I read with interest David Cameron’s recent speech to the BPI. However, as I’m sure many, are I am concerned in particular about what he wants from ISPs, in particular this is of great concern: “Describing them as "the gatekeepers of the internet", he said that illegal downloads were "clear and visible internet traffic" and "could be blocked by ISPs".” As I’m sure you can probably imagine we’ve had some great debates in the last few days here at PlusNet about this and a lot of the information in this post is taken from those debates. We've developed a traffic management system to set different priorities to different types of traffic using technology from Ellacoya to identify the traffic. For example, this can identify different types of traffic like P2P or FTP or gaming. It can then set the gaming at a high priority to give gamers good performance and low ping times but set the P2P at a lower priority so that the downloads don’t swamp the interactive traffic. Even with the traffic management though like any ISP we provide a connection to the Internet to our customers and transfer data to and from them routing the packets out towards their destination. In other words we’re a transit carrier. A telephone company will keep a record of the numbers you have called but they don’t monitor them just in case you are planning something illegal. The Royal Mail deliver your letters but they don’t open every one checking for contraband. There are legal processes available to the appropriate authorities to listen in to calls or to check mail if they suspect someone of wrong doing, but it’s only the exception and not the rule. How much would it cost to build a system to monitor everyone’s calls? How much time and effort would it take to open everyone’s letters? Surely it should be the same in the ISP world? If someone is suspected of downloading illegal content then there are legal processes available to the authorities to follow in a similar way to the legal processes for listening in to phone calls. We can see what protocols our customers are using but we can’t see exactly what it is they are downloading (I’m sure in some cases we can make an educated guess like file downloads from Windows Update or iTunes for example, but these will be few and far between). And even if we can see what someone is downloading how do we know they don’t have the appropriate permission to download it? We could for example block all P2P and Usenet traffic using the traffic management systems we use now. A Belgian ISP has already been ordered to do just this. That I’m sure would block a significant amount of “illegal downloads” but how much legitimate traffic would it block as well? Some games like World of Warcraft use BitTorrent for distributing game patches, other software companies uses P2P for distributing game demos and other files. A blanket ban would have knock on effects to these legitimate uses. The upcoming BBC iPlayer and Channel 4’s 4OD use a P2P technology called Kontiki, would this need to be included? Of course any action like this will just result in people finding other ways to share files. When the original Napster closed down there were plenty of replacements. Another consideration, what about people downloading legitimate files but not in the right country? For example, iTunes in the USA lets you download TV shows like Lost after they are broadcast but only if you are in the USA. The original download is legitimate, only when the file leaves the USA could it become illegal, but if it’s done via a Slingbox by an American visiting his British friends what then? Is that a legitimate use, would his British friends be trouble if they watch the show? So many grey areas out there I think. These people claim to be able to block copyright P2P and HTTP downloads as follows: "[...their system] allows legitimate P2P transactions but blocks illegal downloads, matched to electronic signatures in a database of songs provided by the music industry." So it’s not exactly the complete “block all copyright material” button that Mr. Cameron seems to think ISPs have. Whilst I’m sure it can do some of it there’s plenty of ways around it and you have to wonder if it will block legitimate downloads as well. As with the cost of building a system to listen to everyone’s calls it would cost millions, probably billions to build a system that’s going to be as fool proof as can be at monitoring every byte of data in case someone downloads something they shouldn’t. Or you could start the Internet all over again, blocking all content by default and only whitelisting the “safe” content. Maybe it’s time for me to stop rambling and throw the debate open to the community. What do other people think? Should ISPs be policing every download their customers do or should it be left to the authorities to deal with? Should the music, TV, software and film industries spend the resources they have dealing with piracy into researching and implementing legitimate services so that people have little or no reason to download illegally? If a DVD quality copy of Die Hard 4.0 or the new Harry Potter movie was available on iTunes (or similar service) today would you download it if it cost say £3 (or you paid a monthly subscription like a cinema season ticket my local cinema used to do until it closed down). If you saw it at the cinema would you still have gone or would you have downloaded it instead. If you saw it at the cinema would you download it as well?