Saturday, January 29, 2011

The real fight over the Internet...

Several coincidental (or maybe not) developments underscore the growing importance and vulnerability of the Internet in virtually every aspect of modern life. 

First, from Egypt, note the usual pattern of capturing the TV and radio stations was preempted by a government shutdown of the nations ISP's. 
The domino-like takedown of the ISPs indicated the government didn't have a master shutoff switch, but ordered each company to flip their in-house switches.
"This sequencing looks like people getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to take themselves off the air," James Cowie, chief technology officer for Renesys, said in the company's blog. "Not an automated system that takes all providers down at once; instead, the incumbent leads and other providers follow meekly one by one until Egypt is silenced."
Vodafone Egypt issued a statement saying all mobile phone operators had been ordered to suspend services in selected areas. "Under Egyptian legislation, the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it," the company said.
The Egyptian government is not the first to shutdown the Internet during political unrest. The Burmese government ordered a takedown in September 2007, and Nepal severed all international Internet connections after the government declared martial law in February 2005.
The fewer the ISPs, the easier it is for governments to impose a blockade. Burma, for example, had only two ISPs in 2007. Shutting down the Internet in developed nations, such as the U.S., would be far more difficult, if not impossible, because of the many ISPs operating in the countries with networks linked to other networks inside and outside the borders, experts say. [More]
Now stay with me, as one commenter thinks this presages a new pattern for - of all things - the NFL.
Facebook and Twitter may get credit for changing the face of northern Africa and I'll go out on a limb and say they'll play a huge part in the dissolution of another global force: the NFL Players Union.
      No one wants to talk about a possible lock-out and the threat of a football-free autumn of 2011, especially not around here as the Packers are poised to take on the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.   That's fine, because a trip to the Big Game is a rare and wonderful thing, something to be savored and not sullied with labor pains.
      But once the last piece of confetti hits the Cowboy Stadium field, the NFL will shift it's focus not to preparing for a new season but making sure there IS a new season.    Owners opted out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, claiming players salaries are cutting way too far into their profits.    Players defend the status quo, saying that there is no game without them and that they should be paid accordingly.    Owners will say that they can't go on like this, not when so many teams need new stadiums to compete.    Players will say all that they want to do    A lockout looms in early March.
      That's when the fun will begin, especially among the rank and file.
      More and more players are taking to Facebook and Twitter, supposedly to clue friends and followers in on how they feel about the events of the moment.    What some DON'T realize is how far their words reach in a digital word.  [More]
Our current hold-our-nose partnership with Mideast dictators to help counter terrorism suddenly is put in different light when juxtaposed next to the Obama administration position on Net Freedom.

Now comes the test. The Internet Freedom Agenda may have just undermined an ugly pillar of the U.S.’ Mideast strategy — supporting dictators — without doing much to aid the discontented millions that might replace it. While Obama tepidly calls on Mubarak to let people keep tweeting, Egyptian protesters may want the U.S. ”to completely get out of the picture,” as one told al-Jazeera. “Just cut aid to Mubarak immediately and withdraw backing from him, withdraw from all Middle Eastern bases, and stop supporting the state of Israel.”
That’s exactly what Mubarak never demanded — and why the U.S. fears what comes next. ”The traditional debate is that we’re willing to use these tyrants because they’re useful,” explains Marc Lynch, a George Washington University political scientist. “But if we continue to see developments like those we’ve seen over the last couple weeks, if they can’t hold on to power, it doesn’t matter if they’re useful in counterterrorism.”
Not that the U.S. did much to persuade Egyptian protesters it’s on their side. The Obama team “could have come a lot stronger, prevented the Egyptian government from the crackdown on Internet communication, but they didn’t,” says Sherif Mansour from the human-rights group Freedom House. That makes Obama look either impotent or callous.

And it shows the Internet Freedom Agenda to be a dodge. The heart of the issue is whether the U.S. actually sides with the protests spreading around the Arab world — first Tunisia, now Egypt, and in Jordan and Yemen as well. Asking Mubarak to bring back the Internet pales in comparison to the annual $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid he receives. [More]
But even in the face of such demonstrations of the exploding power of the Internet, so-called Big Government haters can't wait to make it another arm of a domestic police state.
Thanks to the GOP takeover of the House, the odds of such legislation advancing have markedly increased. The new chairman of the House Judiciary committee is Lamar Smith of Texas, who previously introduced a data retention bill. Sensenbrenner, the new head of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, had similar plans but never introduced legislation. (It's not purely a partisan issue: Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, was the first to announce such a proposal.)
Police and prosecutors are the biggest backers of data retention. FBI director Robert Mueller has saidsaid last year that Mueller supports storing Internet users' "origin and destination information," meaning logs of which Web sites are visited. that forcing companies to store those records about users would be "tremendously helpful in giving us a historic basis to make a case" in investigations, especially child porn cases. An FBI attorney
And the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which will be sending a representative to tomorrow's hearing, previously adopted a resolution (PDF) calling for a "uniform data retention mandate" for "customer subscriber information and source and destination information." The group said today in an e-mail exchange that it still supports that resolution.
Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the free-market Cato Institute, says the push for legislation is an example of pro-regulatory Republicans. "Republicans were put in power to limit the size and scope of the federal government," Harper said. "And they're working to grow the federal government, increase its intrusiveness, and I fail to see where the Fourth Amendment permits the government to require dragnet surveillance of Internet users."[More]
It is curious to me that in the litmus test for socialist downsliding how a health insurance mandate is a hideous theft of our rights, but tapping my computer is prudent behavior enforcement.  This action, along with others will reveal that the Tea Party activists have been naive tools, IMHO. [Kudos to Cato for calling them out, BTW]

Back on topic, I think all of us, and especially the rural community where communication faces different hurdles, better pay more attention to seemingly abstruse Internet control debates and regs. We could find ourselves in a world where the most power tools for popular redress and opinion are dangerously at risk. It will involve homework we don't want to do and relationships with people very unlike us, but we have several dogs in this fight.

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