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nettime: Censorship and the principles of the Net
Felipe Rodriquez on Thu, 26 Sep 96 08:37 METDST


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nettime: Censorship and the principles of the Net


Dear Declan and other friends,

I'm sending this message to some other friends, to get some
discussion going. Please confront me with your opinions. If
you find the principles and ideas in this message interesting,
then please discuss them further among your friends and peers,
and with me.

Declan wrote:
> >Today a new censorship initiative will be announced. I fear that the
> >industry is responding with an overbroad scheme that is *worse* than
> >what the government could impose if they had to rely on the
> >courts. It's also provincial -- if the Brits launch a cancelbot on
> >Usenet, will overseas news servers honor the cancel messages? Finally,
> >this material is alredy illegal to possess under British law...

If the British start a cancelbot, they will get the UDP, Usenet
Death Penalty. It will not be accepted if they start cancelling
messages, so other netizens will effectuate a UDP on them. UDP
cancels all messaged of a specific provider or group of providers.
Any Internet-user or provider can in theory execute a UDP. But
in reality a UDP would only be possible after a broad consensus
on the Net. A UDP without consensus would be dealt with quickly
by the the entire Net community. If someone deliberately starts
cancelling messages on the Net, then the international Net
community _will_ react in an agressive way. This is a predictable
event, a spontaneaous reaction by the netizens. Net sociology.
There is a great risk when countries start censoring the
wrong way, blunt cancelling or blocking. The counter reaction is
as strong as the censoring energy. We'll get to know a new concept,
information warfare. Netizens will start attacking organisations that
attack the freedoms of expression in an international and negative way.
If England starts cancelling internatiobal messages on Usenet, expect
there to be a huge counter-energy from the netizens. These are basic
principles and can be predicted.

I think the hotline they just created in England is a good idea. We
created the first hotline in Holland, and it solved a lot of problems
for the dutch Net community. Our government was very worried about
certain things on the Net, especially abusive kiddyporn . This concern was
caused by the press. The media kept on going about these
supposedly 'huge problems' on Internet. If nothing would have happened,
the government would have implemented legislation much broader than
just combatting kiddyporn on the Net. It'd probably be unworkable and
stupid legislation, because our politicians know little about the
mindblowing changes of the Net. Some people in power are enlightened,
but most of them have no idea about the principles of the
information-era. The infoconomy is beyond the conservative principles
of the Old World (some call the Old World a New World Order...), the
top-down system. The infoconomy is object oriented. Infoconomy is a
derivate of information economy. But information does not necessarily equal money anymore , thus infoconomy is better than information economy.

I created the first hotline on the Net, in Holland, first as an idea,
then as a group of people, and finally as a reality. I invited the
ISP's to participate in the project, a couple of internet users, a
remailer operator, a specialist on Internet from the criminal research
bureau and the bureau against racial discrimination. Lateron a
psychologist was invited by one of the participators in the project.
The prime object is to prevent abusive kiddyporn pictures from being
posted from Holland. The people are participating in the project are
all immersed in the Net, and know the internet technology very well.

The hotline in the Netherlands is a warning system, it does not censor.
We receive a complaint about a person that has posted abusive kiddyporn.
The hotline does not go out and find this stuff itselfe, but relies on
netizens that report a crime. The hotline works only with the local
law. The local law is only applicable in our own country. We can only
work against authors of criminal things that are obviously from the
Netherlands. If a dutch author on the Net posts abuse-kiddyporn, as
defined by dutch law, then that person may get a warning from the dutch
hotline. The hotline will tell the person to remove the illegal
content, and will inform the person about the local law, including the
prison sentence that the person could get. If the content is not
removed, then the hotline reports the author to the authorities. Here
the work of the hotline ends, after this the responsibility shifts to
the Government. They will ultimately have to deal with the author.
Ofcourse all authors respond by removing the kiddyporn content. They
don't like the risk of being persecuted by their own government, so
they'll stop. If the author does not remove it, the Government takes over
and deals with the case. The hotline cannot censor the user, or
disconnect anyone from the Net. It can only report things.

