FACT's secret P2P spy program launched

, posted: 26-Aug-2006 17:03

Jolly RogerReading Hard News about Russb gallivanting around 'Frisco and having a good time, there was one item in particular in his blog that tickled my curiosity.

Russell writes:

This story from the Herald, about copyright interests reaching new heights of privacy abuse seems to be missing a few key facts. What is this software they're using to track personal searches? Does it really work like the story says? And who the hell do these people think they are?

It's quite an alarming piece about NZ FACT again showing total disregard for the boundaries of privacy, and generally behaving like a law unto themselves. It looks like the NZ judiciary has died and made NZ FACT judge, jury and executioner, basically.

Now NZ FACT claims to have some sort of pirate tracking program that can work out who is looking for what, and based on that, prosecute people. Linked to the story is NZ FACT's statement about what the program is, and Tony Eaton says:

The proprietary content filtering system [PCFS] is basically a search engine that searches the search engines – that is all it does, it does not have access to anyone's computer, therefore it is not and cannot be spyware or a virus. The PCFS uses an intelligent system similar to Google. It uses a 'series of bots' that are designed to seek out material relating to 'peer 2 peer' file sharing. So for example if someone in New Zealand keyed 'Chicken Little' into Google and requested to download the movie using Bit Torrent – the PCFS which is searching the search engines may detect that google search and request, it would then log the IP number and the download request.

The PCFS search perimeters are set up in such a way that it filters key words such as DVD, VCD and the names and digital codes of current movie titles that have not been released to DVD/video yet.

Someone should explain the difference between perimeter and parameter to Eaton.

So what is the Proprietary Content Filtering System or PCFS that NZ FACT refuses to show to the Herald, yet asserts does not have access to anyone's computers and therefore cannot be spyware or a virus according to Eaton?

NZ FACT talks about "search engines" in its statement, but I don't think that'll be Google, MSN, Yahoo or any of the other sites that the term normally refers to. Instead, it'll be P2P tracker portals that are targetted.

However, how does NZ FACT get precise numbers like 1,153 "active requests to make Chicken Little available for file sharing" and work out that the requests were from New Zealand? Also, the PCFS can, according to Eaton, confirm if a computer succeeded in connecting to another machine and provides NZ FACT with IP addresses and other information.

It's hard to see how NZ FACT can obtain the above data without accessing computer systems somehow, or sniffing ISP customers' network traffic. If this is what's happening, is it really legal for NZ FACT and its employees to do so?

There's also the possibility that NZ FACT is simply making it all up to frighten people, but doing so would undermine the organisation's credibility so it's a safe bet to assume that some kind of spying is going on.

I actually think Patrick Gower at the Weekend Herald did a good job with that story, speaking to not just Tony Eaton of NZ FACT, but also Marie Shroff, Privacy Commissioner, and Maarten Kleintjes, the head of the NZ Police electronic crimes lab. Fred von Lohmann from the EFF also gets a say on NZ FACT's plans, and I'm pleased to see that neither Ihug nor Orcon intends to hand over customer data willy-nilly - what about the other ISPs though? Will they hold or fold fast when an aggressive NZ FACT armed with expensive lawyers comes a-knocking?

I think more ISPs should come out and tell their customers what their position on this is.

Also, it's time for MPs to seriously think about whether or not it's right for NZ FACT to behave like this. Unfortunately, our elected representatives aren't very interested in little things like wholesale invasion of privacy, so we'll have to wait until an MP gets done for requesting a file to be made available for sharing I guess.

Just kidding of course, but we really need to be told now exactly what NZ FACT's network spying comprises.

Other related posts:
Over 1,000,000 torrents of downloadable books, music and movies
Megaupload and the US grand jury
Filesonic disables file sharing; due to MegaUpload?

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