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Taming the Web 365

Thomas writes: "A story on Technology Review outlines the closer-to-reality-than-you-think fact that Internet regulations are right around the corner. It points out three false hopes held by web 'libertarians.' 1. the web is too international to control. 2. the net is too interconnected to fence in. 3. the net is full of hackers that are impossible to control. This is a good read." Bingo.
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Taming the Web

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  • By the numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WillSeattle ( 239206 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:24PM (#2111303) Homepage
    OK, read the article. Yes, it's true, but it's also false.

    First, my creds are longer than I care to think about, back in the dawn of time. And, no, I don't hack any longer, but all I'll say is, if I had, the statute of limitations is up.

    Myth #1 The Net is too International to be Controlled

    The Net, the totality of the Internet, is. The Web, the channel that our browsers serve up http and https and suchlike, is affected by our ISPs. We can still use TCP/IP and backchannel, go thru various ports - this part is still wild and wooly. Or we can stay safe inside AOL and MSN and their versions and it's controlled. It's like the Wild West - when you come into Dodge, they take your guns at the city limits. If you stick to the patrolled routes, it's fairly safe; if you wander off into the badlands, it's not.

    Myth #2 The Net is to Interconnected to Control

    See above. While you can route around censorship and damage, this requires active or passive participation by someone. So long as bastions of freedom exist, so long as encyrpted channels go through, this will continue to exist. But the rest can be partially controlled.

    Myth #3 The Net is Too Filled with Hackers to Control

    So long as we reward hackers with publicity and teens have very little to lose and don't care about it, this will always be true. If they suddenly fear being caught, it will increase some people's activity and scare off others. So, this is mostly true.

    But, in sum, it all comes down to this:

    The Net is the Perception, Not the Reality.

    So long as people believe in the above tenets, it will self-perpetuate. If they lose faith, it will change. Just as the founders of America believed in press freedom but favored other restrictions - remember the 50s, that teen gang era, eventually followed by the 80s.

  • by telbij ( 465356 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:48PM (#2111930)
    That's a pretty dim view of humanity. You are of course correct that corporations wield most of the political power. But that's not because they are some incredible behemoths that we have no power over. It's simply because Americans are spoiled, and they really don't give a shit about things like the environment or international justice.

    The American people are as bought and paid for as the government, so to say that the government somehow doesn't represent the people is a convenient excuse to dismiss your civil responsibility. Believe me, when there's a large public outcry, the government will listen.

    Corporate control of the Internet may very well happen, but don't let your experience of corporate control over your lifetime lead you into false assumptions. The greater a controlling power becomes, the more unstable it becomes until it topples. That is the really real truism of history.

  • by gregbaker ( 22648 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @07:14PM (#2114547) Homepage

    Fallacious agrument #1: "Swaptor Isn't Too International to Be Controlled" == "The Internet Isn't Too International to Be Controlled". Following this kind of argument, 4 is not even because 3 is not even and they're both numbers. As a side note, am I the only one that hasn't heard of Swaptor?

    Fallacious agrument #2: "Gnutella uses a bandwidth-inefficient protocol" == "The Internet isn't very interconnected". There's nothing impossible about efficient true P2P. If Gnutella isn't it, that's Gnutella's problem. This is actually the same fallacy type as #1.

    Fallacious agrument #3: "Software hackers can't do hardware" == "Nobody can hack hardware". A topical counter example: it's not very hard to buy a DVD player modified to be region-free.

    Honestly, do journalists not have to take a critical thinking course at some point? For that matter, do editors no longer edit? While the main focus of the article (the Internet ain't as free as some people assert) is probably true, the lack of a single cogent argument in a three "page" article is horrifying

  • Re:Nice try. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @07:10PM (#2116042)
    The only problem with that plan is that by then the laws will be in place that restrict or direct Earthlink and the like to follow strict standards. Earthlink would have to break the law in order to comply with your idea. That's something that they won't do.

    They would far prefer to have hundreds of thousands of pissed off CUSTOMERS, than be put out of business by the Feds, have their CEO in the pokie and have NO customers. While I like your idea, it'll never fly.
  • by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:25PM (#2121168)
    Your probably just trolling, but here goes anyway:

    The internet has been around for more than two decades...

    It's been around for 2 decades, but has only recently been recognized as something more than the worlds largest geek toy, largely ignored by the rest of the world. Big business on the Internet is still in its infancy, but you'd better believe that if it continues to grow like it has, laws and regulations will follow.