We're currently discussing within the dutch hotline if a warning
can also be sent to a foreign provider. This would only make sense
if the information is illegal in that other country.
A hotline system only works for something that is illegal
locally, but also forbidden globally. If childabuse-pornography would be
tolerated somewhere in the world, then the authors would
virtually migrate to that part of the world. It is very
easy to change country and identity on the Net. Just get your feed from
another provider elsewhere, no problem at all. But abuse-kiddyporn
publishing is illegal everywhere, so it can be dealt with
internationally. Netizens and providers in other countries are now
thinking about setting up similar hotlines like the one in the
Netherlands. In England they opened a similar system. In Belgium
they're working on a similar idea, i'm sharing our dutch experiences
with them. In Ireland people are also getting interested in the hotline
idea. If the hotline works, and has a truly positive effect, then it
will be used by other communities. If it is stupid censorship, then
most countries will not implement the same principles, and thus the
problem a hotline tries to solve would never be solved on 
an international Net scale. Anything that is available anywhere on the
Net is always available to everyone on the Net. There is no way to
really prevent getting into Net access points, one can always use the
phonesystem and call into ISP's in other countries. I heard that a lot
of Saoudi Arabians dialin to Lebanese providers to avoid rigid Saudi
censorship. It proves that even the most rigid system of censorship can
easily be avoided on the Net. You just use a proxy, telnet, an
international dialin and a hundred other ways to access a service in
another country. Borders are crossed so quickly, they cease to exist for
information.

Internet cannot be defined nationally, there's thousands of access
points, around the world. Someone in China can easily diguise in a US
personality. A German can easily dialup a dutch ISP. Borders are
fading, information trancends borders. It's no problem to get a
newsfeed elsewhere. No problem at all to access blocked webpages
through an open proxy or anonymizer. It is impossible to censor
information from a local perspective, in a global medium. There'd
always be an accesspoint somewhere in the world that the local user can
use to access, distribute and recreate information. Only things that are
illegal globally can be dealt with locally.

The Dutch hotline against abusive kiddyporn pictures on the Net was
opened by the Dutch minister of Justice, W. Sorgdrager. She's very
enthousiast about it, and strongly promotes the concept
internationally. I heard from English ISP friends that the statements
of the Dutch justice minister where instrumental in forming the English
hotline system.

There is a problem for any country on the Internet if it implements strict
national legislation on the Net. In Germany the publication
of the magazine Radikal is forbidden. In other countries the
magazines are published in bookshops. This means that in those other
countries the magazine will also be available at the local ISP
webpages and Usenet postings. If a specific country, like Germany,
wants to block the locally illegal information, then netizens will just
copy the information elsewhere. The Net is a holographic memory system,
according to one of my best friends, Rop Gonggrijp. You can shatter a
holograph in a thousand pieces, but the information will be present in
every single piece. On the Net information is replicated almost
endlessly. It is impossible to banish something, if it is tolerated in
some countries on this world. The information will migrate to other
tolerant places, and exist on the entire Net as a consequence.

Information is like money. It migrates to the places where it can be
reproduced in the most efficient way. Money and information have their
own dynamics. Money flows almost naturally to low-wage countries. In
those countries low-wage factories are created, simply because the
local laws and economy allow such low wages. Information flows in a
similar way. If a publication is censored somewhere on the Net, but not
everywhere, it will flow to the places where the information can exist
and recreate. And recreate. And.. et cetera. Evolution of information,
information evolution.

Sometimes things get really silly. Journalists start asking about
buzz-words like terrorism and the absence of control. 'On the Internet
there are manuals to kill people'. 'The Net tells you how to make a
bomb'. 'The Atlanta Games bomber got the information from the Net'
(tsssk.. he's not even been found yet.. Accusing Jewell was a great
outrage, but accusing the Internet is just plain ignorance and
sillyness) Who is responsible if someone is killed or bombed ? Right..
the bomber and the killer. Not the information itselfe. On television
i've seen a thousand ways to blow up buildings, hundreds of subversive
ways of living. I've seen at least a million people die on television
in my lifetime. Did anyone care when that happened ? Does it mean
that I will now go out now and kill a million people ? If so, why is it
not forbidden to show a killing on TV ? Some people ask such silly
questions, if they'd only think for two minutes..

They used to say 'Information wants to be free'. That ofcourse is not the
case, Bruce Sterling deconstructed that idea. Information cannot 'want'
anything. It does not have a will of its own. But a lot of netizens
'want' information to be free, and thus the information shall be
freed by them.


        Felipe Rodriquez



-- 
 Felipe Rodriquez          -  XS4ALL Internet  - finger felipe {AT} xs4all.nl for 
 http://xs4all.nl/~felipe/ - Managing Director - pub pgp-key 1024/A07C02F9 

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