Internet Freedom and the Great Wall of Cameron

Anybody who is a citizen of the Internet can't have helped but notice the Internet is under attack. The aggressors aren't terrorists, criminals or even paedophiles. These undesirables are simply using the network for their own ends.

The aggressors are nation states. We expect little from countries with undemocratic governments. Countries like China, North Korea have been trying to censor the Internet in their own countries for as long as it has existed.

What's surprising is the level of contempt being shown by nominally democratic nations. In the last few weeks we have revelations from Edward Snowden of a massive spying operation being run by the NSA. We've had Lavabit shut its doors in mysterious circumstances. The owner of that business is under a gag order: we don't know what he was being asked to do but it doesn't look good.

Now it appears that the NSA has been deliberately planting bugs and back doors in software and in Internet standards.

In my own country, we've had David Cameron propose a nation-wide default-on porn filter. Given the current context, you have to be extremely naive to believe this is the true reason for what they're putting place.

It is to this topic I now turn. The stated goal of this filter is to keep pornography out of the hands of children. There are two types of children: actual children and teenagers.

The web contains all sorts of things unsuitable for children. Pornography really is the least of your worries. There's videos of people being murdered, animal cruelty, racist literature, religious cult propaganda. All of these things would not be censored by the Great Wall of Cameron. The only solution to this is proper parental supervision. However, some protection is offered by the fact that children are not interested in sex and thus will not seek it.

However, to "protect" teenagers from pornography is completely impossible. There is no technology yet invented that can keep a 14 year old from pornography. They have the motive and too much time on their hands to be stopped. A basic web filter won't work. The reasons for this are relatively straightforward. Anybody who has even a basic technical understanding of the Internet knows that such a filter can't work. There are all sorts of problems. The first is that the web is not the Internet. Many protocols operate on top of the Internet:

All of which can be used by to transmit pornography. The Great Wall of Cameron would be completely powerless, in its current form, to block any such traffic.

When I was a teenager, we used to connect to a friend's private FTP server which contained thousands of MP3s, videos and complete copies of software. The Great Wall of Cameron would completely fail to prevent teenagers getting access in precisely this way. Cameron also seems to ignore the obvious problem that teenagers can simply trade files in school. Terabyte portable hard disks are common these days and each one could contain many hours of pornography.

Then there's the issue of child pornography. This is perhaps the biggest smoke screen around this whole issue. Think of the children arguments should really be added to the list of logical fallacies but that is a digression and an essay in its own right.

The truth is that child pornography is already banned and there are already mechanisms in law to block websites that deal in this filth. Of course, the same logic applies as above: the web is not the Internet. These criminals can still use FTP, SSH, IRC and other protocols that no web filter would block.

The general pattern of misunderstanding here is that the Internet is a broadcast media. It might seem that way to politicians when they think of YouTube, Reddit, Facebook et al. It seems that the Internet is merely a collection of websites that many users connect to.

However, the Internet's overall topology is really more akin to the postal network. Just as any address can send a message to any other address on the postal network, so to can a computer communicate with any other machine on the network. Yes, you can contact Youtube, Google or Facebook but equally two people on broadband connections can also contact each other.

This last observation leads us to perhaps greatest flaw in the plan. How will the Great Wall of Cameron stop BitTorrent?

The flaws are so numerous and so obvious that it leads me to believe the Great Wall of Cameron isn't really about protecting children. They're much too smart to make so many basic mistakes. It's really about setting up mass surveillance.

They've already said on record that they want to silently tap major e-mail providers to see who's talking to who. This has been debated in the House of Commons. This is clearly phase two of the plan, they now want to see whose searching for what on the web.

The problem I have with all of this is what is all this in aid of? Who is being protected from who? We're being told that all these databases, these shadowy secret courts, this porn filter are all here to protect my family, friends and I. From who you ask? The terrorist, the paedophiles and organised criminals.

While these people are clearly dangerous, they're not as dangerous as an overreaching totalitarian state. A criminal can rob you, a paedophile can fiddle your children and a terrorist can kill you and your family. These are bad things but a tyrannical government is so much worse.

The kind of government they're building can systematically destroy our way of life, our freedoms and our society. And ultimately, it can destroy the future for all our children.

  1. 2013-09-19 18:32:00 GMT
  2. #Web
  3. Permalink
  4. XML