AT&T is getting together with Hollywood studios and recording companies to develop technology to snoop on internet traffic in search of pirated material, according to a story posted Wednesday by the LA Times.

At a time when Apple, EMI and other companies are making the no-brainer, money-making decision to sell music without cumbersome and annoying digital-rights management, AT&T has decided to go the "Privacy? What privacy?" route.

This should flat out be illegal. To me, it's akin to AT&T deciding they're going to wiretap all of its customer's phone calls to see if anyone is leaking company trade secrets. It also seems in keeping with AT&T's disdain for Net Neutrality, and willingness to hand off customer call records to the government.

The Times story suggests that AT&T's move is meant to protect profits from new pay-television services, and the piece says the technology will "not violate privacy laws or internet freedoms espoused by the Federal Communications Commission."

Great to know my privacy is of concern - but there are just two problems with that glib statement. For one, we don't have a real, overarching law to protect privacy at the national level, like Europe. Privacy groups have been pushing for one for years, and I'd love to see it, but we don’t have one.

And as far as the FCC is concerned, something tells me they'd be more eager to block me from IM'ing dirty words than to protect me from this sort of Big Brother snooping.

The Times story doesn't say whether AT&T plans to implement the anti-piracy tech at internet end-points, where you connect through your ISP to the internet, in AT&T's massive backbone network that carries a huge amount of internet traffic, or both. It also doesn't say whether AT&T will actually look into the files or web pages you send and receive, or whether it would be a less intrusive analysis of the types of traffic being sent around.

Either way, if AT&T moves ahead with the plan I'll be looking for another ISP. I currently have AT&T Yahoo DSL, but I think I'd prefer a company that at least pretended to put my privacy above its profits.

This first appeard on PC World (US)