Controlling the Net – How Hard Could it Be?

Is it possible to control the internet or the free flow of information? It’s a question that could easily be dismissed as a fools errand. Yet, in the span of a month, there has been a noticeable number of interesting attempts to do so.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Clearly, there are those that think it’s possible. In some instances, there is actually some headway being made.

It may be the larger news story this month in a series of stories. A report on Ynet says that a court in Israel has ruled in favor of the 12 major record labels to force ISPs to block the “illicit” site httpshare. The website, according to Ynet was an indexing site that posted .torrent files and other hash links to copyrighted works on various file-sharing networks. The record labels are saying that other sites would soon too be blocked in that country as well.

A move like this was last seen when Swedish police tried putting ThePirateBay on a Child Porn blacklist which ultimately ended in failure. Unfortunately for HTTPShare, they weren’t so lucky but they insist that their website is perfectly legal.

In the mean time, another report on the International Herald Tribune points to Japan where officials are proposing to regulate “influential news sites” much like how major broadcast news is regulated. They are also calling on ISPs to block “illegal and harmful content” In the mean time, for years, there have been adopt-a-blog efforts to circumvent Chinese blocks. No doubt that such efforts have already been in place for Japan for such an occasion.

Meanwhile, IT Law in Ireland points to a story in the NYTimes which describes how the US government has blocked a Spanish website owners websites that sold trips to places like Cuba via the domain registry. This isn’t the first time an administrator has been cut off from his or her domain. ZeroPaid reported on the Wikileaks story where a Californian judge ordered a permanent injunction on the domain. The case was since dropped and the injunction ultimately dissolved, but as IT Law in Ireland suggests, domain registrars could become a new form of control.

It isn’t all doom and gloom however. According to another report in the NYTimes, Cuban citizens are fighting media oppression with memory sticks. The Cuban memory stick story involved a video of a confrontation between people questioning the president of the National Assembly. The video didn’t spread online through youTube, but rather, spread through Cuba on memory sticks. If it can’t spread online, it’ll spread through offline file-sharing. Sound familiar? Many hypothesize that if universities begin blocking P2P on their networks, file-sharing will only go offline. In the Cuban Memory Stick story, a similar thing has already occurred in practice.

Another interesting report on details a recent court victory for Yahoo! A lawsuit was filed saying that ‘Mr. Spicy’ is a trademark and that because it is possible to get search results from Yahoo! searches with advertisements that have ‘spicey’ in them, it was grounds for a lawsuit for trademark infringement. Of course, the lawsuit didn’t work in the courts.

Then there are cases that doesn’t necessarily have to do with stopping or stemming the free flow of information. Instead, they deal with monitoring peoples activities. A posting on Wired’s ‘Threat Level’ broke the wireless spying incident thanks to a whistelblower. According to the posting:

A U.S. government office in Quantico, Virginia, has direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier’s systems, exposing customers’ voice calls, data packets and physical movements to uncontrolled surveillance, according to a computer security consultant who says he worked for the carrier in late 2003.

The posting contains an update in which Congress issued a response (PDF) to the allegations:

Mr. Pasdar’s allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the Administration. Moreover, the whistleblower’s allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T.

The author says that this is not CALEA because that requires a warrent for phone conversations. The EFF has also posted their own thoughts on the story.

Finally, another posting on threat Level details how the Air Force is now using the DMCA to stop an advertisement from being spread throughout the internet. The ad was sent to the blog and it was agreed that they should run it. After sending them thanks for running the ad, some sites, namely YouTube, started receiving DMCA notices for the Air Forces “intellectual property” The catch? The Air Force, according to blog poster Kevin Poulsen, can’t copyright the work in the first place. Kurt Opsahl of the EFF pointed out that it said so right on their privacy policy. Apparently, the music, movie, porn and software industries aren’t the only major organizations passing these things around.

So how hard is it to control the free flow of information? Certainly, there are instances where there were minor degrees of success, but all to often, once the information is out there, chances are, it’s not going to be stopped. In any event, there are certainly going to be those that are going to try.

Special thanks to the EFF for pointing out a number of these stories.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top