Internet piracy likely gets more publicity than any other type of cybercrime. Part of this is likely due to the many gray areas that people perceive in what actually constitutes piracy. For instance, sharing a movie digitally over the Internet with a friend might constitute piracy, while lending them the DVD of the movie may not. Increasingly, ISPs and the entertainment industry are monitoring Internet traffic to catch pirates, and not everyone is comfortable with this idea.
How it Works
Whenever you go to a website, download a file or do most anything else online, that activity is traceable to your IP address. This means that, with the IP, someone can figure out who you are, where you are and so forth. Your ISP provides you with your Internet access and, of course, that means that all the traffic you generate goes through their systems.
This arrangement is being used by the entertainment industry to ferret out suspected pirates. One way this happens is easy to understand, given the above information.
A user downloads a pirated file to their computer. The download is monitored by the entertainment industry centers and they get the user’s IP. That IP is traced back to the ISP that provided it, which is, in turn, traced back to the customer who has that IP address. The ISP then sends out a notice to the customer warning them about piracy, or another action is taken.
Many pirated files, however, are not directly downloaded. They’re downloaded over bit torrent, which allows small parts of a file to be downloaded from many different servers. ISPs sometimes reduce the bandwidth allocated to bit torrent downloads as a way of discouraging the use of these services—this is called traffic shaping—and can use packet inspection to see what’s being downloaded. Essentially, there’s no way, at this point, that someone can download a pirated file without someone being able to notice. If they don’t notice right away, they’ll notice eventually.
The controversy involved in this arrangement has to do with how people are being monitored without any court-order allowing them to be spied upon. Electronic freedom advocacy groups regard this as a tremendous overreach and are fighting to have these types of programs shut down. The entertainment industry says that copyright infringement is such a huge problem that it’s necessary for people to accept being monitored in this way.
Differences with Legal Computer Forensics
When a legal investigation involves computer forensics, there are very strict guidelines that have to be upheld. For instance, the prosecution or defense—depending upon who’s using the digital evidence—has to be able to demonstrate that the digital evidence they present came from where they claim and that it was not tampered with, if challenged. Generally, there is a search warrant obtained to get the information in the first place, as there is reasonable cause to suspect that the person being investigated is involved in some criminal enterprise or another.
Where the ISP monitoring is concerned, many civil rights advocates claim that it is out of bounds, as people are simply being monitored whether they like it or not and without any reason to believe that they’re criminals. Large scale pirates, according to information in various articles, aren’t the targets of these operations.
Gathering evidence from electronic sources is still relatively new to government and industry. As it is used more and more to protect intellectual property and to prosecute criminals, it seems inevitable that these types of issues will continue to arise and that powerful interests will oftentimes come into conflict.