Whistleblowing is a common term used to describe someone (often an employee) who exposes and reports confidential or private information to the media or legal authorities. Generally, the motivation behind this is to expose inappropriate, unsafe, criminal or unethical activities that are being hidden from the public. Historically, the reasons for whistleblowing revolved around ethical foundations, but these days there is also a lot of money involved in the process. This article is going to take an objective look at whistleblowing and underscore the reasons behind its rise and prevalence today. It provides explanations and a number of examples from both America and Europe in order to illustrate the key points.
How do whistle blowers contribute?
The major contribution that comes from whistle blowers (in the valid use of the term) is ethical. Whistle blowing is used to expose or show an unethical set of practices occurring in an organisation or company. The long-term effects should be to alter the corporate or organizational behaviour. Generally, the goal of the whistle blower is to expose policies or behaviour that they want to be stopped and reversed. Whistleblowing can be internal or external. An example of internal whistleblowing inside a company would be to denounce any irregularities that have been observed, by speaking to a higher-level manager. The goal here would be to remedy the behaviour or policy via internal measures that the company has set up. There are time times when the general public might not class this as whistleblowing, but the principle is the same. External whistleblowing is what the public are most used to hearing about when this term is used. It refers to an employee engaging with an external, outside authority when the issue could not be resolved internally, or when the employee knows that only an external authority can really take action on the matter. This is when the employee “blows the whistle” on the company or organization.
The contribution made is to alert the outside authorities and the media (and therefore the public) if need be. This has the knock on effect of usually altering the corporate environment in which the company operates, and it can lead to new legislation in certain circumstances. There are now many organizations that welcome internal “whistleblowing” as they have two aims in mind. Firstly, they want to eliminate and prevent any possible internal irregularities, in particular those that relate to discipline at work. The second chief aim is to build an image of a responsible company that is able and ready to assume the errors that have been made and deal with them. These days companies and organizations want to be seen as transparent and ethical in order to build their image in the eyes of the public.
Are there any incentives for whistleblowing?
In the past it was known that whistle blowers almost always suffered for their actions. In fact, this may have been the reason that so many people remained silent when they wanted to speak out against immoral or criminal acts that they observed. As such, many people decided to keep their concerns internal or just keep them to themselves. However, times have now changed and whistle blowers can now be compensated for their actions and their decision to speak out against a company, government office or other organization. This change in the landscape has made whistle blowing much more common. As such, we are now seeing regular reports in the media of people who have decided to break cover and expose an issue to the general public. In order to show how widespread the compensation is for whistle blowers, let’s use an example from the IRS. The IRS has recently expanded its program of protection and reward, and it is prepared to offer whistle blowers from fifteen to thirty per cent of anything that it recovers, based on the information provided. This can offer a much great incentive for people to come forward and expose serious criminal activity or unethical practices. These days there are people able to earn six or seven figures by sharing their story. This money can be earned from the IRS, lawsuits, private equity firms, arbitration panels and hedge funds.
There was a case in the USA involving the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority [FINRA], who awarded whistle blower Michelle Ford, a former broker with Affinity Federal Credit Union, compensatory damages of $825,000. This demonstrates the financial incentive of whistleblowing. Also, these days whistleblowing does not necessarily lead to the ending of an employees career. Over the years, there has been a great deal of legislations passed in order to protect the rights of whistle blowers. This is in stark contrast to just a few decades ago when there was little protection against company retaliation for whistle blowers. This legislation has now added an increased incentive to expose unethical activities, negligent behaviour, unsafe working conditions and criminal activity. Legislation has been brought in that gives the employee the right to file a lawsuit against their employer if they suffer retaliation after “blowing the whistle”. Specifically, there is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which is to protect employees who have “blown the whistle” on unsafe or unhealthy working conditions. This was brought in by President Nixon in 1970. There is also the Federal False Claims Act (FFCA), which enables employees to report an employer who is illicitly using federal funding. There are also other pieces of legislation that deal with other similar and related issues.
For or against whistle blowing
There are advocates on both sides of the whistleblowing argument. There are those who believe that where a legal contract has been signed, it should be upheld and anything other than this is a breach of trust and contract. Such people argue in favour of dismissing “whistleblowing employees” as they have broken their contract. However, there are also arguments stating that privacy can be sacrificed when it is in the public good. They further argue that without whistle blowers, the public would not know which companies they could trust, or what really goes on behind closed doors. It is important to consider how whistle blowers are now viewed. Many times, they are thought of as a “snitch”, “backstabber”, “lowlife” who is not worthy of trust or responsibility. Many people also see such people are simply out for personal gain, and think that all whistleblowing revolves around money or power. However, on the flip side of that argument, are those who see whistle blowers are moral heroes, or “saviours” who help everyone out from a sense of selfless duty. There are those that are viewed as representing a major step forward for the public good, and bring unscrupulous activities out into the open. Such people can be seen as guardians of the general public.
Do we need whistle blowers?
In terms of doing good, whistle-blowers can certainly uncover and expose fraud and wrongdoing in companies and organizations. For example, consider Sherron Watkins who exposed the fraudulent financial reporting of Enron, and was viewed as hero for doing so. Another example from America is Cynthia Cooper who exposed financial irregularities at WorldCom. There is also the case of Coleen Rowley who detailed the unethical FBI cover-up of terrorist activity in the U.S. prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. There are further examples from Europe. In 1998, Swiss sports administrator and International Olympic Committee member Marc Hodler revealed corruption in the IOC. There is also the case of executive Stanley Adams who alerted the European Commission to anti-competitive practices by Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-La Roche. The Commission later fined Hoffmann for abuse of its dominant position in the bulk vitamin market.
