Deep Packet Inspection and Internet Censorship: International Convergence on an 'Integrated Technology of Control'

16 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2015  

Ben Wagner

European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)

Date Written: June 23, 2009


The academic debate on deep packet inspection (DPI) centres on methods of network management and copyright protection and is directly linked to a wider debate on freedom of speech on the Internet. The debate is deeply rooted in an Anglo-Saxon perspective of the Internet and is frequently depicted as a titanic struggle for the right to fundamentally free and unfettered access to the Internet.

This debate is to a great extent defined by commercial interests. These interests whether of copyright owners, Internet service providers, application developers or consumers, are all essentially economic. All of these groups have little commercial interest in restricting free speech as such. However some might well be prepared to accept a certain amount of ‘collateral damage’ to internet free speech in exchange for higher revenues.

It can be argued that more transparent and open practices from network service providers are needed regarding filtering policy and the technology used. Nevertheless these practises are unlikely to fundamentally endanger free speech. Within the international system however, there are a large number of actors who have a considerable interest in limiting free speech, most obviously states.

As this paper will argue, the link between deep packet inspection and internet censorship is of far greater concern for freedom of speech than its use in traffic shaping or preventing copyright infringement. At the present time many of the states censoring the internet are already known to use deep packet filtering.

A further question that arises in this context is whether state actors which censor the internet are following the lead of non-state actors and modifying content within the data stream rather than just blocking it. As DPI opens the door for far more subtle censorship methods, it could lead to a move from filtering internet content to editing it.

This paper will start by providing a short overview of DPI and it’s technical capabilities, before discussing the motivations of state and non-state actors using DPI. A short sample of various actors using DPI for censorship purposes will be provided and various scenarios related to censorship which are enabled by DPI will be introduced. Finally, some preliminary conclusions will be drawn and technical and institutional responses to dpi will be sketched.

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Ben, Deep Packet Inspection and Internet Censorship: International Convergence on an 'Integrated Technology of Control' (June 23, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Ben Wagner (Contact Author)

European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) ( email )


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