[JURIST] Telecommunications executives told the US Senate Commerce Committee [official website] Thursday that their companies would refrain from using certain surveillance technology without users' permission but stopped short of endorsing legislation to outlaw the practice. The committee hearing [materials] to investigate the privacy practices of American Internet service providers (ISPs) focused on deep packet inspection (DPI) [Securityfocus.com backgrounder], a technique of compiling information about users' browsing and online behavior for security and advertising purposes, generally without consent. Among the witnesses testifying was Thomas J. Tauke, executive vice president for Verizon Communications [corporate website], who said in his prepared remarks [PDF text]:
We can commit – and believe that all companies should commit – to a set of best practices in the area of online behavioral advertising. The principles and best practices should apply to all online companies regardless of their technology or the platform used. … Verizon believes that before a company captures certain Internet-usage data for targeted or customized advertising purposes, it should obtain meaningful, affirmative consent from consumers.
Representatives from AT&T and Time Warner Cable [corporate websites] also appeared before the committee. In a statement [ACLU press release] responding to the hearing, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] said Congress should draft legislation specifying "what records ISPs may collect, with whom and under which circumstances they may shared" and including "severe penalties" for violations." The Washington Post has more. IGN News Service has additional coverage.
The ACLU and other rights groups have condemned the use of DPI [ACLU privacy backgrounder] against ISP customers. The controversy over DPI follows numerous legal challenges to the surreptitious collection of information on Internet users for both security and commercial purposes. Last April, the New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] ruled that ISPs may not turn over users' personal information [JURIST report] to police or other agencies unless they obtain a valid grand jury subpoena when the information sought relates to an indictable offense. In March, the German Federal Constitutional Court [official website] placed an injunction [JURIST report] on a federal law that gave the government the ability to access and collect Internet and telephone data. In October 2007, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs [committee website] voted in favor of legislation [JURIST report] aimed at preventing US Internet companies from turning over users' personal information to governments that would use the data to quash dissent.