The personal ethical reasons behind whistleblowing are also very strong. Most people would like to think that they would speak out if they saw something that was clearly wrong. It is a matter of integrity and moral fortitude. As such, in certain circumstances it is clear that whistleblowing has proven to be the best form of action to take. It is also important to take into account the times when whistle blowing can cause more serious consequences. This is one of the major issues involved in the current WikiLeaks scandal. The U.S. government states that the leaking of confidential, classified military documents put the lives of front line troops and diplomats in immediate danger. The documents that have been released to the pubic via the Internet were given by Army intelligence Spec. Bradley Manning. They allege many things such as cover-ups of large numbers of civilians killed, that the Taliban had heat seeking missiles and so on. While many people find such information horrendous, and feel they were lied to, they also believe that the public should not be given access to it, especially during wartime. They claim that as the information is released to the general public (meaning anyone with an internet connection), it puts the lives of military personnel in danger. That further claims that as per the Second World War, the information of a confidential nature should not be made public until many years after the war is over. As such, it can also be shown that there is line that should not be crossed when whistle blowing. These are the issues that the person should weigh up before deciding to reveal information or not. There is also a case to be made for new laws to be passed in order to protect the lives of people in danger from leaks of information.
It should be noted that whistle blowers can be protected by anonymity, if the person choses to take this route. This can be done by placing certain calls to certain phone numbers, which are set up for whistleblowing purposes. However, there are some issues that come along with anonymity. For example, the person may be poorly understood or not understood at all. Such a person may not be able to clearly get their message across or deliver all of the facts, if they keep their identity private. At some stage, most whistle blowers need to reveal information of a personal nature in order to substantiate claims or make facts credible. This is the issue faced when anonymity is preferred. On another note, when whistle blowing can be done in an anonymous fashion (which many organizations have now set up internally), the motivation can move from a moral one to a personal release of frustrations. For example, someone in an office who sees a colleague taking a longer lunch break than they are entitled to. Another issue when anonymity is required is the long-term result. For example, if the situation becomes serious enough, the person may have to break cover and go public in order to reveal confidential information that the company deems confidential. This raises the issue of ethics. As such, this issue can place the whistle blower in an uneasy situation. Many people may want to reveal information that they deem to be unethical or illegal but fear their name or face being made public. Many people shy away from any limelight (especially of this nature) and therefore prefer to remain silent unless their identity can be hidden.
The Internet and whistleblowing resources
The Internet offers a huge range of informative articles and resources for people that are interested in becoming a whistle blower. There is actually a growing community of people who have an interest in helping other whistle blowers, and the range of websites supports this assertion. There are many websites that can be found online via the search engines, which give government information about whistleblowing, and how such activities relate to legislation. One of the most exhaustive is California’s Bureau of State Audits that tells people how to access the state Whistle blower Hotline. Besides the government sites, there are also independent organizations that show people who to get started in the process, and bring up various issues that people should be aware of. They also link to other organizations that may help whistle blowers depending on the nature of the issue and the industry involved.
There are many websites that encourage people to become whistle blowers, and do so on the theme of ethics. They position the “little guy” against the “goliath” and urge people to be truthful and keep business, industry and government honest. On top of this re the websites that advocate strongly for freedom of speech, and the value of open, public scrutiny of government and business practices. The ethical issues are the most common theme through these websites. For example there is the issue that people should protect their colleagues, neighbours and the taxpayers. There are comments about moral commitments, and the issue of divided loyalties. For example, one writer points out that the whistle blower will need to consider the issue of loyalty to his family in the face of career risks associated with whistleblowing. This is then contrasted with the loyalty to the law, public trust and to the community. The emphasis is continually placed on doing the right thing, in contrast to just doing the legal thing. This is where both side of the whistle blowing argument come to a head and where many disagree. There are very good ethical issues raised by the Government Accountability Project, which asks if silence is complicity. Such a questions leads one to consider that if he or she does not speak out then assistance and approval might be inferred and given implicitly. There are certain websites that try to offer guilt as a means to motivate people, but of those read, the majority offer a theme of caution and general encouragement.
Internet whistle blowing
The Internet certainly offers a new way in which to examine and consider whistleblowing. It gives the average person many more tools and resources so that they know exactly what they are getting into, and what support they can gain, if any. The websites also provide information about how to remain as anonymous as possible and what the chances of success and privacy really are. With the Internet, anyone can now be a whistle blower with a worldwide audience. This is something that was not possible even two decades ago. If someone has the conviction to make information public then there is very little that can stop him or her. With the viral nature of the Internet, the information can be stored on computer servers all around the world inside hours, and it cannot be removed easily. This is how the WikiLeaks information has spread in such a short time, and why even the government of the United States of America cannot stop the information from being made available.
A precedent has now been set which is likely to give confidence to other people who have a similar agenda to the founders of WikiLeaks. This whistle blowing event has really shown how the Internet gives a level platform for all people to produce their own information, even in the face of government condemnations and attempts at removal. The Internet allows whistle blowers to have an opportunity to make their case, and thereby pursue a course of action that is in line with their own ethical and moral convictions. This is really the end goal of whistle blowers and the phenomenon is likely to continue into the future.
With the advancement in internet technology, activities concerning piracy have taken a different path which has shaken the meaning of novelty these days. To tackle and keep track of these hooliganisms, divergent anti-piracy organisations stepped forward. They have put on the shoes of both good and bad wills. Their grey part was extensively exposed when they targeted the legal and innocent P2P users across the web. It is now more than an obstacle to continue their web activities without the un-necessary intercession of anti-piracy organisations.
Who are the P2P users?
A P2P, which is a common abbreviation of peer-to-peer, is a distributed network architecture that is comprised of participants who make a portion of their resources to be directly available to other network participants, without the need for central coordination instances. It is a network protocol for computer users, which is used for downloading torrents or P2P files. Rather than connecting to specific servers on the Internet, P2P software allows surfers to connect with each other to search for and also download the content needed. Peers are very specific because they are both suppliers and consumers of resources, which is in contrast to the traditional client–server model where only servers supply, and clients consume.
