Pontifex Uniensis

Some reposts from Ken Perkle:

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Outside of small islands, the most internetted nations in Africa are Tunisia (34% of the population), Morocco (33%), Nigeria (29%), Egypt (21%), Algeria (15%). Egypt has more total internet users than New England; Tunisia and Algeria each have more than Massachusetts.

Implied causality? Easy enough to check. Let’s give the rest of the world access to free, uncensored internet, and see what kind of governments they demand for themselves.

(Statistics sourced from the “Africa Internet, Broadband and Digital Media Statistics Report,” released 30 June 2010)

-me

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As of 2006, around 99% of intercontinental telecommunications relied on submarine cables, which are massive engineering efforts and require the sort of resources that only massive corporate consortia with government involvement have been able to muster. The internet is not in principle “free”* or “uncensored” as long as these bottlenecks exist and make it fundamentally dependent on global capitalism (and the goodwill of organizations, namely navies, with the means to destroy cables).

This doesn’t really affect your thesis, in practice, but it does mean that freetards and the like should get off of their high horses; the internet exists at the whim of capitalism and states and my bet is that, at least for the for[e]seeable future, that’s all she wrote re: that one.

*as in speech, not as in beer

-Hrothicles

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RESPONDIBAT ILLA:

I can think that a force of people and organizations might do a great deal of good, in this world, by providing alternative networks of information exchange (an “alternet” if you will). But such would require a considerable capital investment, to say nothing of time, effort, and trying not to get the-most-cigarettes’d by They-That-Be.

Most of the people who discuss such a thing do so in a pipe-dream crack-pipe-dream flight-of-fancy kind of way: in the same way that certain friends of mine (their names be Legion!) would, when faced with anything to which they objected amongst collegiate bureaucracy, insist that they were going to go and start their own college. You know. After they graduated.

HOWEVER, I would think that a person, an individual, such as one-of-ourselves, might do a great deal of good by helping to subvert the regulations placed upon extant networks (either our own, or other networks, viz. Cairo, Teheran, Damascus… also Sidney, Beijing, Mazatlan, and arguably Kennebunkport).

How, you might ask?

There exist three ways to effect communication* between nations** within extant, regulated networks***. They are as follows:

1) ENCRYPTION – protect the contents of messages

The simplest to understand. The message’s contents cannot be read. As to particular methods, please refer to your friendly neighborhood cryptoanarchist – or just PGP harder.

Benefits: Nobody will know what you’re saying. Hopefully.

Drawbacks: They will know that something was said. Most likely that *you* said it, and to whom, and when, and from where, and to where. Thus a considerable amount of information was conveyed – quite possibly more, and more damaging, than the contents of the message itself.

2) OBFUSCATION – hide the existence of messages

Benefits: With encryption, it prevents the conveyance of near *any* information from Party 1 or Party 2 to Party 3, where Party 3 is a communist party, or perpetual-revolution fascist party, or tea party, or whatnot.

Drawbacks: a message, or sender/sendee, might strive for this sort of perfect purity, but as any information theorist (Shannontard?) can tell you, it will approach this omega-point asymptotically at best. As any cryptard will tell you, it will not get that close to this point under real-world circumstances – and how near or far it has gotten requires a) significant observation and analysis of the opposition (itself an information-providing activity), and b) hella tonfucks of prayer.

3) REDIRECTION – moving the communication from a monitored/limited/controlled network to one which is not so regulated – either a different network (in the case of the Internet, a different part of the global network), or an alternative/clandestine network that exists within, or upon, the extant network.

N.B. – the creation of a second-order network, which is beyond the (direct) control of those who oversee the network upon which it is based.

Benefits: Can be accomplished fairly easily with freely-available software and only a lay understanding of das Blinkenlights. Provides lesser or greater amounts of freedom and privacy, depending upon how much you want to work at it. Generally speaking, this is a cloud effort, so the more people who use it, the better it will work.

