Digital spies are not watching

Reading this publication (NWC 7, April 7, 2000) I was shocked by the article “Digital Spies are Watching”, not because I am worried that my e-mail is being snooped on, but that a publication entitled Network World would assist in proliferating such grossly incorrect information as presented in the article.

As a former network manager of a moderately large national network here in Canada I feel I am qualified to comment on this issue. The concept of big brother spying on ALL e-mail or cell phone traffic is insane.

Let’s take this letter (sent via e-mail) for example. If I send this message to you and it passes through my ISP here in London, Ont., over to, and downstream to your provider where would the Canadian arm of big brother get a copy of my message? Do they have network packet capturing equipment on every possible IP route, trapping all traffic, then sorting through this and extracting any packets that make up suspicious e-mails? Where are these units installed ? Do they have a deal with the telcos to allow them rack space to install this massive amount of collection hardware in the central offices around the country?

Where is the huge processor which is performing the packet reconstruction, decoding and “dictionary” analysis on all of this data? It must be physically massive. What if I encrypt the message with something relatively secure ? What happens if the message packets traverse different routes, where is the reassembly performed ? I am also very curious as to the medium used to buffer up this data for analysis ? The amount of storage required would be fantastic.

Let’s look at another example. If I send a fax from my office to your office, is the bitmap of the fax assembled and then a character recognition program scanning the faxed document for any dictionary matches? I assume then that there is a large amount of equipment in the Clarence St. central office that I can see from my office window which is dedicated to watching phone calls made from downtown London. The people responsible for this equipment better order one of the voice compression units in the ad below the article as they are going to have to figure out how to inflate the voice/fax data before they can perform voice recognition on it.

I do agree that a targetted scoping could be performed to this level, but I believe this is only allowed with permission from a judge, at least in Canada. Maybe your legal people could comment?

Seriously, how can a publication that is suppose to be providing information on the networking industry in Canada allow such an article to be published? You can almost draw a parallel to the “War of the Worlds” incident. A respected publication prints this article and a large number of people get all upset about something that is not happening. Maybe one of your network people could inform the ACLU about what is technically achievable.

Scott Burns

Netcon Technologies Inc., London, Ont.