What do they serve for?
Peer-to-peer was firstly popularized by few file sharing systems. Peer-to-peer file sharing networks have inspired many new structures and philosophies in other areas of human interface. In such social contexts, peer-to-peer as a meme refers to the egalitarian social networking that is currently emerging throughout society, generally enabled by Internet technologies. Because of the unique structure that a P2P network has, it is extremely efficient for downloading large-size files. A quick comparison between standard and P2P downloading explains why:
Standard content downloading features
The Internet connects users or surfers to many, among others, website servers. By cruising the Internet a user establishes a one-on-one connection with each website he visists. If the user wants content in terms of files from that website, the server that archives the website, transfers the files that have been requested. In this case, clients only share the demands, and not the sources. However, since a website can have hundreds or even thousands of visitors at any moment, file transfer can be slow or even sluggish at times. Generally, download speed slows a lot.
P2P content downloading features
On a P2P network, when a user needs a file, installed P2P software locates any copies of the file within the P2P network. Then it allows the user to create multiple connections with several sources that have all or part of the file requested. As parts of the file are received, they are also uploaded to other users that are requesting that same file. This protocol of matching several sources to a single request makes for an efficient content download scheme. Because files are received from various sources rather than only from a single one, large files can be downloaded quickly by P2P.
However, it is not all that simple. P2P software keeps a record of how much a user downloads, compared to how much he shares. If someone does download more than they do upload, bandwidth for downloading will be decreased or choked. Provided one maintains a 1:1 ratio or even better, download speed is increased. Most users have asynchronous connections to the Internet, which means that they can download several times faster than they can upload. Therefore, uploading data to a P2P network, in contrast to downloading, can take considerable time. To guarantee good P2P download speeds, what users do is they commonly stay connected after receiving their requested files in order to seed the file back to others. P2P software has the possibility to be configured to automatically disconnect the user from the P2P network when a particular share-ratio is reached.
P2P users inviting piracy
P2P technology is legally approved, but sharing copyrighted materials, on the other hand, is not. There are many websites that archive illegal P2P files, which have been targeted by organizations representing recording artists and the movie industry. P2P, similarly to the nuclear technology, is a double-edged and powerful weapon. It could be used by pirates to illegally and massively distribute pirated and copyrighted content, and that is why people are easily misled into establishing the misconception that P2P has little to zero legitimate use, and its only usage is in terms of piracy.
Legal use of P2P
Although effective in helping the stretch of pirated content, P2P is also feasible and has been already extensively used in legal content allocation because of its excellent scalability, high availability, and low cost. There are four available ways for using P2P in legal confines:
1.Free Content Distribution
Using P2P is an ideal way to disseminate free content such as GPLed software like Linux and free videos. Since such content is usually very large- sized, if it is delivered in the standard Client/Server way, the cost is high and the performance is low.
Bad user experience would gradually kill the motivation of people to make a contribution to free online content. Thus, P2P becomes free content’s best distribution channel, generally because of its low cost and high performance.
2.Non-free Content Distribution
When considering non-free content distribution, P2P is even more widely used than the previous way. Proprietary software, like most of the online video games software, which people can get for free but pay for use, are distributed exactly by P2P.
3.User-generated Content Distribution
This kind of content, which is apparently lawful, is distributed by P2P too. One popular type of user-generated content is online instant messaging and audio/video chatting data that are extremely popular nowadays. Since P2P is not only scalable and reliable but it is also able to deliver real-time data within due time, it is very good for instant messaging applications which have to cope with millions of concurrent users requests.
4.Special-purpose Content Distribution
Large-sized business data, such as videos of commercials and operation logs, are hard to deliver because of their huge size. Therefore, special-purpose content, such as business and scientific data, is distributed over P2P networks now.
Under federal law, a person found to have infringed upon a copyrighted work may be liable for actual damages and lost profits attributable to the infringement, and statutory damages counting from $200 up to $150,000. The owner that has the copyright also has the right to permanently enjoin the P2P user from any further activities of this kind, and all the infringing copies and equipment that had been used in the infringement can be impounded and destroyed. In addition, persons who violate the IT Acceptable Resource Policy, or some other policies regarding the mis-use of copyrighted materials, can be subject to revocation and limitation of their computer and network privileges, as well as to other disciplinary actions, or may be even referred to appropriate external authorities.
Finally, criminal penalties may also be assessed against these criminals and could include jail sentence depending upon the nature of the violation they have made. For example, Michael Chicoine-Texas and William Trowbridge-New York have both been convicted on committing piracy deeds for operating the Direct Connect peer-to-peer network’s central hubs. The two men convicted in “Operation Digital Gridlock” are probably going to get fines of up to $250,000 and prison sentences of up to five years. The charge was done by the Department of Justice last August and sentencing will be on August 29th.
Anti-piracy organisations and laws: Coping with the changing Internet trends
At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, time and space are no longer obstacles to the free flow of information and ideas. The Internet revolution is successfully and fast-pace changing the way we live, works, and entertains ourselves. At the same rate, the Internet is also changing the way laws are carried out and also how they are broken. Technologies related to Internet have recently become the focus of criticism and mild paranoia for many anti-piracy organizations. Some of the most important world wide anti-piracy organizations are:
Business Software Alliance (BSA)
Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST)
Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)
Federation Against Software Theft (FAST)
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA)
For them, the focal point of this fear is the increasingly ugly battle centered on the distribution of copyrighted music and movies via the Internet by using a digital format. Some critics argue that the monetary survival of artists is jeopardized because of the e-assault on copyright law led by “file-sharing” companies such as Napster.com.
