Networking

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.

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