bittorrent uses certain ports so in order to indentify this traffic you don't need DPI technology. Go to the back of the class.

  7. Eddie

    An idea to get this issue looked at seriously

    Point out how easy it would be for an ISP to inspect traffic going to, say, and insert adverts or redirects to

    Imagine the fun you could have with a bidding war during an election.

    All the best,

  8. Dcope

    wrong pic

    That's Sir Humpy not the Rt Hon. J Hacker MP. he's just a secretary under or over can remember.

    /coat with the packet of Emulsified High-Fat Offal Tube's in the pocket.


    Better late than never.

    Why has there been no consultation about DPI snooping? Why no questions in Parliament? No public statement after trials of Phorm were exposed? No Parliamentary enquiry into the circumstances?

    MPs have been asleep on the job for the last 18 months. Finally they have stirred.

    Hopefull this is the beginning of the end for this evil scam. An end to personal surveillance and industrial espionage. An end to censorship by default. And an end to anti-competitive throttling as an attempt to constrain user choices.

    The UK telecommunications sector is utterly utterly corrupt.

  10. N

    But they sanctioned it

    I really dont know whats taken them so long

    Or was it something to do with Europe taking an interest in their lack of control?

  11. Anonymous Coward


    Pot, Kettle, Black...

    Maybe they should investigate pay-TV services snooping on what people are watching while they are at it...(or should that be not at it?).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Isn't this a bit rich, in the face of planned IMP internet dragnetting and turfing through your social networking info? It's enough of a u-turn to give you whiplash.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a Select Committee

    This is an All-Party Parliamentary Group, not a Select Committee. Membership is open to any interested parliamentarian and its reports carry no official weight. Unless the government likes the conclusions they will be ignored.

    But there is a little good news. You can normally predict the outcome of an APPG report by looking at the group's commercial sponsors. The Communications Group's sponsorship seems to be limited to some support from Connect (the union, presumably) so they might actually consider the interests of citizens.

  14. Adam Foxton

    ISPs are a common carrier,

    hence the service they should provide should be to provide access to the Internet. No limits on what you can access through their service or why.

    Anything illegal being looked at means someone's committing a crime. They can be traced by the police. They should then be investigated and punished appropriately and proportionately.

    The IWF should be made to publish its list- and the police should be free to determine which of the sites on it are illegal in the UK and either close them down if they're local or monitor them for locally-sourced traffic if they're not.

    Censorship is wrong. It says "Hey, we don't have control over this and that scares us!" then pushes things underground. Plus having a framework in place for censorship on a national level means that perfectly legitimate- though tasteless or inconvenient- stuff can be hidden. Which is a bad thing when you would ideally want the people who are voting in the government to have the maximum amount of data available on which to base their votes.

  15. Jon Brunson

    ISP need to decide

    ISP need to decide if they are content providers (like tv/radio) or service providers (like gas/electric).

    If they are the former, then it is there job to censor content appropriately, they are liable for everything, and we (as customers) cannot be held accountable for their in-action.

    If they are the latter, then they need to give us unrestricted access to the service they provide, it is up to us how we use it, and are therefore accountable for our own actions.

  16. RW

    "Chaired by Labour MPs"

    That means the conclusions are foregone and ergo meaningless.

    This leads me to speculate that the besetting evil of NuLabour is their centralizing of all government authority and power in as few hands as possible, preferably those of the PM and his hangers-on. Somewhere or other I once read a comment that you can gauge the quality of a democracy by the number of independent centers of power in government; I've applied this test many times as a sort of gedanken experiment and it yields good results.

    The founding fathers of the US enshrined "separation of powers" in the constitution, but even in a country like the UK with no written constitution, the existence of truly independent offices within government gives a similar effect.

    This is particularly important wrt to the cops, who need to be under the thumb of an unyielding magistrate who accepts no excuses from them for bad behavior and curbs the cops' instincts for violence and "guilty unless proven innocent."

    One has to wonder, if this committee of MPs is so important, why is it chaired by Labour hacks instead of being an all-party affair chaired by members of other parties? (I know the answer: because Mrs. Timney wants certain results and this is the way she will ensure she gets them.)

  17. Ed

    @Good Start

    Check your facts before correcting others. BT works over whatever ports the client/server application has been told to use.


  18. Steve

    @ Anonymous Coward

    Nope Bittorrent can run over any port of your choosing, class dismissed!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    I think it is correct

    that small ISP's be forced to comply with IWF procedures. But as for Phorm, I think that

    they should be forced to get EXPLICIT written acceptance by email BEFORE they start any

    profiling at all. I see that VirginMedia are also now going to "do a BT" and that will lose them a

    LOT of business if they do not get explicit written consent before proceeding.


  20. David

    Non techies

    Given the well-documented technical incompetence of most poiticians, judges, etc; who don't seem to live in the real world, is this going to do a jot of good? Will they know anything about what they are supposed to be discussing?

  21. Inachu
    Dead Vulture

    techonology fails

    How can you block an image without already knowing and have seen what the image already is without looking at it yourself. Unless they are just going after the CRC file size of the file then this technuique is worthless.

    It is like that police officer who hunts and goes after pedophiles as he gathers evidence against those pedophiles he himself has been sent to court/jail for having those same images on his pc. Even if it was a fake server to lure in bad people then all parents of the children in that database must get an OPT IN to let their nude child pictures be used to capture pedophiles.

    This who thing is one big nasty mess..... I refuse to split between the 2 as its so nasty.

  22. David Ramsay
    Jobs Halo

    Can I suggest ...

    ... that if a committee is going to be formed then some of the population of that committee should be professionals from the industry.

    I am available for a fee based on the current expenses and salary of a minister, with a basic multiplier as I will need accommodation in London!

  23. Tony Paulazzo

    Title 264769

    >MPs have been asleep on the job for the last 18 months. Finally they have stirred.

    Yea, I think an election is coming up.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    phorm probes govt, will govt really do the same in return

    lets not forget ,will they also be probing the "Phorm director that advises broadband minister" too?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A bit late! Europe is already deciding.

    UK MEPs Harbour and Kamall have already inserted net discrimination amendments into the EU telecoms package, via the Universal Service Directive. In the name of affordable, ISP can pretty much do as they want provided they write it down in the small print. This is due for voting on May 5th. Unless the European Parliament reject the package, this review by MPs will be just a bit pointless.

  26. Wortel
    Thumb Up

    @Eddie - An idea to get this issue looked at seriously

    "An idea to get this issue looked at seriously

    By Eddie Posted Wednesday 22nd April 2009 14:43 GMT

    Point out how easy it would be for an ISP to inspect traffic going to, say, and insert adverts or redirects to

    Imagine the fun you could have with a bidding war during an election.

    All the best,"

    This is a good point. Let's see them wrap their brains around this one.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Claim they welcome the inquiry and want to meet with the Committee's members. Perhaps they haven't properly read the requirements for submission. Briefly put it's 4 pages, concise and to the point. You can see the whole spec at

    The question is are Phorm trying to gain some kind of advantage in getting their own submission to the Committee without it conforming to the requirements clearly identified?

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Wait for the malware

    Im just waiting until phorm networks get a dns poisining. Or someone pays so they serve up adverts for a malware. Imagine the millions of people in the UK who will get infected!?

  29. Automatic jack

    Simple Steps to beat Phorm?

    Surely only the retail ISPs would be dabbling with Phorm, so could it be bypassed by using an encrypted connection to a proxy server at a commercial datacentre?


    1) Rent a cheap linux VPS for ~ £5 a month

    2) yum install squid

    3) download putty and create an encrypted SSH tunnel to your new proxy

    DPI my encryption bitch

  30. John Smith Gold badge

    A note on APPGs

    As noted in a recent Dispatches (19/04/09) APPG's are groups of MP's with shared interests. They can take donations from interested industry groups and staff for admin support. But (unlike a Parliamentary Committee) their reports have no official standing.

    Please note. There are MPs of *all* political parties who *really* like the idea of a pervasive surveillance infrastructure. They are authoritarians. A right wing Fascist looks a lot like a left wing Stalinist. Their common enemy is the right of people to do and say what they like as long as it does not directly harm others. This is sometimes called freedom. This is not enough for them. You *must* see things their way. If you don't you are an enemy of their state.

  31. VulcanV5

    A worthwhile initiative

    Members of the Committee will have little or no idea of what they're reporting on so will need to upgrade their IT equipment both in their Commons offices and in their various first and second homes.

    Small print can be a problem so very large flat screen monitors will need to be installed at every location. (And on the subject of print, every MP will need a new A3 photo colour printer, this for the purposes of, er, making hard copies of screen shots.)

    The total bill to the taxpayer will exceed £50,000 plus a further £1 million to an outside agency like Capita to show MPs how to turn a mains power switch off and on.

    At the end of the committee's life, a report will be produced which misses every point it intended to address.

    By this stage, however, all the Labour MPs will have been able to register with various private sector outfits their imminent availability as consultants on £200k a year.

    Definitely, it's all very worthwhile, and great news.

  32. JohnH

    A note of caution

    As someone elsewhere has discovered, the Apcomms, web site is registered to 'Political Intelligence', a LOBBYING firm, and the contact listed - Jonathan Williams - is a director of said lobbying firm, whose website includes the quote

    "Political Intelligence quickly uncovered, through interpreting the changes being made to the European Copyright and E-Commerce Directives that there would have been a catastrophic impact to our revenue and customer implementations. We worked together to develop a lobbying and educational campaign for the appropriate MEPs and advisors and with Political Intelligence leading the campaign we successfully changed the direction of the appropriate clauses in these Directives."

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