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Water Always Finds a Way The information security profession knows all too well how trivial it is to bypass these types of controls by using technologies such as encryption, steganography, proxies or anonymizing systems such as TOR – as does any self-respecting commercial- scale copyright infringer, pedophile, or terrorist. The general mass of law-abiding users and small businesses don’t, however, and campaigners believe they’re the ones most likely to be negatively affected by such proposals.

There are plenty of examples of automated fi lters censoring perfectly legitimate content, such as when the English town of Scunthorpe was excised from Google searches in 2004 because its name contained a certain offensive four-letter word. Amusing, perhaps, although not quite so funny for the town’s businesses, which lost customers as a result. Similarly, in December last year, an overzealous Virgin Media fi lter unhelpfully prevented UK customers from seeing content on its electronic TV guide relating to the UK soccer team Arsenal, TV presenters Dick and Dom, Charles Dickens and others. In addition to the measures being

ineffective at hitting their stated targets, the ORG says there are inherent dangers in the kind of measures being proposed. For a start, they force ISPs into the role of censors and reduce the impetus on governments to address the underlying problems. In the US, the SOPA/PIPA legislation would have imposed similar strictures on American companies, with global repercussions. Critics of the bills, which included leading technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, claimed they would stifl e innovation and threaten online freedom. This criticism culminated in online protests in January 2012, with thousands of internet users voicing their opposition to the bills on social media and self-imposed 24-hour blackouts by high-profi le sites like Wikipedia. The action led to the shelving of the bills – for the time being at least. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a multinational treaty to address

founders of the ONI, believes people’s increasing willingness to entrust their data to large, corporate providers and tethered devices such as the iPhone and Kindle, is unwittingly putting us all at greater risk of unchecked censorship.

People understand the democratic power they have through the internet and social media. They don’t want to see it controlled or limited by regulation

Jim Killock Open Rights Group

intellectual property infringements drawn up behind closed doors without public input, met with similar opprobrium and widespread protests across Europe this year. “People understand the democratic power they have through the internet and social media. They don’t want to see it controlled or limited by regulation”, ORG’s Killock asserts. “Politicians wrongly assume people have this reaction because they want to access pirated material online. In fact, it’s a reaction to a sustained, systematic attack on the tools we all depend on for our democratic rights.”

A Message from the Ministry of Truth Traditionally, tech-savvy proponents of an uncensored internet have often assumed the very nature of the net as an open, highly distributed medium that will thwart any attempts to control it technologically. For the tech savvy, that is – and may remain – true. But Harvard law professor and author Jonathan Zittrain, one of the

Zittrain acknowledges that because these systems can be centrally monitored and controlled, they do solve many of the usability and security problems inherent on the open internet, which is one reason so many people are attracted to them. But at what cost, he asks? The terms of Apple’s App Store, Facebook or Amazon give these private companies an unprecedented right to censor and remote-delete whatever they like from their platforms and their users’ devices – or whatever they’re asked to censor by third parties, including corporate lawyers and governments. In a talk last year, Zittrain gave some telling examples that indicate where the internet might be heading. “For example, one app called Freedom Time, which counted down the time until the end of George W Bush’s presidency, was denied from the App Store. The developer wrote to Steve Jobs to ask why. Jobs replied that although he was a Democrat, ‘what’s the point of offending half our customers?’. The minute individuals have to persuade a large company of something’s merits before they’re allowed to publish it is the minute internet innovation stops, the minute we don’t get the next Wikipedia”, he said.

Another example is the Kindle. Zittrain observes: “When Amazon gave away the novel 1984 to US customers thinking it was public domain, it subsequently realized someone had screwed up on the copyright and it was only public domain in Canada. So immediately, it remotely deleted 1984 from everybody’s Kindle. We should be keeping a close eye on what these leading devices are telling us about the future of our technology environment.” So for Kindle users, as in real life, 1984 has come and gone. But unless we all remain vigilant, George Orwell’s vision might yet come to pass. /// 35

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