Saturday, December 11, 2010

Internet Censorship and the War On Wikileaks

There are politicians on both sides of the aisle who seem content to dabble in the notion that the internet is the 'exception to the rule' and if therefore ripe for exploitation. Exploitation in the form of ubiquitous, or infringing legislation in the guise of protecting the American people from bad things that they have no control over. In recent years we have seen several pieces of proposed censorship..err, I mean legislation that in one way of the other gave the United States, or some arm thereof, the power to dictate how business is conducted, and information is transmitted across the internet.

The first piece that most of you hear about now and again is 'Net Neutrality'.  Net neutrality is defined as free and equal access for all. The bill is designed to block service providers from limiting or restricting access to sites or applications for any reason so that all internet users are treated equally. This would include P2P applications, torrents, and a host of other applications like instant messaging, or even email. On the surface this sounds like a great idea, however opponents of the bill have a different take on it.
From Wikipedia:
Network neutrality regulations are opposed by noted Internet engineers, such as professor David Farber and TCP inventor Bob Kahn.[8][51] Robert Pepper is senior managing director, global advanced technology policy, at Cisco Systems, and is the former FCC chief of policy development. He says: "The supporters of net neutrality regulation believe that more rules are necessary. In their view, without greater regulation, service providers might parcel out bandwidth or services, creating a bifurcated world in which the wealthy enjoy first-class Internet access, while everyone else is left with slow connections and degraded content. That scenario, however, is a false paradigm. Such an all-or-nothing world doesn't exist today, nor will it exist in the future. Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing. They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer."[52]
Bob Kahn, one of the fathers of the Internet, has said net neutrality is a slogan that would freeze innovation in the core of the Internet.[8]
What I gather from these arguments is this: A seemingly innocuous bill that on the surface appears to be a striking victory for free internet advocates, P2P enthusiasts, and torrent aficionados, is actually designed to guarantee that these technologies stagnate, and that the propagation of new technologies is stunted or altogether halted. I would love to believe this bill on it's surface, I really would. I truly believe that it is inherently wrong for Internet Service Providers to limited bandwidth or access to any technology because of possible legal concerns that may arise from it's use.

Usenet, P2P, torrents, websites, forums, and file storage sites all can and are used to spread illegal or copyrighted materials across the internet.Your ISP may attempt to block one of more of these avenues, but in the end, the information still gets found. The real problem is that legitimate information is passed around using these technologies as well, so blocking one, blocks the other and now you are committing censorship. Linux and game manufacturers have been using torrent to distribute their products for years, and will continue to do so for as long as the technology is viable.

The second initiative on the table is ACTA(Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is a proposed agreement that would establish an international network of countries, who could voluntarily join to establish standards for intellectual property rights. This organization would operate outside of existing standards organizations such as
World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or the United Nations. This new organization would not be held to the same standards of checks and balances as would other groups of this nature. EFF(Electronic Frontier Foundation)has expressed concerns as to the possible effect of this agreement being forged.
From EFF:
While little information has been made available by the governments negotiating ACTA, a document recently leaked to the public entitled "Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement" from an unknown source gives an indication of what content industry rightsholder groups appear to be asking for – including new legal regimes to "encourage ISPs to cooperate with right holders in the removal of infringing material", criminal measures, and increased border search powers. The Discussion Paper leaves open how Internet Service Providers should be encouraged to identify and remove allegedly infringing material from the Internet. However the same industry rightsholder groups that support the creation of ACTA have also called for mandatory network-level filtering by Internet Service Providers and for Internet Service Providers to terminate citizens' Internet connection on repeat allegation of copyright infringement (the "Three Strikes" /Graduated Response), so there is reason to believe that ACTA will seek to increase intermediary liability and require these things of Internet Service Providers.
 It seems abundantly clear, at least according to the leaked document that this organization could have powers far beyond what most Americans would consider favorable in the context of the liberties provided by our Constitution. This clearly degrades our own sovereignty, and leaves the ability to access information on the internet in the hands of an international organization that doesn't necessarily have to obey the laws of any one of it's host nations. Kind of the failure we now have with the United Nations, one of the most worthless piles of tripe ever conceived. Let's hope this monstrosity never gets off the ground.

The third piece of unholy censorship is S. 3804 Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. This bill has so far overcome all hurdles, including bi-partisan opposition to be passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill, which essentially allows the attorney general to turn off any website he so chooses, and gives Homeland Security, and ICE unprecedented over internet websites and their owners.  Even before the bill got this far, Homeland Security/ICE had shut down dozens of websites, and caused many torrent sites to scurry to web hosts outside the United States.

Opponents of this bill have made it clear that it is such a bad piece of legislation that Obamacare could be considered an epic piece of awesomeness compared to CIOCA. Detractors say the bill is unconstitutional, is outright censorship, gives to much power to the government, and would stifle innovation. Some even claim that this bill could effectively "break" the internet. EFF and other online advocates for internet freedom are up in arms over this horrendous piece of sludge. If you haven't figured out what COICA could do, just look at the case of Wikileaks.

Since Wikileaks lost it's hosting on Amazon, had their donation accounts on PayPal and moneybookers suspended, and Mastercard also shut down any kind of monies going to Wikileaks through their financial network, the online community responded in kind, launching attacks on some of these sites, and having some success. The reason this online war is waging is solely because groups like Amazon and Paypal denied Wikileaks their rights to operate and receive donations based solely on a perceived notion that they were committing illegal acts. Under COICA, the United States government could shut down any website they want based on those same conceived notions. 

In my opinion, this is a war that will not be cut and dry. Their is actually a faction of hackers that attacked wikileaks for posting those secret cables online. This attack, couple with the actions of Amazon and Paypal caused another group, known as "Anonymous" to launch a counter-attack. In the end, Wikileaks is now operating on 1697 mirror sites across the internet(As of 2010-12-10) and it's supporters are continuing to donate money and do everything they can to keep Wikileaks operational. While I disagree with much of the community surrounding Wikileaks(mostly anti-war liberal nutjobs)I am torn because I myself believe that the internet, and the free flow of information it represents should not, under any circumstances be controlled by any group or government, and that it is the duty of those of use who believe in those principles to rise up and to thwart any such attacks on the greatest bastion of free thought the world has ever known.

Wikipedia:Network Neutrality
Electronic Frontier Foundation:ACTA