Anti-Piracy Organization’s Targets
If you are listening to a music which has been downloaded from an illegal source then you are a culprit according to anti-piracy laws. The basic and obvious function of an anti-piracy organisation is to combat the fraud activities relevant to music and video sources.
Anti-piracy prosecutors have not yet filed criminal charges against these particular, alleged enemies of copyrighted files, although, some of them such as Napster, which relies on an index available on a central server, is a vulnerable target because it is susceptible to a legal attack that can possibly shut down its server, which in turn, shuts down its entire system. This weakness in particular does not come to effect on “peer-to-peer” (P2P) technology because P2P does not require a central server. Therefore, in the peer-to-peer universe, there are no companies to sue, but only individuals. Anyone who uses bittorrents, eDonkey, WinMX, Gnutella, Limewire, or any other P2P network, is likely to be scanned by anti-piracy investigators. In an effort to catch and prosecute people for abusing copyrighted media, these investigators usually pose as P2P downloaders. While they themselves share and download copyrighted data, these investigators also scan and log other users’ IP address. Each downloader’s IP address then becomes evidence for civil anti-piracy lawsuits, where one may be sued for copyright infringement. They are widely spread, and their efforts will sometimes result in large lawsuits, where many downloaders are charged thousands of dollars in copyright related fines. This investigators share comprises up to 4% of all P2P downloaders one could be connected with.
Recent updates reveal that Hollywood lobbyists are engaged in an attempt towards the launch of a battering step on Internet sources and anti-piracy legislation in the U.S. These plans are under the shed of discussion for their implementation process within the knowledge of President Obama. Having played a quiet character on the online piracy issues, the U.S seems to take gearing up steps to tackle this problem which might hit us big in forthcoming days.
“Three strikes and you are offline” rule is a brave step by the French government to keep the entertainment industry transparent. The very similar legislation is likely to prevail in various other countries too. Interestingly the entertainment industry backs up these anti-piracy laws as a solution to online piracy, while overlooking their own involvement in raising these woes.
The three strike law comes into picture when a person attempts persistently to download a copyrighted source illegally. This results in the immediate suspension of internet access of the user to protect the copyrighted sources. While this law is a wake up call for ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to block the download sites, many ISPs are recalcitrant to abide by this law.
There has been a mixture of reactions from public where this legislation stood a tremendous criticism in establishing itself in the mid-way of user and the internet, while the parents have supported the act of protecting the copyrights. Surprisingly the reports highlight the number of crimes that have taken toll after implementation of the legislation in France. It is like illegal users easily get resistant to the new implemented laws to tackle piracy.
Ireland has also chosen the similar path with Eircom, her largest broadband ISP which keeps track of copyright violators. IRMA, the Irish Recorded Music Association is set to forward the ISPs a weekly limit of 50 IP addresses. The users will face three warnings before they get abandoned from Internet access. This proposed plan will be on trial basis for a 90 days period after which the provision gets updated for 1000 IP addresses.
Protector becomes predator: How the innocent P2P users suffer
Frequent flagrant acts by anti-piracy organisations have become an additional issue along with copyright violators’ cases. Some lawmakers illegally spy on P2P users, severely infringing the online privacy of those. This type of activity is shocking and gives a big question mark over the authenticity of anti-piracy organisations and their laws.
Besides from prosecuting illegal P2P users, anti-piracy prosecutors have gone as far as including innocent P2P users too. There are two types of innocent P2P users:
1.Deceived P2P users – Deceived P2P users are Internet users who often face a sort of “copytrap” when they encounter a web site that falsely represents the downloading as legal. With no way to know whether that web site’s representation is true or false, a downloader is likely to be deceived and thus is likely to face harsh penalties under the anti-piracy law.
2.Legal P2P users – Legal P2P users, who did not do any piracy and have downloaded files by legal means, generally face an agonizing choice—either to pay $1,500 to $2,500 to settle the lawsuits brought by anti-piracy organizations, or pay even more money for a lawyer to plead their innocence on court.
In either of these cases, P2P users are not under any circumstances protected from eventually paying the fines, or even worse, going to jail. And whether being innocent or not, a case that goes to court always runs the risk of ending in a $150,000 fine. The sheer size of the penalties for online infringement and piracy would give anyone pause, and there are several of those who are currently wrestling with what to do about it.
Recently, media sources have reported a sharp decline in peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic during the last year, considering user population dropping by half. This assertion is in direct contrast to the perpetual increase of P2P activity over the last few years. The decline has been attributed to legal issues that are often unjustified and most loudly articulated by anti-piracy organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). RIAA reports suggest that the overwhelming threats of possible copyright lawsuits and extremely high fines provided by laws have stalled the growth of file-sharing networks. This situation will remain the same until government decides to stand out and raise its voice to all anti-piracy organizations that have been sending lawsuits to whomever they notice downloading files, without taking in consideration the possibility of being a legal P2P user.
The serving proof of monopoly is Logistep, a so called privacy protection organisation assimilated information about illegal file up-loaders and supplied the same to copyright owners. Thereafter the information was furtively used to blackmail the illegal users to get good cash reparation
“Garante della Privacy”, an Italian organisation responsible for data protection and privacy did blacklist Logistep for their illegal tasks citing three reasons for violating the rules such as:
No private company is allowed to monitor the activities of P2P users on the Internet.
The P2P software is only meant for the communication with other P2P clients instead of using it as a monitoring device.
Monitoring users without their consent is in itself illegal.
The decided action taken against Logistep was that they were ordered to delete the collected information about P2P users which came as a relief for Italian P2P users.
Nearby Future Impacts
Peer-to-peer (P2P) network systems, which are realized as overlays on top of the underlying Internet routing architecture, make a significant portion of today’s Internet traffic. However, real-world cases show that if events continue developing in the same direction they do now, P2P utilization in near future will be reduced to a minimum. Since every potential downloader is a subject of suspect, there are only few left that are brave enough to continue using this useful 21st century technological advantage.
