In part 2 of our series on secure torrent downloading, it’s all about lawsuits, warning letters and all the bothersome legal problems you read about all the time in the press. You will learn what the exact dangers are, and why we strongly advise you to use protection.
Important DisclaimerRemember that it is your sole responsibility to comply with your countries laws. Privacy is not a crime, and you have the full right to use the BitTorrent network anonymously to download the files you’re allowed to without being harassed or tracked by anyone. Anything else is your business, not ours. Consult our article on what is legal and what isn’t in case you’re unsure.
First of all, remember that BitTorrent in itself is completely legal, only certain content that can be found is not legal to download without permission of the copyright holder. In the first few years, it was completely safe to get whatever you wanted, and nobody bothered to spy on the network.
Enter the copyright industry with all their political power.
Now, providers and universities keep track of their customers and send them “warning notices”, “informing” them about suspicious activities originating from their IP (an unique identifier allowing to track down every Internet user), threatening with disconnecting you or slowing your bandwidth down.
Worse, a whole armada of tracking companies keep a constant eye on the network and issue mass lawsuits against users, basically extorting you into paying a few hundreds to several thousand bucks unless you want to be dragged into court.
Their methods? Dubious. Errors are rife, with people reportedly not even at home or on vacation while the alleged copyright violation happened, or getting sued for downloading freeware, software that can legally be shared with anyone by any means.
The two basic methods to “track” users:A surveillance company targets a torrent and joins the party, behaving like a regular user. Because in a torrent network, anyone can see the identity of everyone also downloading the same file, they can pick out as many users as they like. Since your torrent client not only downloads but also shares pieces of content with others, they can not only sue you for downloading but also for distribution.
In the next step, either a notice is send to your provider that sends you one of said “notices”, or a lawsuit is filed against you, forcing your ISP to give them your personal data, read your name and address. An associated law firm then sends you one of the dreaded “pay-up-or-else” letters you hear so much about in the news, and ignoring them only increases the sum you’ll have to pay if the matter goes to court. Learn more about the scheme and the so-called “evidence” here.
Of course, while your ISPs warning notices aren’t fun at all and can have very unpleasant consequences, they’re essentially harmless compared to the second possibility.
It is also possible to analyze the traffic going in and out of your computer and detecting if you use file sharing applications. Some ISPs actually do that to “preemptively” warn users, but it is even more common in your school, university or employers network. Many of these more or less public networks forbid any P2P/BitTorrent activity and will act against you if you do it anyway.
This kind of tracking is very difficult to circumvent with traditional methods like proxy servers, but we also consider it dangerous for you, no matter if you share files or not. The last thing you want is your traffic being monitored by somebody, like you wouldn’t like anyone to read your letters and messages to loved ones.