European internet users may not have noticed, but their net neutrality and online freedom is at risk. At least 186 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the EU are using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to read their users’ traffic. That means they get to decide how much internet freedom you get.
Network neutrality explained
Net neutrality is the idea that ISPs must ensure an equal internet connection to each and every user. Although there’s an EU law that regulates this, some ISPs discriminate against their users by filtering or charging for the content they try to access or the devices they use to connect.
Among other means, such as using DPI to examine our communications, telecom companies apply extra charges for data packages or specific content users connect to. This contradicts the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), which states that all internet users must be able to use the web without any restrictions.
How net neutrality is being abused
Any internet service plan involving conditions based on the websites or services you visit and use needs to be able to identify your internet traffic. If your provider offers a plan where you can use certain apps without consuming your data, that’s more than just a fundamental violation of the principles behind net neutrality. It’s also a breach of your privacy, as one way to distinguish between various traffic types is by using DPI.
Once a user accepts DPI, the ISP can use it in many different ways: throttling connections, censoring content, and tracking users’ traffic in greater detail than before. Legal protection against these intrusive actions exists in the EU, so how can users still be at risk?
Net neutrality protection in Europe
Although net neutrality is already dead in the US, Europe is still fighting for open internet access and transparency. In the EU, the right to equal network access is protected by Article 3 of EU Regulation 2015/2120. However, the European Digital Rights (EDRi) association, which for many years has been advocating in favor of strong net neutrality, is warning against the widespread use of privacy-invasive DPI technology in the EU.
EDRi is negotiating for new European net neutrality rules even as some telecom organizations seem to be pushing for the legislation of DPI. These companies claim net neutrality requirements reduce competition in the market and that a neutral internet could obstruct growth, flexibility, and investment in new infrastructure.
This gives some room for thought: will UK citizens be stripped of net neutrality after the country leaves the EU?
The loss of net neutrality
Without net neutrality in Europe, ISPs could limit what you can and can’t see online and how you experience the internet in general. When it’s gone, certain content and services may be completely blocked by some ISPs. They could also force some websites to pay or suffer slow traffic, which might drive many smaller online services out of business. Supporters of net neutrality fear the loss of consumer protections, privacy, and security while ISPs profit.
With the help of BEREC and EDRi, it’s easier to stand for our rights, quality of service, fair competition, and transparency. If it wasn’t for net neutrality, today we might not have popular streaming services like YouTube or Netflix and we couldn’t freely listen to music via Spotify.
What can we do to fight back?
Although using virtual private network (VPN) services is a good solution to fight ISPs, you’ll only protect yourself and your family. It’s also of crucial importance to make your voice heard and let the EU know that its internet users want net neutrality to be protected and enforced. For now, you can follow and support the great efforts of EDRi and BEREC to prevent the abuse of internet freedom.
By Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN