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Obama's Internet Coup d'état

December 2, 2010 by admin

The NY Times broke an important story Monday morning. Under the title U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet, it said:

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions...

It certainly does. It raises a lot of questions. Salon was more blunt in their summation:

In other words, the U.S. Government is taking exactly the position of the UAE and the Saudis: no communications are permitted to be beyond the surveillance reach of U.S. authorities.

The more technical CNET News reported it this way:

The Obama administration will seek a new federal law forcing Internet e-mail, instant-messaging, and other communication providers offering encryption to build in backdoors for law enforcement surveillance, The New York Times reported today.

Communication providers, apparently including companies that offer voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, would be compelled to reconfigure their systems so that police could be guaranteed access to descrambled information.

It could become illegal for a company to offer completely secure encrypted communications--through a protocol such as ZRTP, for instance--if its customers held the keys and the provider did not.

Well, I've got news for Obama's Internet Police, as long as we have network neutrality and I can control the computers on both ends of a connection, I can use widely available Open Source tools like IPSec to be as secure as I want to be, and only I will have the key. I have been doing this for years between my notebook and my home network because I know that the wireless WEP/WPA encryption provided by the 802.11 devices is trivial. I can also send email that my ISP can't read. Now Obama proposes to make what I have been doing for a decade illegal. In short, Obama's Internet plans can't work without criminalizing privacy guards that have been available to Internet users for decades and making those who refuse to go along with it criminals.

In a number of my earlier diaries, I raised the question of just what Trojan Horse Meat they were putting into the Net Neutrality Sausage they were cooking up for us. I have shown that one of the proposed "secret ingredients" was enhanced copyright enforcement, today we know that it is much worst than that. The very fabric of the Internet, along with the advancement and freedoms it has given us are now directly threatened.

This is also going to be very costly. There is the question of all those wasted CPU cycles. In our digital age, the total computer processing power of a country can be considered a major factor in that country's vitality. But it depends on what you do with all your processors. And while the U.S. has more CPU power than any other country by a long shot, that doesn't mean we have it to waste. This move means that a big proportion of this country's CPU power will not be available to design new drugs, predict Earthquakes, advance education, science and the arts, because it will be needed to spy on our citizens. As Susan Landau, a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study fellow and former Sun Microsystems engineer, points out, the same math holds true for our technical talent pool: “Every engineer who is developing the wiretap system is an engineer who is not building in greater security, more features, or getting the product out faster,”

Again, from the NY Times article:

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.

“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

That last comment is a particularly telling one given that certain so-called advocates of Net Neutrality such as Free Press have been loudly banging the drums to have the FCC protect Net Neutrality by re-classifying the Internet under the Communications Act of 1934. How convenient for them!

Again just last Thursday, Free Press staged an event at the FCC's meeting to demand that they takeover the Internet:

“We’ve tried all the traditional methods, including petitions, comments and phone calls, to tell the FCC to protect Net Neutrality, so this time we decided to resort to tastier tactics,” said Craig Aaron, managing director of Free Press. “The public can’t afford to wait much longer for the FCC to stop waffling and move forward on enacting real Net Neutrality rules to ensure that the Internet remains open for everyone.”

Open indeed! I have already made my detailed critique of the Free Press position that:

The FCC Should Classify Broadband Internet Connectivity as a Telecommunications Service Under the Communications Act and Pair that Determination with Tailored Forbearance.

I would only add that now we know what "Tailored Forbearance" will mean. When I talked to Jenn Ettinger of Free Press on Monday, they didn't yet have a position on these new attacks on Internet freedom. Let's hope they have one soon.

I would also ask the reader to re-examine the attacks on Google launched by Free Press because of the Google/Verizon proposal on network neutrality in light of Obama's plans for the Internet. I have said elsewhere why I think their proposal has merit and is not deserving of the bashing it received. Now consider this: Given Google's history of fiercely opposing government spying, they could easily be named 'large corporation most likely to oppose Obama's Internet plans.' For example, when the Bush Administration demanded people's search data from AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google in 2006, only Google refused to comply and brought the whole matter to light of day. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might even suspect that the campaign against Google was something of a preempted strike by the principal enemies of Internet freedom.

On Friday, Derek Turner of Free Press argued before the FCC:

The FCC chairman himself, based on his own statements, knows exactly what these meaningful rules should look like, but so far he hasn’t taken actions needed to achieve his own and President Obama’s vision of Net Neutrality. So it’s time for this FCC chairman to stop dithering. And that means him taking the action to restore his agency’s own authority to protect Internet users, and then enacting strong and enforceable Net Neutrality rules to protect all consumers online.

First off, let us be clear. This whole debate around Net Neutrality and the FCC is about giving the Federal gov't powers it doesn't now have and have never had on the Internet. It is disingenuous for Derek Tuner to talk about "restoring" the FCC's authority, unless he is talking about restoring the type of control exercised by the government when telephone was king. Are these people fools or tools?

The infrastructure changes that are being demanded are hugely expensive, both in terms of initial capital outlay, and especially ongoing costs. The Internet works as well as it does because every node forwards a data packet that comes to it to the next node on it's journey to it's destination without fear or favor. That is the essence of network neutrality. They don't have to be tracked so there is little in the way of accounting costs. All that will change if Obama has his way.

Michael A. Sussmann, a former Justice Department lawyer who advises communications providers warns “Implementation would be a huge technology and security headache, and the investigative burden and costs will shift to providers.” Which means that those huge costs will ultimately be shifted to the Internet user with the government's blessing. When your government spies on you, you have to pay for it too.

