Excite@Home snoops on user downloads

The company is scanning its customers' Internet activity and says it will terminate the accounts of those users who are downloading pirated material

Excite@Home Australia users are up in arms over the telco's random raids on their broadband accounts in search of pirate activity, with many saying it's an invasion of their privacy.

The ISP informed users of its Optus@Home broadband service that it would terminate customer accounts found to be downloading pirate software or copyright material.

A message posted on a public newsgroup service from Cable & Wireless Optus, which half-owns Excite@Home, said its network security team would investigate claims into activities such as downloading protected movies and "immediately terminate" a subscriber's account without any prior warning. It is not clear whether the policy extends to the company's other international operations.

A spokesperson from Excite@Home said, "we are not watching every bit and byte, but we would randomly check from time to time."

The hard-hitting policy has raised many eyebrows, with some customers asking how extensive the monitoring on individual accounts is at present and what right Optus has to be controlling illegal activity on the Internet.

"What....right have Optus got to play policeman? They are a conduit-a provider, that's all," one ZDNet Australia reader said.

The users added that if an individual is breaking the law on the Internet, it should be treated in a similar way to somebody abusing the telephone system.

"The police should have to apply for a warrant and then present that to the telco to authorise monitoring for a specific person for a specific period," the reader said.

Excite@Home, however, said that users are made aware through the terms and conditions set out in its Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which say that it will monitor the network from time to time.

"I wouldn't call it policing, we're just trying to comply with the law and by highlighting the issue to customers, its putting us in a better position as acting as a responsible Netizen on the Internet," the spokesperson said.

The Internet Industry Association's Peter Coroneos told ZDNet Australia he is "absolutely sure" that Optus or any other ISP do not want to police the Internet, "they just want to follow the law themselves", he said.

Excite@Home users are claiming the company's hardline stance on illegal distribution and downloading of material is a way for it to ration its customer's broadband usage and reduce overall streaming on the service.

Dan Warne of broadband community site whirlpool.net.au said he wondered whether Optus, as one of Excite@Home's parent companies, may be trying to limit bandwidth usage by its users, as copyright material such as pirate software and movies often includes very large file downloads.

A spokesperson for the telco denied the allegation, saying users are enjoying high-speed Internet connection and that there are "hardly any complaints from customers" about bandwidth usage being an issue.

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