Surveillance: IP tracing gets privacy approval

New technology tracks where you're from in the world. Useful for protecting copyrights, but could have privacy implications.

A new international IP tracing technology that allows Web sites to identify and restrict the content users receive has been given a tentative welcome by privacy advocates.

TraceWare developed by US company Digital Island is a server application protocol able to identify the country of origin behind any IP address. It can then automatically impose restrictions on the information available to the user of that IP address to abide by national laws.

Andrew Davis, managing director of Digital Island, believes TraceWare could be a start in applying regulation to the Internet without infringing civil liberties, although he concedes that, technically, its actions amount to monitoring. "This could be used by a music site to restrict audio tracks from countries where copyright restrictions apply. Another very exciting application, which a number of companies are already looking into, is directing advertising to different countries."

Davis dismisses the idea this is an invasion of privacy. "People already give away their IP address whenever they surf the Net. I don't think they'd mind because it is only disclosing the country they're from," he says. Davis goes on to argue that the technology cannot be used to restrict information in countries were freedom of speech is restricted. "To apply this technology to censorship at a national level would not be possible."

Malcom Hutty, director of privacy organisation Stand.org, agrees this is an efficient and fair method of monitoring people on the Net. "The only thing I would be worried about is if the government tried to get involved in order to enforce laws on how people from different countries communicate."

Despite the merits of the program, however, it is possible to disguise an IP address using the Anonymiser Web site or a new browser called Freedom.

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