network monitoringI’ve written previously about torrents and the big question many ask “Are torrents safe?” , I’ve even speculated about the possibility of authorities tracking IPs, or even perhaps planting bait torrents for the sake of prosecuting end users for copyright infringement. You can read the article here, Do The Authorities Plant Torrents?. People are often asking me where are the safe torrent sites, and I have to laugh since my online experience always leads to a definitive there is no such thing as a safe torrent site.

Recently more proof surfaced that shows downloading copyrighted materials online is simply not safe, secure or private. Australian based company IP-Echelon has entered the global copyright infringement stage. I had a brief email conversation with the founder & CEO of IP-Echelon Adrian J.F. Leatherland and was able to ask him a few questions about the service. Adrian provided me with a brief response, but has not yet replied to my further inquiries. I am still optimistic that I may hear back from him in the near future!

What is IP-Echelon

Their website states “we monitor Internet piracy. We report on how it affects you. We educate about legal alternatives. We protect your rights.”

IP-Echelon is a service that maintains distributed physical ‘listening stations’ throughout North America, Europe and Australasia. These stations continuously monitor networks for the appearance or transfer of ‘content of interest’ and utilize advanced geo-location techniques to narrow down the location of infringers for marketing intelligence and law enforcement. This information is kept indefinitely and can be exported in a variety of ways from their online portal to be used as evidence in court. In addition they provide online reporting services, with a powerful suite of utilities to process the vast amount of data collected by their monitoring systems.

Monitor, Report, Educate, Protect.

The four bolded words in their header image (you can see it on their website) are monitor, report, educate and protect. The words that I think are of interest to most internet users are in the first phrase “we monitor internet piracy”, obviously in order to monitor internet piracy one must monitor both legal and illegal transfers of data and then analyze that data to determine if a copyright infringement is taking place. IP-Echelon is very secretive about what they call their “listening stations” and wouldn’t go into any detail with me about their methods or what technology they employ other than to quote their website we “Operate a global network of monitoring stations across North America, Europe and Australasia, we continuously monitor networks for the transfer of content belonging to our clients.”

Mr. Leatherland shared with me that his company IP-Echelon does not “issue press releases and have a very meagre web presence but service some of the largest copyright holders in the world and various law enforcement agencies on non-copyright related projects.”

What are your thoughts on a service like IP-Echelon?

The law is very clear when it comes to copyright infringement. However a whole lot of grey areas emerge when we begin to deal with the way that evidence is collected. A service like IP-Echelon while providing a great tool for their clients and law enforcement agencies could very easily cross over into dangerous territory gathering too much intel from their listening stations.

What are you thoughts on monitoring of this type? Especially private companies collecting information on your internet activities?

Update (May 25, 2011)

I was asked kindly by IP-Echelon to remove their copyright images and logos from this site so I have complied with that today. As I disclaimer I want to communicate that I do not intend to portray a service such as IP-Echelon in a bad light. I feel these types of services are valid, and have a role in our society. This article is simply intending to share an opinion on privacy concerns that some people may have with a service of this nature. Though I have not been told directly I would assume that a service like IP-Echelon does not operate at a carrier level but is more likely monitoring torrent sites in some capacity. Ultimately the people doing “bad” would be exposed with a service of this nature, and those who are not doing anything wrong really should have nothing to fear. Would love your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.