    The internet stretches across national boundaries

    Read the article, they actually address this argument. It doesn't matter if I setup a Napster server in Timbuktu if the RIAA can cut off my one-and-only access point to the outside world.

    Now that we have web servers in space

    Show me a timeframe for getting a robust, stable, viable Net Sanctuary Space Station, and I'll show you an Internet that has long since been beaten down by Evil Big Business (tm).
  • Nice try. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mike Schiraldi ( 18296 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:17PM (#2125539) Homepage Journal
    The result, in Ballon's view, is easy to foresee: "At a certain point, the studios and labels and publishers will send over lists of things to block to America Online, and 40 percent of the country's Net users will no longer be able to participate in Gnutella. Do the same thing for EarthLink and MSN, and you're drastically shrinking the pool of available users."

    While people will put up with crappy service and high bills, if you take away their MP3s and porn, they will take their business elsewhere. If AOL and MSN started blocking MP3 trading, and Earthlink ran another round of "We don't spy on you or control you" commercials, they'd grab huge chunks of their competitors' former customers.

    Indeed, the governments of China and Saudi Arabia have successfully pursued a similar strategy for political ends.

    That's because it's harder to leave your country than it is to switch ISPs. Well, maybe only slightly harder. :)

  • by jhaberman ( 246905 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:25PM (#2131658)
    ... Tell that to users in China or Afganistan. The government actively shuts down ISP's and terminates all connections to "undesireable" sites. Once big brother becomes involved, personal liberties go right out the window. And don't try to tell me that "it could never happen here". Think again. You mean to tell me that if some alphabetic government agency or powerful international corporation started putting MASSIVE pressure on backbone providers to shut down... (enter offending matter here - Movies - MP3 - p0rn)... they couldn't get action?

    Sure... most of us would raise hell. But if they withstood? Then we're the ones who get screwed.

    Think about it.


  • Re:Err... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 3247 ( 161794 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:36PM (#2136260) Homepage
    "So it starts again, with bbs's, then a couple of nearby bbs's link with a cat 5 cable, or a leased line, or a wireless ethernet."

    "Someone who does this is obviously interested in illegal activities. So we have to make it illegal to build networks that are not under the supervision of a trusted provider."

  • Um. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:13PM (#2136801)
    Connect this with the fact the general purpose PC may be dying, and what you have is a pretty grim vision of the future... we'll all be just connected to a shinyhappy ad-laden corporate network through ATM-like dumb terminals. :-/
  • Err... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:10PM (#2141062)
    My 'false hopes' revolve around the fact that I can connect one computer to another, somehow, without what I do being filtered, no matter what. So can anyone else, and so we eventually get the internet.

    Pundits can argue all they want that it won't stay that way.. but it will.
  • I recently came across a short story and commentary on intellectual property by RMS called "The Right to Read" (available at Interesting and chilling look at current trends in intellectual property.

    Articles like this help to emphisize the points made in the story/article. Interestingly, the slashdot article meantions hardware changes as a way to protect copyrighted materials without the possibility of copying. I should mention that this overlooks a major point-- hardware has to give the majority of choice up to the software, and anything that completely prevents digital copying of works must by necessity interfere with many innocuous activities without offering complete security (suppose I rip music from an encripted CD, decrypt it, pass it to another process through a named pipe, encode it in another format, and write it to disk. Is the hardware going to measure everything that the kernel does?)

    THe only way around this is, IMO, to outlaw open source kernels (a possibility mentioned in The Right to Read). I don't think that this is a current possibility. The other possibility is to prevent CDROM drives from reading audio CDs. That is not going to happen soon either.

    The slashdotted article states:"I can write a program that lets you break the copy protection on a music file," says Dan Farmer, an independent computer security consultant in San Francisco. "But I can't write a program that solders new connections onto a chip for you."

    This statement is somewhat naive... One can always write a program to emulate any piece of hardware, and there will always be ways of breaking them.

    Stallman seems to indicate that the DMCA poses a significant threat to free debuggers (which could be used to circumvent copy protections) and free kernels, which could also be used to circumvent protections.

    We need to stand together supporting the right to read.

  • Nope. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mike Schiraldi ( 18296 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:21PM (#2153803) Homepage Journal
    Internet service providers can always pull the plug?treating Freenet, in essence, as an unsupported feature, in the way that many providers today do not support telnet, Usenet and other less popular services. which point Freenet will start tunneling through http, pop3, ftp, ssh, and any other common protocol. If ISPs start peeking at specific packets, Freenet will start using SSL.

    And like i mentioned in an earlier comment, why would ISPs do this? MP3s and porn are far and away the most popular uses for the Internet today, according to a study i just made up. It would be like making cars that don't go over 55 or "tobacco water pipes" that only work with tobacco.
  • by Apotsy ( 84148 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:24PM (#2156633)
    I found this quote interesting:
    By insisting that digital technology is ineluctably beyond the reach of authority, Falco and others like him are inadvertently making it far more likely that the rules of operation of the worldwide intellectual commons that is the Internet will be established not through the messy but open processes of democracy but by private negotiations among large corporations.
    The author of this article is deluding himself if he thinks there is any chance of the "messy but open processes of democracy" getting involved in internet regulation. No matter what attitude people take, corporate control will still be the order of the day, for a number of reasons -- not the least of which is that those "processes of democracy" don't exist any more. Corporations found them to be too inconvenient, so they bought them out a long time ago.

    Corporate control of the net will happen, because that's the only thing that can happen in today's world. Sure, it would be nice if netizens got some of those silly myths the author talks about out of their heads and adopted a more realistic attitude, but it's not like that would do anything to prevent corporate control from setting in any way. You can't prevent it -- that's the real truism of the net.

  • Re:Err... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by isorox ( 205688 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:21PM (#2156715) Homepage Journal
    So it starts again, with bbs's, then a couple of nearby bbs's link with a cat 5 cable, or a leased line, or a wireless ethernet. Eventually qwehave comletely free network of wireless networks across the city, linked to other cities by modem links. The modems get upgraded, people co-locate near the gateways to other cities and countries, and we have a whole new internet. Then the government regulates it again and we're back to square 1.

  • by dbolger ( 161340 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @06:25PM (#2156843) Homepage
    A quote in the article says, "The Internet is unstoppable! The flow of data can never be blocked". While I'm sure that the Internet, as it is now can be censored and thus, basically stopped (just look at the Great Firewall of China), the second sentence is the greatest truth - the flow of data can never be blocked. This is as true now as it was when the Nazi's publically burned books in 1933. The model of the internet routing around censorship is taken from real life - if you stop the net, we'll just find another way of spreading our information and letting the data flow. Information is ammunition, and the people will /never/ let that be taken away from them.
  • by Are We Afraid ( 303373 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @07:16PM (#2170173) Homepage
    The other possibility is to prevent CDROM drives from reading audio CDs. That is not going to happen soon either.

    You need to do some reading about Macrovision's latest abomination []. It aims to do just that.

    There will, of course, be people who crack [] these protections. But the important thing is the the vast majority of lusers won't know it -- all they'll know is that it won't rip (or even play) when they put it in their CD-ROM drive. So they'll stop putting audio CDs in their CD-ROM drives.

    Bingo: the herds have shifted.

  • What THEY can do (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. ( 142215 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @07:18PM (#2170178) Homepage
    Well one could hack one's TCP stack so an initial SYN-ACK with certain fields set a certain way is treated as a normal SYN packet. That blasts a hole in the not allowing incoming packets filter. Of course, they can filter out that hack, etc. As was said in another post, they have to REACT, and would be one step (or more) behind.

    What they could do, is change the rules. Right now things are permitted unless prohibited. If the laws were changed so that things were by default prohibited, instead of permitted, and made it illegal (preferrable as a felony - heck, then they could eventually take away the right of a felon to be on the net too), and made it illegal for hardware or software to exist that doesn't enofrce that, they they could win.

    THey could require you pay the gov't a $10M license to provide content, and revoke licenses from any "troublesome" sites (so rich "eccentrics" would not be a threat).

    Put enough people in jail for YEARS of their life, take every thing they own and sell it, and make them felons without the right of self-defense or even to vote (so the politicians can IGNORE them - and their fellow "citizens" will think of them as EVIL UNTRUSTWORTHY CRIMINALS), and people will be scared off and/or neutralized as a threat to the New World Order.


  • Re:Nice try. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NullPointer ( 6898 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @07:19PM (#2170184) Homepage
    Indeed, the governments of China and Saudi Arabia have successfully pursued a similar strategy for political ends.

    And that really is where the argument "might" be successful. Congress already tried regulating some things with the CDA and I wouldn't put it past them to try something else along the same lines. Still, I think this article misses some things. I could be wrong, but I believe that businesses (RIAA, MPA) will eventually create their own commercial "net" using VPNs which consumers will use to access their products. Rather than trying to tame the net, they'll just create their own tunnels for their own proprietary devices so the masses can buy their candy. It would certainly be easier than trying to come up with some sort of world-wide net police force or constantly trying to shut down the latest hack or crack. It just seems like it would require too much effort on their part to attempt to "regulate" the internet. Money always follows the path of least resistance (lowest cost).
  • A counter-example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by megaduck ( 250895 ) <dvarvel&hotmail,com> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @07:31PM (#2170241) Journal

    Here's a brain teaser. Bobby wants to give Sally the DeCSS source code. Jimmy has absolute control over both of their computers, telephones, and the intervening network. Can Jimmy stop Bobby while permitting them to talk about nice safe legal things?

    Answer: No.

    Here's why: The only way to stop the transferral of "bad" information is to stop all information. Let's see how it would work in real life.

    • Jimmy scans all of Bobby's e-mail and deletes the e-mail containing DeCSS.
    • Bobby starts sending DeCSS as a PDF attachment.

    • Jimmy starts scanning attachments for the source code and deletes all "bad" PDFs.
    • Bobby sings DeCSS, records it as a .WAV and sends it as an attachment.

    • Jimmy starts listening to all audio attachments and blocks the offending e-mail.
    • Bobby sings DeCSS again, this time in Navajo.

    • Jimmy blocks all attachments altogether.
    • Bobby e-mails the code in german pig latin.

    I think you see where this is going. Bobby will always be able to pass DeCSS off as "safe" traffic. No matter what Jimmy does, Sally will be cracking DVDs in short order. The article brings up some good points, but I think that there's no way to stop the informational tidal wave. Information may not "want to be free", but people do. There will always be a way.

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @07:39PM (#2170267)
    >No government has ever managed to regulate anything with absolute certainty. People speed all the time, despite the presence of Police on the streets. [ ... ]

    "Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against - then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens' What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."

    - fair use excerpt from "Atlas Shrugged".

    You don't have to buy into the rest of her philosophy to see that she hit the nail on the head here.

  • The slashdotted article states:"I can write a program that lets you break the copy protection on a music file," says Dan Farmer, an independent computer security consultant in San Francisco. "But I can't write a program that solders new connections onto a chip for you."

    This statement is somewhat naive... One can always write a program to emulate any piece of hardware, and there will always be ways of breaking them.

    It also completely ignores the existence of hardware hackers. Remember how the Playstation wasn't supposed to be able to read copied games []?

  • by Ulwarth ( 458420 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @08:12PM (#2170378) Homepage
    He does make some good points, and this is good stuff to think about - definitely not something you want to dismiss out of hand. However, I think all of the points are refutable from many angles. Here's my take:

    #1 - The Internet is Too International to Be Controlled

    Actually, I think it's more than the international issues can keep things tied up in red tape long enough that we can do whatever we want in the meantime. Things on the Internet happen in terms of seconds, minutes, hours, and sometimes days; in terms of International law, they happen in terms of years and decades. By the time law is adapted to new technologies, those technologies are long since past the "new" stage and well on to the "outdated" stage, with other technologies to replace them. Law will never be able to keep up.

    #2 - The Net is too Interconnected to Control

    He focuses mainly on two points: that true peer-to-peer sharing is still to inefficient as networks get large, and that most Internet users run off of a few major networks (AOL, Earthlink, MSN). For the first point - yes that's true, but it's just technological hurdle. Such things, as we all well know, are much easier to solve than matters of law, and no doubt true peer-to-peer networks will be "good enough" sometime in the near future. As for the second point - well, the "hackers", which includes most everyone on Slashdot, don't use any of those services for Internet access. So it's true that those services could probably disconnect the mass market from the sharing networks fairly easily; but it seems likely that that would either cause many people to defect to "real" ISPs, or else that people would develop protocols that disguise themselvs as email, FTP, or web transfers.

    #3 - The Net is too filled with Hackers to Control

    His entire argument here seems to be that sooner or later companies will distribute their electronic information on properitary hardware that can't be accessed by a PC. If that's true, then he's right. But I don't think that will be profitable for the companies, because what's the point of getting something in electronic format if you can't put it on your computer? And if there is any way to view the information on your computer screen, then some bright 16-year-old from Norway will figure out how to download it as data. Period.
  • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @08:21PM (#2170409)
    his statement is somewhat naive... One can always write a program to emulate any piece of hardware, and there will always be ways of breaking them.

    I don't know about you, but I'm not aware of any way to write software to emulates a CD-ROM drive (that is, has the capability to directly read the CD-ROM without a CD-ROM drive being present). Hardware does things that software can't BECAUSE IT IS IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD. So while it's quite possible to emulate some parts of hardware (namely computational functions), physical interaction isn't truely emulatable (otherwise I'd just write code to have my laptop make my bed, pick up chicks, and haul them back to my dorm room). I think it is you who is naive.
  • by Louis Savain ( 65843 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:08PM (#2170503) Homepage
    Looks like it's police state time for Amerika.

    Big Brotherism starts the moment that individuals are forced to have ID numbers like a bunch of slaves. It's been around for a long time. It's just getting more efficient with computers. In fact, the more a trojan horses and viruses are unleashed on the net, the more secure and efficient it becomes. IP laws are just the tip of the fascist iceberg.

    On a side note, there is a story in the old testament where King David gave the order to take a count of the people. God got so pissed off at that flagrant violation of liberty that he sent a nasty plague on them. Just a thought.

    If you don't have income property, you're a slave. You can either live with it or fight it. But watch out if you decide to fight. The state is rather powerful. It is armed to the teeth and will not give up its power easily. They'll hurt you real bad if they have to. But first they will disarm you as they have pretty much done already. So you're all shit out of luck.
  • by BeanThere ( 28381 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:54PM (#2170629)

    Here's a "simple" challenge for you. Send a single email to someone outside the USA, say for example in Europe, *knowing* that that email is NOT going through an FBI Carnivore box along its way.

    Good luck. *That* is how easy the Internet is to regulate and control.

    The issue is not whether or not the Internet exists, but whether or not there is real freedom on the Internet. Therein lies the problem.

    And you can yell all you want about using strong encryption on your emails - wait until they throw the first few people in jail for using "technologies that prevent law enforcers from doing their job" (or something like that), and see how many people still have the balls to use strong encryption.

    It seems you would rather sit around until they make things illegal and then try to find *technical* workarounds. Don't you think a better solution would be to work to develop a legal/government system that wouldn't be able to take away freedoms in the first place? The people need to have some control over lawmaking and regulation, otherwise it *will* end up being done in the interests of big corps and government.

  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @11:08PM (#2170856) Homepage
    Government control, corporate control, who cares? The problem is that people have chosen to give up being responsible for what happens to them. Once we do that, once we give up control, somebody else is going to pick it up.

    The only solution is to vote Libertarian publicly, and privately to be responsible for yourself.
  • by crucini ( 98210 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @11:15PM (#2170881)
    Basically you are offering a variation of the "can't stop our superior technology argument." If Freenet catches on and the PTB want to kill it, I think they will. They would only have to do one of the following, but they will probably do all to be sure.
    1. Arrest and imprison anyone who offers Freenet software for download, as it's a circumvention device under the DMCA.
    2. Stop all inbound TCP connections to consumer computers. Stop all UDP to/from consumer computers except for UDP53 to the ISP's nameserver.
    3. Require a license, complete with an examination and posted bond, to run any kind of internet server. This would also help get poorly-admined boxes off the net. I can verify that this mechanism is quite effective in the construction industry. Every construction contractor, whether specializing in glass, electrical, fire alarms, ceilings, or other trade, must have a responsible individual who passed his license examination, and must post a bond. The responsible individual tends to shoot down sleazy ideas like building something below code to save money. He knows from his license exam that he faces license suspension/revocation, which effectively kills his company and can follow him to future companies.
    4. Apply Civil Asset Forfeiture to computers used in Freenet. An enforcement firm could connect to Freenet, identify at least one node, and subpoena the customer info from the ISP. A special police task force could drive around following a list and confiscating computers. The operation would more than pay for itself. Remember, no court proceeding is needed for CAF. The officer just has to believe that the asset was used in the commission of a crime.
    Anyhow, as the article author points out, the way to protect Freenet from all that is to get the general public on our side. Simply flaunting our allegedly superior technology invites the techno-illiterates to haul out the big guns.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray