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Internet freedom: Why we must throw off our online shackles

Each society and goverment wants to block access to something on the internet - but it's becoming increasingly futile to try.

Written in my garden on a cool autumn morning and despatched to TechRepublic at 40Mbps over a recently installed 5GHz community wi-fi network.

Every country and culture is different, but all share a common societal and government trait: the control and filtering of information and services.

In the most extreme regimes we see the blocking of the telephone, internet, radio, TV, and satellite services from the free world.

In the UK, during the dying days of the last UK government, Lord Mandelson championed legislation designed to protect copyright holders from infringements. There have been strong suggestions that this legislation was initiated by the music and movie lobby. It placed a costly onus on ISPs to control access to sites and download of content.

Apps that bypass all controls

So, did it work and did anything happen as a result? Not really. The law has been subject to a number of setbacks and repeated delays. Whatever ISP compliance ends up like, there now numerous downloadable apps enabling users to bypass all controls. Typically, these tools simply parse data and code it into handy chunks' that are unidentifiable as music or movie components.

Given that every digital-rights management scheme worldwide has failed to be effective, it is astonishing that anyone would think that this UK scheme would succeed. For sure, the Digital Economy Act looks unlikely to affect anyone's ability to download anything.

And now we have a new UK lobby destined to repeat this experience. This time the issue is viewing and downloading pornography. Will they win? No. Will they waste a lot of time and money? Yes.

If individuals and small companies can fashion multiple ways of bypassing digital rights regulations, imagine what the wealth and creativity of the sex industry can achieve.

No such problems appear to exist in the USA, but don't try to serve American citizens access to gambling services legitimately provided for EU residents. The IRS takes a dim view, as does the legal system.

Failure of online restrictions

And in China people sometimes have difficulty accessing Western sites and services. But do any of these controls really work? No. A simple IP tunnel provides an elegant solution and there are plenty of service providers to choose from.

There are also a number of anonymity and peer group applications and network applications available that render users invisible.

If there is a moral here, it is that all attempts to control information are futile because people and technology will always find a way to circumvent them.

Information strives to be free, and people have a fundamental right to access it at will. If restrictions are to be applied they have to be at the end terminals under the control of the users.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

17 comments
peter
peter

At what point would you stop everything - and who is fit and capable to make decisions ahead of experience and discovery? Progress demands freedom, and that involves risk...it always has and it always will...it is the nature of discovery and man also...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

"So you should be able steal peoples stuff and force children to watch someone have oral sex with their pet" Same people who bleat and decry chinese and Iranian censorship of waht they deem to be acceptable content. Same people who for gain are quite happy to force their messages down our optic and aural nerves, and see nothing wrong with it. F'ing hyprocrites, I bet a lot of them were the one blowing fido, just didn't know their home video had somehow got onto you tube. Technologically feasible. No! Legally enforcable, not without a world government. Commercially lucrative to by pass, absoflippinglutley Enforced on the rich and powerful, do not make me larf. Ethical, No. Moral, well I don't know. These your morals, mine, a commitee's ? This is about control, nothing else.

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

... is not some altruistic protection of intellectual property of *individuals*. It's designed to protect - or even used as a weapon by - big business. "My prediction is to watch out for an attack on creative commons licences." I tend to agree with you, Phil - even though so much FOSS has entered into the mainstream - there will always be those who want to say: "MINE! I stole this fair-n-square..."

philculmer
philculmer

It's an old maxim that the Internet interprets censorship as a fault and routes around it. However, as futile as their efforts online are, the right wing and big industry will continue their drive to encroach on individual freedoms, and extract as much money as they can. My prediction is to watch out for an attack on creative commons licences.

lastchip
lastchip

So why can't idiot politicians see it? Perhaps it to do with the cash they receive from "interested" parties, whether personally, or through party funds. Corruption is rife and all around us.

peter
peter

Control, or the desire to control, could be the ultimate evil....freedom is never free and always has to be fought for !

peter
peter

Seems to be the way....but perhaps the plovers of freedom will outsmart and outflank such efforts by creating a parallel world...

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

that it's designed from the ground up to find a way around anything in its path and create a connection so the communication can get through. So is it any wonder it gets around attempts to stop data movement?

peter
peter

Good observation - and you are probably right!

peter
peter

How about an education and experience cycle that goes: school, college, university, political researcher, politician....no real world experiences !!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The Freedom to do what? I agree with Tony just because it's possible to do something doesn't mean it has to be done. For instance would you like the step by step directions on how to build a Dirty Uranium Bomb and how to deploy it in your city to be available On Line with the source of the materials? The same applies to forcing little Johny to watch his pet cat Fluffy getting Porked on the Internet in front of him before he is abused. I don't really believe Peter that you subscribe to the idea that the Kid was asking for it so why should you sprout this garbage? Col

peter
peter

All ecologies are built/grow bottom up...there has never been an instance of a top down build that has worked or been sustainable...and this is true of biology and man made systems...

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

a certain way and will always do so. Like a foam rubber cushion, no matter how much you twist it, it will return to its original shape once you let go. With the Internet the underlying structure will not only return to the original shape, it also actively fights certain types of twisting - and all by design.