Taking office when the Great Depression was plunging the world into an abyss of unprecedented darkness and horror, Franklin D Roosevelt famously said, ‘So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance’. Years later, facing the marauding Nazis under the leadership of the deranged genius Hitler, Winston Churchill borrowed the fore quoted sentiment and reiterated it, though in not so much the same words. Roosevelt pulled the world, in general, and America, in particular, from the brink of economic oblivion. Churchill helped snatch victory from the jaws of imminent defeat. Now we face the same problems these great gentlemen of yore faced, and this time they seem to have come together. The world is facing another financial meltdown and terrorism is rearing its all too ugly head from every nook and corner. And this time, ladies and gentlemen, fear seems to have taken the better of us.
Countries across the world are enacting laws and legislations giving them power to invade the privacy of hapless citizens and tourists, as in their paranoia, they are regarding every person as a potential terror suspect. Come what may, better safe than sorry seems to be the shameless motto. Sure, the above mentioned gentlemen did stuff they had to, to ensure that the ideals of freedom independence and sovereignty that they were trying so hard to uphold were not compromised. But never did they resort to below the belt techniques.
We live in, what is being widely touted as the information age; the age when information is what makes the world go around, oils the social machinery and keeps the economic engine running. Information is as important to us as was stone for the Stone Age, knowledge for the Enlightenment Age and oil for the Industrial Age. Data has become more valuable than gold, and the storage and retrieval of data, safely and securely is very important. And when everyone is using technology to make life all the more easier, why would terrorists refrain from using the same to make the coordination of attacks easier. So it is no wonder that governments are clamping down on the transfer of information into and out of their borders. When snail mail was the ‘in thing’, they peeped into correspondence from offshore locations. Now, keeping with the pace of technological advancements, they are checking emails and censoring websites. And if all that was not enough to make citizens furious, they are now scrutinizing and copying data stored in portable storage devices like iPods, cellular phones, laptops and PDAs, whenever they are being carried across borders.
Granted, it is a necessary precaution to stop and perhaps avoid unwanted unlawful disturbing events from taking place. But there has to be a code of conduct when such searches are being conducted, and these lines of moral conduct should never be crossed. For all those who believe their government would never resort to such brutality, here’s a scene which was enacted at an US airport in the not too distant past. Last year, Jawad Khaki, a corporate executive from Sammamish, Washington, was returning home from a business trip to Ireland and Germany. At the airport, a U.S. customs agent asked him to turn over his cell phone. Even though he had all the proper documents, even though he was not a suspect of any sort, even though he had explained where he had traveled and the purpose of his travel, he was asked to turn over his cell phone. The customs official then proceeded to go through his ‘to do’ list and his calendar entries. Khaki says he was humiliated and exasperated by the treatment meted out to him, by the blatant violation of privacy. This was no isolated incident. Khaki’s story is one among the growing number of reports of border security privacy invasion coming in every day. And the people who are abused the most seem to be Muslims and people of South Asian and Middle Eastern origin. They say man is the most successful of all the animals because he can adapt to situations. When faced with privacy invasions and the potential loss of personal data due to border invasions, what does man do? He adapts. He adopts unconventional means of storing data, so that what he hold most valuable dear is not taken from him and so that what he has considered most private is not laid bare for the whole world to gaze upon. The safest quick fire method of storing data in a safe, reliable and easily accessible area has been developed and is called online data storage.
Funny, isn’t it, that what one man builds for one purpose, another man uses for a totally different purpose? The internet was first developed in 1960 when research projects of military agencies, funded by the United States of America, tried to build robust, fault tolerant, distributed computer networks. From being a military project, it has evolved over so many decades to become what it is today. With its vast spaces of unexplored potential, the internet continues to grow and evolve every day. That is where the online storage of data becomes a good idea.
Information in the form of data needs to be stored somewhere, so that it can be retrieved again, at a later date so that it can be used. Data storage is an all too familiar concept and we have been practicing it since we could read, only now we have advanced to the digital stage. Now we store movies, music, pictures, documents and databases on hard disks, flash drives, compact discs, digital video discs, blue ray discs etc. We store them and keep them safe in the belief that when the day comes when we have a need for the stored data, we will be able to retrieve them. What most of people don’t understand is that all these methods of data storage are not at all stable nor are they secure. We don’t realize that they are vulnerable unless we lose data once. Guess you need to be bitten once to be shy the next time. The most unreliable feature of the storage methods mentioned above is that they become unreadable after a certain amount of time. The primary storage device, the hard disk is unreliable, because about thirty percent of all hard disks crash within the first couple of years and a hard disk will crash. It is just a matter of time. CDs and DVDs become unreadable over time when scratches appear on them due to usage over long periods. If a CD or DVD with heavy scratches is loaded into a high speed drive, the disc can break, and without proper backup, the data will be lost forever. Then there is the perennial chance of your hardware getting stolen. The prices of electronic goods are soaring and snitching hardware is a very easy way, for anyone with a criminally inclined mind, to make a fast buck. Statistically speaking, only one percent of all stolen electronic goods and devices, like laptops, iPods, PDAs are ever recovered. So if you lose one, chances are, you will lose data stored in them and you will never recover them. There is also a chance that you might lose all your data when your data storage medium is destroyed, lost or rendered unusable due to natural disasters like floods, fires, earthquakes, etc. A story goes that a Minister of State of Ghana got nicknamed ‘Tsunami’ because he lost all his documents and files due to a flood. What is to say that you will not be at the receiving end of nature’s fury?
