Will Pirate Party TOR Nodes Be Used for More Than Iranian Free Speech?

There’s been particularly distressing news being reported today from 5 different countries for those who have believed in civil rights on the internet. Meanwhile, it seems that the Pirate Party has chosen today to launch two TOR nodes to help political dissidents in Iran exercise free speech in a country where free speech could cost you your life. It seems strangely ironic that those who may eventually need anonymous internet access could be from countries touted as free societies as well.

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

The timing of the Iranian political turmoil couldn’t have been more peculiar. Many countries around the world have, at the same time, pushed for tougher surveillance or censorship laws. The 18th certainly contained news stories that would more than likely irk thousands of internet savvy users. TOR, in essence is for anyone wanting to protect their identity while on the internet from prying eyes including controlling governments. It begs the question, will the Pirate Party’s newly launched TOR nodes be used by mainly Iranians hoping to exercise free speech or by those fearing their government has thrown basic civil rights out the window in first world countries under the false claim of fighting terrorism?

Canada has already tabled legislation that would make warrantless ISP-level surveillance mandatory. Meanwhile, Germany is currently mulling mandatory DNS blacklist. In Finland, talking about the blacklist contents has seemingly become a criminal activity. Meanwhile, in the United States, sharing music online, regardless of what those songs could really be, could land you a nearly $2 million fine. All that on top of the fresh US allegations where the NSA was accused of improperly wiretapping possibly “millions” of Americans beyond the scope of the current wiretapping laws. Even Britain has opted to try port blocking, ISP blacklisting, protocol blocking and much more purely for the sake of reducing “internet piracy” by “70%”.

Many might look at the Russian police chief’s comment that internet anonymity should be abolished and say how ridiculous and draconian his comments. Yet after looking at todays news, one has to wonder exactly who in power secretly agrees with him on the international stage.

Then, on the day where all of this is going down, we have the Pirate Party that was once seen as the little political party that could to the political party that might to the major force that did after winning a seat in the European parliament – two once the Lisbon treaty is ratified. When news broke that Iranians are questioning the outcome of their own election and the government is using oppressive measures to quell civil dissatisfaction, the Pirate Party chose to launch two TOR nodes and a proxy server, saying that freedom of communication is global. While clearly pointed at Iranian dissidents, one wonders if the anonymous service offered by the political party one politician mistakenly labelled as rapists will eventually be used by people in supposedly free countries.

The world hasn’t gone completely big brother yet, but it certainly is taking steps in that direction where unnecessary surveillance is sold as being “in the publics interest”. Government mandated censorship already has a history of being abused and only a few countries have implemented such laws in question. One can easily look at “the Great Firewall of China” and criticize the Chinese government for using the blacklists as a means to suppress free speech. Similar criticisms can be made for Thailands infamous crimes of spreading mis-information about the king. Yet, here we are today, still living in countries that supposedly would never legislate our freedoms away, yet we have a long list of “western” and “westernized” countries pulling precisely the same stunts that have earned China the scorn from countries like the United States. Websites from political websites all the way down to dental clinics are being targeted by government mandated censors. “Of course these censorship tactics do little more than fight the horrific crimes seen on the internet! That’s what they are meant to do!” supporters would say. Unfortunately, actual practise says otherwise.

Maybe this will all somehow go away in the woodwork. Maybe a certain amount of civil disobedience and uprisings will make politicians think twice on this legislation. It certainly worked in Canada when the Liberal government tabled lawful access legislation before. Still, what if we won’t be so lucky this time around? Failing letter campaigns, petitions, protests and pro-civil rights lobbying, what then? Maybe then, we’ll have to look at the Chinese free speech movement not as a tragic tale of a government gone power mad, but rather as a lesson looking forward into the future. Maybe we can learn from Chinese civil dissidents as we survive government’s “protecting” us from the harms of an evil wild west internet that bring out psychopaths bent on targeting your children and “enemies of copyright”.

Of course, a dreaded future that sees such things happening hasn’t actually fully materialized yet even though governments have repeatedly said that they plan on going down this slippery slope into a butchering of civil rights. The war isn’t over yet. Far from it. In fact, it would have a long way to go before it was over. More people would rely on proxies and anonymous servers located in countries that have yet to consider legislation that would either blacklist websites or simply monitor every single web communication you have made. Plenty of governments could enact such legislation and civil disobedience would still exist. Sound familiar? It should to the file-sharing debate watchers. That whack-a-mole campaign that has frustrated the copyright industry for over a decade now. It’ll be an identical problem for the government hoping to block out or issue surveillance on suspected terrorism – thus highlighting the utter futility, once again, of controlling the internet.

In the mean time, we can all hope we won’t eventually be led to a Chinese-like internet controlled by a non-Chinese government – heaven forbid the US government unveils two cartoon police officers ready to tell us when we’ve connected to an unauthorized website. We can only hope that people who know a thing or two about the internet will prevail in bringing an inkling of sanity to the debates instead of having people like former car salesmen who like to think they know everything about the internet be the only voices in all of this. We can only that the last resort proxies set up by the Pirate Party won’t be necessary to enjoy a free internet tomorrow. We can only hope things will be as they were 3 years ago 10 years from now. We can only hope for better days ahead while governments spread their all-knowing and controlling tentacles deeper and deeper into the wonders that is the internet. We can only hope that resistance that dares to discuss free speech on the internet on sidewalks actually get their message across. We can only hope because this internet thing is great, sure would be a shame if something were to, eh, happen to it!

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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