The Rise and Fall of Invasive ISP Surveillance

Nothing in society poses as grave a threat to privacy as the Internet Service Provider (ISP). ISPs carry their users’ conversations, secrets, relationships, acts, and omissions. Until the very recent past, they had left most of these alone because they had lacked the tools to spy invasively, but with recent advances in eavesdropping technology, they can now spy on people in unprecedented ways. Meanwhile, advertis-ers and copyright owners have been tempting ISPs to put their users’ secrets up for sale, and judging from a recent flurry of reports, ISPs are giving in and experimenting with new forms of spying. This is only the leading edge of a coming storm of unprecedented and invasive ISP surveillance.This Article seeks to help policymakers strike the proper balance between user privacy and ISP need. Policymakers cannot simply ban aggressive monitoring, because ISPs have legitimate reasons for scrutinizing communications on an Internet teeming with threats, so instead policymakers must learn to distinguish between an ISP’s legitimate needs and mere desires.In addition, this Article injects privacy into the network neutrality debate—a debate about who gets to control innovation on the Internet. Despite the thousands of pages that have already been written about the topic, nobody has recognized that we already enjoy mandatory network neutrality in the form of expansive wiretapping laws. The recognition of this idea will flip the status quo and reinvigorate a stagnant debate by introducing privacy and personal autonomy into a discussion that has only ever been about economics and innovation.

The full text of this Article is available to download as a PDF.