There are other many such ways in which data that you think is secure could be lost forever. Like for example, you could accidentally delete an important file, replace it wilt another file of same file name and extension. Or you could be the hapless victim of a virus attack. The virus could clean out your hard disk, corrupt files, replace current files with bogus replicas or hide them permanently. Then there is always the chance that when you are transferring data from one media to another, the data can get corrupted, rendering it useless. So it was imperative that a solution immune to all the above mentioned faults be come up with. And the only truly secure medium of data storage seemed to be online data storage sites and you don’t need to carry your data around as all you need is an internet connection.
Well, what is online storage? It simply is the storage of your data on the internet. Your files and data are stored on the servers of some company or website that is providing you with such facilities. You can upload and download any data onto these sites, pretty much like how you do in your hard drive or flash drive. You can use the facility as a second hard disk. You can edit, delete and do anything with these files. Some sites provide you with media players and other necessary software so that you can play your songs and watch movies from the site without having to download them. You can share these files with others if you want to, thus making it a very useful option if you are working on a common project with others over the internet.
A very attractive feature of this kind of storage is that most providers of online storage facilities have free or personal data storage accounts. That means that a reasonable medium sized storage space can be acquired for free. This will be enough to store personal data like photos. But if more space is needed, you will have to purchase it. For businesses and companies, there are larger storage versions available, but at a higher cost. Besides providing larger space for storage, paid accounts will get enhanced security and faster upload and download capabilities. There are usually two parts to your account: one is the personal part which only you can access. The other is a part that others can access if you have given them permission to do so. But not to worry, even the free accounts are secure enough for the average need. You will have to choose a password on registration and your account can be accessed only if the password is known, pretty much like any email account. Some sites provide enhanced protection like two factor authentication. Two factor authentication means that you will have a two layer protection system, because in order to access the account you will need an authentication key in addition to the password. The authentication key will be provided by an electronic card. The key will keep on changing at a particular interval and the service provider will know the key that is being displayed on the electronic card. So, only if the key being displayed on the card and the key that you have typed in match will you be able to access the data. Other storage providers are more tailored towards a public in search for a high security online storage service. Such service would be judged in terms of privacy, offshore jurisdiction, encryption and other exotic features like being able to wipe your account whenever needed.
Accessibility is not a problem at all. All you need is a computer or any other device capable of connecting to the internet and an internet connection. You simply go to the site, log in using your password and download the file according to the site methodology. Some sites insist on you typing in a code as a safety check. There are a number of companies and sites that provide such online data storage facilities. The difference must be sought, nowadays, in terms of privacy and encryption, most of the companies do not use encryption or have a clear pro-privacy approach. Some sites provide storage facilities exclusively for online document storage. Documents are the most important and invaluable of all data. Even if you lose music and movies, you can borrow them from a friend or even buy them again. But once documents are lost, the data in them is lost forever and, in most cases, cannot be retrieved again. That is why documents are being given more importance. Another major reason for the rising popularity of online data storage is the anonymity it provides. No one will know who is posting and what. As if anonymous storage wasn’t enough, some sites offer encrypted storage using real time encryption. That means that data is encrypted even as it is being uploaded in order to greatly increase security. That is, your data that you upload onto the site is stored as an encrypted file so that even if someone gets their hands on the data, they won’t be able to use it. And for businesses making use of virtual private networks for coordinating efforts of offices worldwide, the online storage proves to be very useful as data need not be transferred as anyone who needs it can just download it.
Now, we have one more reason for subscribing to online data storage facilities: to prevent prying eyes from perceiving private data. With the resurgence of terror groups and their deadly activities, governments around the globe are enacting laws and drawing out legislatures to enhance security and prevent atrocious acts from happening on their soil. The United States of America is leading the pack of developed countries, which have passed resolutions giving law enforcement officials the authority to go through the data being carried in portable electronic devices, when they are being carried across the country’s borders. Granted, we need security checks to check the spread of terrorism and granted, we need all the preventive methods at our disposal in order to prevent deadly attacks. But all this at what cost? Does upholding the privacy of travelers come secondary to border security enhancement? Why subject your data to ‘eyes in uniform’, when you can store all your data online and then access them whenever necessary?
In August of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of America issued new directives for checking of electronic gadgets at the border checks. DHS secretary Janet Napolitano announced the new rules that clarify the oversight for searches of laptops and other portable electronic devices at all US ports of entry. Essentially, this means that TSA officials and the like can now check any travelers’ electronic files at random. The most irresponsible aspect of this is that the searches can be carried out without any suspicion and for no apparent reason. They can go through all the data in the system, including your email address book, your received and sent emails, and your documents. Usually they pull up the laptops for a superficial check up and to ensure that it really is a notebook and not some other electronic device made to look like a lap. But if they feel so, they can subject the laptop to real close scrutiny and all your files and folders can be inspected.
As with most other DHS initiatives, the new endeavor is also one that is being pushed forward in the guise of enhancing the security of our borders. Ms. Napolitano calls this a “critical step designed to bolster the Department’s efforts to combat transnational crime and terrorism while protecting privacy and civil liberties.” While we’re all about fighting crime, we’re beginning to wonder just how much more difficult travel will be with these folks really bent on leaving no stone unturned in their quest for the most secure borders. Secretary Napolitano had this to say on the matter: “Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States. The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders.”
Following the US example, other western countries like Canada, England and other European countries are adopting such laws. Well and good that they are looking out for their well being. But the privacy concern that most citizens have is that, ever since time immemorial, government laws have been bent or twisted to achieve political and private gains. So why should these new laws be any different? When cross country correspondence was being screened, personal information was regularly monitored for unlawful activities and it will be no different this time. The confidential data of clients that business men, lawyers and doctors carry around in their laptops can be copied in the name of national security and can be used for unhealthy purposes.
Besides, such border checks targeted at electronic devices are not really effective. Think about it, since the laws are so publicized about and almost everybody knows that their notebooks and PDAs will be checked at the entry port, who will be stupid enough to carry sensitive data that could potentially incarcerate him ? No, they are not aimed at checking cross border terrorism, but instead, it is just a cover to hide the ulterior motives with which such laws were drawn up. All this time, not one file had data that was considered a threat to national security. But yes, it will dissuade non law abiding characters from boldly transferring data into a country from offshore bases. With the government checking all internet traffic into the country, such information cannot be transferred through the net. So they might try novel methods that need out of the box thinking.
Fear is what drives government into passing laws and resolutions limiting civil liberties even during peace time. Fear is what they use as leverage to make us fall in line with their policies. Fear of terror attacks, fear of punishment and fear of humiliation is what compels us into going with our governments even when we think that what they are doing is wrong. The bravest of us have fought in vain, wars against fear, only to be ridiculed into submission. What we do not know, we fear. And this is what our fear has brought us. Fear of border check privacy invasion forces us to pursue evasive methods. In short fear seems to be driving us; it has become the rhythm to which the world moves. Let us break free of its cumbersome shackles and live free. And online storage is just one way of achieving electronic freedom.
A quote by Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790):
“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”
A little less than two score years ago, the world, and America in particular, was forced to sit up and watch in awe and horror, the Watergate episode which eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon. What was it about the case that was so captivating? Granted it involved the most powerful man of the most powerful country. But was that it? Was that the real reason why people sat in abject horror, staring at their television sets and newspapers with a gasp stuck in their throats, simply refusing to believe their audio visual senses? No, it was the shameless and total violation of privacy, that single rudimentary quality quintessential to preserving and maintaining our sense of honor and dignity. Sure, things have changed a lot since Nixon quit, but the need for privacy is as important now as it was all those years ago.
Everybody has, some point in their lives, dreamed of being a spy, a super sleuth or some undercover agent on a dangerous mission. Or at least they think it’s rather fashionably cool. That the 007 franchises are so popular lend credence to this fact. But how would we like to be at the receiving end? I don’t think we’d enjoy it much. I mean, nobody in their right mind would find existence a pleasurable experience if they knew that they were being watched and their every move documented for scrutiny and inspection at an unnamed later date. We love being anonymous. Being invisible lets us live unhindered lives, a prerogative afforded by the privileged status of anonymity.
Now, we live in a world that has been so swamped with technology that it has attained the status as a prerequisite for almost anybody. News and information are at our fingertips. The world indeed has shrunk and is now capable of fitting comfortably within our palms. The internet is second only in importance to the essential elements required to sustain life at a certain level of comfort. The usage of the internet has grown at exceptional rates. As the functionality of an object is one of the principal factors determining its usage, it can be safely inferred that the popularity of the online world is primarily on account of its uses and convenience. Having said that, it should be noted that any given coin has two sides, and the internet is no exception. There are wide spread evils lurking in the vast and dark corners of the World Wide Web. And we are in dire need of some sort of regulatory force or legislation to harness the unfathomable potential of cyber space.
Governments around the world have communication and data transfer rules and regulations that control the internet usage in their respective countries to some extent. But some Governments have gone over the edge in their quest to establish a moral code of conduct. They have gone to such an extent as to deprive innocent citizens of their privacy, all in the name of national security. Yes, a code is essential to determine what course the internet takes. It is very much necessary to protect the citizens from unwanted maliciousness that is so abundant in the internet. A chain of command and a regulating body is very much indispensable as the absence of one would mean total and utter anarchy. But there also needs to be some lines that should never be crossed, no matter what.
The main reasons governments give for adopting such repressive laws are the growing presence of child pornography and the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of copyrights violation. Both these are condemnable crimes, that no self respecting man would indulge in and they need to be controlled and the perpetrators made to face justice. But it should not be at the cost of loss of privacy.
China is the first country that pops to one’s mind when talking about oppressive cyber laws. The country is quite infamous for its totalitarian method of internet censorship. It is the biggest Big Brother of all, with the Chinese government being time and again caught with their pants down censoring internet giants like Google and Yahoo. But in a land where almost everything is subjected to rigorous scrutiny by the government, these, one can say, were rather expected. The worrying part is that western countries especially the USA, Canada and prominent European countries are now following suit and passing legislations and laws to enhance security and avoid the use of the internet for unlawful activities.
Though the ‘Great Firewall’ of China is not the most efficient, it controls the data and information flow into and out of the country. Simply put, the government decided what the rest of world knew about China and the Chinese citizens knew about the world. Now, the Chinese Government is going one step further in internet censorship. According to a new law being enacted, and which will come into effect very soon, all computer units to be sold in the country will have to be pre loaded with the Green Dam Youth Escort software package. Though it appears to be a pornographic filter, it is actually a spyware that lets the government and any third party clever enough to hack into it, watch every citizen who is on the internet.
Green Dam has scores of uses. It can monitor and block a list of forbidden Web sites. It can also monitor a user’s surfing habits and reading habits. In a hypothetical future cyber war, it can convert the host systems into spam generators by enlisting them in some massive botnet attack. Systems like this invariably invite criminal appropriation and government abuse. New police powers, enacted to fight terrorism, are already used in situations of normal crime and sometimes even for personal or political gain. What makes us so sure the Internet surveillance and control will be so different?
It is bad enough that the government misuses it, but should some third party with malicious intent gain control of these instruments of control, the consequences are bound to be not too pretty. Any surveillance and control system developed should be secure in the first place. Any infrastructure, software of hardware, developed to make the internet a safer place, should in itself be safe. The Chinese government may have developed the Green Dam for its own use, but it can and may be subverted by criminals to steal sensitive information like bank accounts and credit card information. Researchers have already found security flaws in Green Dam that would allow hackers to take over the computers. Of course there are additional flaws, and criminals are looking for them.
