This morning, groups including the Open Internet Coalition, Free Press, Public Knowledge and the ACLU wrote to Congress to ask for hearings about how U.S. companies are using deep packet inspection, or "virtual wiretap" technology.
For the last two weeks, protesters in Iran have been organizing on Twitter, posting videos on YouTube and otherwise self-publishing online, using the Web to work around the government's control over traditional media. But the Iranian government apparently has been using deep packet inspection technology -- supplied by European telecoms, according to The Wall Street Journal -- to monitor and potentially thwart protesters.
In the U.S., some Internet service providers have been using deep packet inspection to monitor Web activity and serve targeted ads, or to control the flow of traffic. While ISPs obviously aren't trying to squelch political unrest, civil rights advocates still say it's problematic for companies to spy on users.
"Whether an inspection system is used to disrupt political speech or achieve commercial purposes, both require the same level of total surveillance of all communications between end-users on the Internet," the groups wrote today in a letter to Congress.
Lawmakers have already made it clear they don't trust deep packet inspection. Last summer, several officials condemned now-defunct NebuAd, which worked with ISPs to serve targeted ads to people based on their Web activity.
But the digital rights groups want Congress to do more than just make public statements on the matter. "The situation in Iran highlights the power of technology," they write. "We feel it should raise serious questions about how to ensure that deployment of total surveillance, Internet control technologies are restricted exclusively to those instances where the justification outweighs the potential harm."