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iSchool's Milton Mueller receives NSF funding to research social impact of network surveillance technologies

September 03, 2010

Margaret Spillett
(315) 443-1069

Syracuse University School of Information Studies Professor Milton Mueller’s $304,000 grant proposal “Deep Packet Inspection and the Governance of the Internet” has received funding by the National Science Foundation. The research grant was made by the Science, Technology and Society Program of the Social, Economic and Behavioral Science Directorate of NSF and will take place over two years (academic years 2010-11 and 2011-2012).

muellerDeep packet inspection (DPI) is a new network surveillance and traffic analysis capability that enables network operators to scan the payload of TCP/IP packets in real time and make automated decisions about whether to intercept, block, slow down, speed up or otherwise manipulate traffic streams based on that information. Mueller’s research will investigate whether the use of DPI by Internet service providers is producing major changes in the way users and suppliers of Internet services are governed.

“This is a great opportunity to contribute some hard data and systematic analysis to a better understanding of the way Internet governance is evolving in response to new networking technologies,” says Mueller, the principal investigator.

The project will contribute to an understanding of how new technological capabilities interact with politics, public policy, regulation and law. Drawing on research literatures in science, technology and society studies (STS); Internet governance studies; and political science, it will test and improve theories about the co-production of technology and governance institutions, especially theories that assign agency to technological artifacts.

DPI has a variety of applications. It is most commonly used for bandwidth management by Internet service providers, and thus has figured prominently in policy debates over network neutrality. Copyright holders have sometimes advocated its use for combating illegal file sharing because of its claimed potential to recognize copyrighted material as it moves through the public network.

DPI can be, and has been, used to censor content, most notably by the Chinese. It has also been used by the United States and Iranian governments to monitor Internet traffic for national security purposes. DPI can be used to profile Internet users and contribute to the implementation of behavioral advertising as well. Each of these use cases provides the basis for two case studies in different countries. The method of executing the case studies is based on a new conceptual framework for analyzing the interaction of technological capabilities and the process of public policy development.

Mueller earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989. He teaches and researches the political economy of communication and information, encompassing his most recent projects exploring the efforts of citizens and activists to shape communication and information policy, both nationally and globally. His acclaimed book “Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace” (MIT Press, 2002) was the first scholarly account of the Internet governance debates. His book, “Universal Service: Competition, Interconnection and Monopoly in the Making of the American Telephone System” (MIT Press, 1997), set out a dramatic revision of society’s understanding of the origins of universal telephone service and the role of interconnection in industry development.

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