The need for this gross and expensive intrusion into our Internet privacy is of course justified in the name of national security. The story is that they need these powers to investigate terrorists. Just how broadly they are coming to define the "terrorist threat" is shown by Friday's unprecedented FBI raids against anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. Most played a leading role in the 2008 GOP convention protests. Now they are being investigated, after having their computers and cell phones taken, for "providing material support to terrorism."

These new 'national security' requirements that the Internet is to be saddled with coincide nicely with something else that is going on. On Slashdot last Monday, Gov TechGuy writes:

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee unveiled new legislation to combat online piracy on Monday that gives the Department of Justice more power to shut down websites trafficking in pirated movies, films or counterfeit goods. The new bill would give the government the authority to shut down the sites with a court order; the site owner would have to petition the court to have it lifted. The judge would have final say over whether a site should be shut down or not. Business groups including the US Chamber of Commerce hailed the legislation as a huge step forward.

Some of the comments to this blog post ran:

...shut down websites trafficking in ... counterfeit goods
Bye Bye EBAY, and good riddance

to which Anonymous Coward replied:

The government isnt going to shut down sites backed by the almighty $$$
But your movie blog is gone the first time you give a bad review.
Your political forum is shut down the first time some kid quotes 1984.
Etc, etc..

before Ed111 added, on a more serious note:

Yes.......... but how?

When a website is "taken down" on a U.S based server that does not mean it is dead. Far from it. What happened was the hosting company shut it down due the court order. There are some hosting companies that will refuse based on principles.

Now let's say that the site owner is risking contempt of court if they move the website out of the U.S jurisdiction. Maybe they will get the site started up under somebody else? Sell all the corporate assets to a foreign company for $1.

I guess what I am getting at, is that shutting down a website has not been incredibly effective when the principles involved and hosting is not inside the U.S. Just how long will it take before the Justice Department can get a court order to interfere with the DNS records of allegedly infringing websites?

Manipulation and control over the DNS is what is ultimately required to do anything effective. This law will just drive all the businesses outside of the U.S, just like the DMCA has driven a lot of businesses outside as well.

It will be DNS too, since the Great Firewall of Freedom will be more expensive then the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined and even less effective.

Talk about a wonderful day for hosting providers huh?

This is the kind of thing that happens as empires decay.

Manipulation and control over the DNS is what is ultimately required to do anything effective.

This is a most important "technical" detail because ultimately for the U.S. government to be successful in enforcing these controls on the Internet it must either wrestle control of the root domain name servers [DNS] from the international ngo's that have been running them, ICANN and InterNIC, or corrupt those organizations to it's will. That is why I think it fair to call this a coup d'état and nothing less than an attempt by the U.S. government to takeover the Internet.

These new Internet laws will do more than just run ISPs and websites off-shore. It will run Internet innovation and software development to places were liberty is still loved as well. If these new federal laws force any restrictions or requirements on to the software developers, as it is reported they do, and indeed must do, if they are to work, they will be in complete contradiction to the Free Software & Open Source movements [OSS]. For those that came late to the party, OSS is literally the software that runs the Internet. It runs Facebook, it runs the DailyKos, it does all the email forwarding and DNS searches. It gave us Linux and Apache and Perl and Google and Android. It has been the goose that laid the golden egg in the world of Internet innovation. Obama's plans will kill the goose, at least in the U.S.

The very foundations of OSS mandate that no such government restrictions can be forced on software and no closed source 'hooks' can be forced on the open source world. The Free Software Foundation lists 'free from restriction' as the first condition of free software. If Obama's Internet becomes law, it will criminalize all those who 'keep the faith' of the Free Software Movement. As some of the OSS community has already been forced offshore because of U.S. government copyright enforcement, now many more will leave the U.S. in an effort to preserve what Open Source theorist Eric Raymond called our freedom to write software that doesn't suck? Maybe Linus Torvalds will move back to Finland so he doesn't have to worry about the Fed telling him he must include this and that in the Linux kernel. Their gain will certainly be our lost.

While I expect some members of this community will fold under the pressure the Federal government will bring to bear, I know many others that will resist the destruction of freedom on the Internet and our freedom to write software without restrictions.

Speaking as one of the peons, let me say we have labored, in some cases more than a quarter century, to build the Internet as a tool for human liberation, and to do this we have build organizations that I believe represent the absolute best in international cooperation and a body of excellent software, freely available to all, that has made the dream of instant, multimedia, global, lowcost and secure communications a reality. We will not go quietly into that goodbye!

We will apply First Amendment Remedies! We will write code that can't be cracked and exploits that can't be tracked. As another Slashdoter commented:

All the more reason to move over to I2P, or other general darknets, which can provide application-agnostic anonymous networking with end-to-end encryption. Why wait for the inevitable when we can build a secure internet on top of the old one?

I love the Free Software Movement. Before we submit we'll build virtual communities underground, buried deep in the Internet. we'll communicate via encrypted tunnels. We'll live like the Viet Cong in Cu Chi, a whole city underground while the enemy patrols just over our heads, except in this case maybe it's the other way 'round, and we're just a little bit over their heads!

Welcome to the Matrix. Good night and Good luck!

Here is a recap of my other DKos dairies on this subject:
Julian Assange on Threat to Internet Freedom
FCC Net Neutrality's Trojan Horse
Free Press: Country Codes for the Internet?
The Mountain comes to Mohammad
Keith Olbermann's Deception
Court rules -> Google Must Be Evil & Maximize Profits
EFF on the Google\Verizon Net Neutrality Proposal
Google-Verizon: What is the Free Press Agenda?
End of the Internet As We Know It!
Free Press would make this Illegal!
Google Verizon Announce Terms of Deal

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