The Six Strike Rule: is your Internet Service Provider spying on you?

Rumor has it that Monday, February, 25, 2013, U.S. Internet service providers will launch a new program that monitors the habits of its internet users. AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon have entered into agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America to begin active searches for any potential copyright infringement habits of their users. This is in effort to curb internet piracy of movies and music, and is sure to lead to more legal action by these giant industries.

Although the five ISPs have yet to detail exactly how they plan on implementing this new wave of snooping, the plan is understood to take 6 notifications to potential pirates of their questionable activities before legal action is taken. This has garnered the program a nickname, “The Six Strike Plan.”

According to a copy of Verizon’s policy on the Six Strike program, their interactions with users will go as follows:

Warning 1 & 2: Notices will be delivered to the suspected pirate via their email and phone number listed on file with Verizon. The notices will state the user is believed to have engaged in potential piracy of copyrighted material. It will also provide the user with educational links on how to prevent unwanted third-party access to their computer.

Warning 3 & 4: User’s internet browser will be automatically redirected to a special page where the user can acknowledge receipt of the notifications. Without acknowledgement, the user will be unable to use the internet service they are paying for. It is not considered an admission of guilt if the user acknowledges the alert. It simply records a record that the user is aware of potentially illegal activity through their internet address.

Warning 5 & 6: A final redirect of the user’s internet browser goes to a page providing multiple options. The user may at that time elect to temporarily reduce their internet speed to 256kbps. This is effectively slowing the internet down to Dial-up speeds. The exact length of the temporary time frame is currently unknown. The second option available to the user is the same kind of speed reduction, only it would take effect two weeks later. Again, the temporary timeframe is unclear. The final option available to the user is to request the ISP review the case to determine if the piracy is legitimate, or coming from an outside source. The cost for such a review is $35 to the user, and is only refundable should the evidence fall in the user’s favor. After this final notice, there is not stated action to be taken by the ISP. However, it is clear that the data collected by the ISP will be retained and would be made available to the MPAA and RIAA for legal action.

The five ISP’s involved in this agreement provide high-speed internet service to roughly 75% of the United States. That would be a large number of internet addresses to watch over. Of course, not everyone on the internet downloads movies or music. Those folks may ask what the big deal is. The thought may be that if you don’t do anything illegal, you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, the nature of a company spying directly on individuals and accusing them of a potential crime is far outside the rules of this country’s Constitution. Therefore, this entire practice must be worded in vagaries and generalities. Phrases such as, “one or more copyright owners have reported that they believe your account has been involved in possible copyright infringement activity,” are used in Verizon’s document to remain protected from legitimate law enforcement and litigation. This means that a person could become victim of circumstance if someone else is using their internet connection without consent. If I can’t figure out how to prevent someone from downloading illegally on my internet service, I am stuck with the harassment and penalties from the ISP, as well as potential lawsuits from the entertainment industries.

The vague verbiage also does not state within what timeframe these incidences would have to have occurred for a user to move from one stage of the plan to the next. So again, if someone is using my internet connection for an unmitigated torrent of illegal entertainment, nothing can stop these companies from sending multiple notifications in rapid succession. That would escalate the situated directly to the final warning, requiring a fee for continued use as well as a permanent record of being a pirate.

Be on the lookout for notices coming from your internet service providers, even if yours isn’t listed in this article. If the plan meets sufficient resistance, it could simply wither away. However, if it remains uncontested, more providers will likely hop on board.

David Rivera

David Rivera

David Rivera is a writer, illustrator, photographer - a food stylist before lunch and a dishwasher afterwards.  His email address is
David Rivera