Drawbacks: Not an absolute measure. Cannot be truly relied upon: even an advanced user (or network of such users) in a favorable situation are still relying upon Other People’s Networks for their communications. An internet killswitch would turn off their communications as surely as Joe the Tube-Plumber’s. Depending upon the jurisdiction, such redirections might be themselves illicit.

Also:

Linus’s Law: Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow.

To phrase it in lay English: the more people there are debugging, as in a piece of software, the fewer bugs will remain hidden, or unresolved

(this is really just a special-case implementation of General Equilibrium Theory)

the caveat with this is that one person’s “bug” might be another person’s “backdoor” – or even, “backdoor that allows me to circumvent internet regulation and engage in free speech.”

RATHER: we are the bugs, and the eyes are watching us.

SO: the more eyes there are, the less opportunity there is for deviation (obviously)

AND BUT SO ALSO: the more bugs there are, or the more noticeable their effects, the more eyes will be tasked to watching (and ‘solving’) them

ERGO: “Given enough bugs, all eyes will open” – Daxel’s Corollary to Linus’s Law

this might mean a dramatic reassessment of design principles (as in Microsoft eying Vista), or a curtailing of freedoms in the case of prognosticated necessity (preventing the average citizen from buying plutonium at the 7-11) or subsequent ‘necessity’ (the bug of September 11th into the shallow-making of personal freedom that was The Patriot Act – quite a patch, even for a very large bug)

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?

All second-order networks can be compromised, b&, or in other way indirectly (or directly) integrated into the (regulated) first-order network – and are more likely to be so v& in direct proportion to the number of users they have, and the impact which their use occasions.

THEREFORE:

      1. Keep such networks as small as possible
      2. Make sure there are as many as possible
      3. Make sure that anything substantive which is going to be accomplished is done entirely by one small network, which can be easily sacrificed
      4. Basically all the principles for cell-based revolutionary activity in the predigital age apply
      5. @ which fact I am not at all surprised.

O wise Daxel, can you give us an example of such a network?

Sure. The Tor network. It has lots of people who use it, it’s public, it’s well-known, it’s world-wide.

Are there problems with the network?

All its benefits are also problems. It has lots of people who use it, any of whom might be monitoring your communications (or being monitored themselves).

What are the alternatives?

Well, smaller, private networks – but all the advantages they have over Tor (reliability of members, ability to enforce higher security standards) are also disadvantages (more limited obfuscatory abilities; any breach of security in a private communications network is a thousand times more damaging to the individuals involved than any breach in the privacy of a large distributed public network)

What do they all have in common?

They take the existing framework (the tubes) and create a second, protected (or non-protected, depending on your POV) network thereupon.

How do they work?

Well. Let me provide you a few related examples:

1) Most people in your area have cars, so tax dollars are set aside to making roads. You choose to use these roads to ride your bicycle. You may not even be paying taxes on these roads – you certainly aren’t paying excise tax on the bike. You are making use of existing infrastructure for unintended purposes – but hardly illegal purposes. Your presence is known and tolerated by the community, your non-paying use of the network factored in to their budgetary calculations. In some communities, your alternative use of the network might even, eventually, be regulated – say by helmet laws, or the like.

ANALYSIS: This is an ‘alternative’ use of the existing network, but it is neither clandestine nor illicit. The more popular it becomes, the more well-regulated it becomes: from helmet laws to bike taxes to the development of bike-paths, which are themselves a dedicated sub-network away from the primary network.

EXTENDED METAPHOR:

A person driving in a car from Point A to Point B is a person on an unsecured network surfing the net.

Two people communication through encrypted means – ssh-tunneling, e.g. – are like two bicyclists riding in the shadows in a city where there are no other cyclists. Unless someone’s really looking, they’ll never know they’re there. And if someone does stop one of the cyclists, he still won’t be able to identify him; he’ll know there’s a guy on a cycle, but his face will be forever hidden in shadows.

The Tor network is more like a series of rooftop bridges. The bridges go from rooftop to rooftop all over the city. Sometimes they cross a narrow alley, sometimes they cross a whole city block. They’re always getting raised and lowered, so navigating them is like navigating a maze: slow, slow, and fucking slow. But as a whole these bridges are their own entire grid, far removed from the cars below, and all the laws that regulate cars.

On the one hand, the more people who let bridges go across their roofs, the faster the cyclists can go. On the other hand, the more people who do that, the more likely you are to accidentally ride past a guy holding a camera – he’ll take your picture if you’re not encrypted, and even if you are he can still try to follow you to your destination, from which he can attempt to deduce your identity through good old-fashioned detective work.

Now, some examples-by-variation:

2A) Your area has a well-developed sewage system. It costs $100 a month to get hooked up to it. Instead of doing this, you could “work locally” with a septic tank (or whatnot). Or you could still be “part of the network” for free – by doing all your, y’know, business, in the public restrooms at the local town offices. Sure, if would be really slow, but it would save you $1200 a year. In doing so you would be taking advantage of the system – doing so legally, even ethically, certainly without harming anyone. But on the other hand, if more people started doing what you do, they’d likely change the rules so that people (including you) could no longer rely on public facilities. Otherwise the people who were paying wouldn’t be able, in their entirety, the sewage system’s upkeep, and it would collapse, screwing over everyone with a butt. As such, this subversion of the extant network is perfectly feasible – but not mass-sustainable.

ANALYSIS: If everyone used Tor, it would be much faster, more reliable, more distributed. BUT, it would also be more likely to be infiltrated… and, above all, more likely to be regulated. Remember kids: if everyone uses the alternative, it’s no longer the alternative. If every person in the world used Tor, it would be very little different from if nobody used it.

2B) You run an exotic flower shop. You make a good living out of it. You pay taxes and everything. But some of the flowers you grow are really poisonous. Instead of throwing them in the garbage, and risking them getting into the local ecosystem, you decide to flush them down the toilet. It’s perfectly legal – they are organic, biodegradable matter, and so flushing them is agreeable to the Terms of Service for the neighborhood shit system – and you know that their toxins will be broken down in sewage treatment, so nobody will be harmed. You are taking the existing poop-network and using it for an unintended, but acceptable (and beneficial) purpose. You have hacked the network. YOU HAVE HACKED THE POOP.

ANALYSIS: You’re making very little impact on the large network, you’re harming nobody, you’re breaking no laws. Nothing you do is forcing the network to react. Likely it shall not.

2C) You’re running a meth lab. You launder the money you bring in. You pay taxes on it. As a result, you are paying into the system which gives you such things as sewage treatment. But the police are outside. They are about to raid your house. So you flush all the incriminating evidence down the toilet. The sewage system isn’t designed for such things. In fact, using it for such purposes is assuredly illegal.

ANALYSIS: The only difference between the flower-shop and the meth-lab is that one is adjudged illegal. Therefore, if you do succeed in flushing all the evidence and you walk away from a lengthy prison sentence, you have just demonstrated that the network can be used for illegal purposes. The network will react. The DA whose charge you beat will make sure of it. As will the DEA. Possibly also other meth dealers who wanted your ass in jail. Next time, expect to be hit with a wiretap. On your sewer.

The way to be more safe would be to establish your own sewage network for disposing of illicit goods. The problems of establishing a private, clandestine network of sewage pipes are Legion. They are about comparable with establishing a private, clandestine communications network.

The only way you could possibly make meth-flushing as safe as flower-flushing… would be to get meth declared legal.

Remember, kids: the best arguments in favor of privacy are those which state that there are no good arguments against them. You can rattle on as long as you’d like about the founding fathers and moral obligation… but at the moment, the governments of this world (of the US in particular) are empowered by their citizenry to stop certain exchanges of information. Talking about bombs, for example, is taboo – yes, just talking about them. The words, not the acts, are illegal. As a result, you, you, are right now empowering your government to police words. They will continue to do so, so long as you tell them you want them to.

As to whether it is worth reclaiming our freedom of privacy, and of expression in exchange for making discussions of all topics legal, that is a question I am not in a position to address. Yet I should point out, in the interest of fairness, that any such rules which restrict my freedom I WILL IGNORE.

And I will get away with it.

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~ by davekov on 15 April 2011.

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