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Virgin Media battles privacy campaigners on P2P monitoring

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Regulators are mulling assurances from Virgin Media that its planned trial system to monitor the level of illegal filesharing on its network will not harm customers' privacy.

"We've been engaging with all the relevant bodies, including Ofcom, the ICO and the EC, to ensure they have the information they need to make an informed judgement about our planned trial," the firm said.

A spokesman refused to confirm it was also speaking to the Home Office, which advises on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the legislation governing interception of communications. Virgin Media wants to introduce CView, a system developed by Detica to measure music copyright infringment via peer-to-peer protocols.

The system has already been criticised by privacy camapaigners, who have complained to the European Commission about the technology.

CView relies on Deep Packet Inspection technology, looking inside BitTorrent, Gnutella and eDonkey traffic to determine if it carries unlicensed music by comparing it to a database of "acoustic fingerprints". The way it exposes the content of traffic to processing has led to comoparisons with the targeted advertising technology controversially developed by Phorm (Virgin Media was one of Phorm's prospective ISP partners before it effectively pulled out of the UK market).

Virgin Media and Detica have emphasised in submissions to regulators that CView cannot identify customers or store data, and are not proceeding with a trial until it has the all clear. The pair, who together announced their intention to trial CView in December, say no data about individual customers will be collected. Instead, they argue, it will simply enable them to accurately guage the effect of the government's Digital Economy Bill proposals to reduce the overall level of illegal filesharing.

"Once deployed, CView will only offer a non-intrusive solution to enhance the understanding of aggregate customer behaviour; it will not be used for any other purpose," Virgin Media and Detica told regulators.

"In particular, none of the traffic data collected could ever be used to identify or be attributed back to a customer and, consequently, cannot be used to take any action against a customer."

It's planned that the CView trial will mean the traffic of about 40 per cent of Virgin Media customers will be monitored for illegal music sharing, but those involved won't be told.

Privacy International, the lobby group, has said it plans a criminal complaint under RIPA once the trial begins. ®

Bootnote

Virgin Media gave The Register a copy of one of its regulatory submissions. You can read it here (pdf).

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