China’s actions may be condemned as being too extreme. But the western world is not too far behind. The USA is leading the pack of developed countries that are enforcing stringent cyber laws. Though aimed at preventing cyber terrorism and helping in solving cases, these laws can be misused to extract revenge or for unlawful activities: basically, they take away the anonymity that the internet offers. Anonymity is a dangerous thing, as it gives citizens the courage to raise their collective voices against the repressive policies, atrocities of the government and corruption in the government departments. And governments simply don’t want that. The anonymous status accorded to Twitter users helped save Iranian dissidents’ lives. True, the anonymous nature of the World Wide Web can be misused, like for encouraging pedophilia and terrorism. Granted that without a proper framework to determine the inflow and outflow of data, terrorist attacks can be coordinated from offshore camps and bases. But prevention of these horrid crimes should not take away the privacy of unwary citizens using the internet.
The American and Canadian governments have taken a new lead in the war against terrorism by introducing controversial cyber warfare laws. This June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered the creation of a new military cyber command based in Fort Meade, Maryland, that will not only coordinate the government’s efforts to defend their cyber networks, but to engage in more wide scale cyber warfare campaigns around the world. This, they claim, is in an effort to increase internet security, and the safety of citizens. This means, the government can tap into our internet usage record without a court order and can shadow every movement we make in the cyber world. Although this, they claim, will be initiated only in matters of national interest or if criminal activities are suspected.
These risks are by no means theoretical. Such laws have been misused in the past, and nothing is stopping them from misuse this time around. For example, after 9/11, the National Security Agency built a surveillance infrastructure to eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mails within the United States, so that they could monitor terrorist cells that they suspected to be operating on American soil. Although procedural rules very clearly stated that only non-Americans and international phone calls were to be listened to, actual practice didn’t always match those rules. NSA analysts collected more data than they were authorized to, and used the system to spy on wives, girlfriends, and even famous people such as President Clinton.
Nevertheless, the Canadian government too thinks that enacting such laws is a healthy endeavor and has mirrored the American cyber laws. The Canadian government has introduced a new law which would force Internet Service Providers (ISP) to allow police officers and government agents to intercept online communications and to gather personal information about internet users without their consent. Two bills – C-46 and C-47 – introduced in Parliament in June would grant police access without oversight from the courts to all private Internet communications and all information on individual subscribers in the files of ISPs. Protesters are afraid that the government is attempting to seize control of the nation’s cyberspace and computers, thought the government states that it is not trying to militarize the internet.
According to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the bills are intended to modernize the Criminal Code of Canada and to help law enforcement officers to detect and apprehend those suspected of cyber terrorism, cyber crime, or other crimes through technology. The current laws were drawn up around 30 years ago when crime through the internet was not even in consideration. The police stated that they are well aware of privacy concerns expressed by the citizens, and that they will strive to achieve an agreeable balance between privacy and national security.
According to the new law, the police are free to access information of any Internet subscriber, such as name, street address and e-mail address without a search warrant. The new legislation forces Internet service providers to freeze data on hard drives to prevent subscribers under investigation from deleting potentially important evidence. It also requires that telecommunications companies invest in technology enabling them to intercept all of the Internet communications they handle. It will allow police to remotely activate tracking devices already embedded in cell phones and certain cars. Also, the police will be able to obtain data about where Internet communications are coming from and going to. And finally, it makes it a crime to arrange with a second person over the Internet for the sexual exploitation of a child.
Another aspect of the new law that poses considerable problems is the financial burden that the ISPs and end users will have to bear. A considerable change in the hardware and the supporting software is needed to facilitate such data collection and storage. Given the sheer amount of internet usage per day, the data that is collected will run into terabytes that requires mammoth storage facilities and equally humongous cooling solutions. According to the law, Larger ISP’s will have 18 months to complete the necessary changes to their servers, and smaller ISP’s (with fewer than 100,000 subscribers) will have three years to complete the changes. The cost may go up to around $15,000 per customer and this is too huge a burden for many, especially given the current financial condition. When the cost becomes too much to bear, the ISPs will transfer the burden onto the end users and the citizens using the internet will end up paying more to have their data stolen by the government.
In May of this year, the European Union (EU) threatened to sue the British government for violation of EU privacy rules. The British government had passed a targeted internet advertising law. The technology called Phorm technology which enables Internet Service Providers to track web usage of customers for the benefit of behavioral ads is now legal. The EU found that the usage of the technology is not according to the privacy laws drawn out by the EU. UK laws apply only to ‘intentional’ gathering of personal information of users and require that companies need to have only ‘reasonable grounds for believing’ that the users have given their consent while EU laws require that clear consent be given by the users. Internet behavioral advertising is something that can be very useful to both businesses and consumers alike. But they have to be done is such a way as to protect the privacy of internet users. The participation of the consumers should be voluntary and not inadvertent. The EU enquiry was done after the internet users complained that the Phorm technology was being used without proper user consent.
The censorship flu seems to have spread to other European countries too, with German government, the most liberal of them all, erecting infrastructure to facilitate enactment of a new legislation that makes internet censorship legal. The government is planning to block off certain internet sites in order to check child pornography. The general idea is to build censorship architecture that will give the government power to block sites that have child pornography content. The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation is expected to provide the government with a list of sites that are to be blocked, and also a list of ISPs that will be obliged to setup the secret censorship infrastructure. Encryption of sites will also be banned to avoid encrypted child pornography sites from avoiding detection by the censor. This means that VPNs will also be scrutinized, to transfer of malicious content through them.
As soon as news of the planned censorship program was released, large scale protests erupted across the country’s cyber space, and the numbers of protestors are growing. People fear that once the infrastructure is in place, the indexing and blocking of sites can be spread to other sites also, like web sites dedicated to voicing the ire of citizens who disagree with unfair government policies and corrupt officials. The censorship can be extended to cover all sorts of content that the government does not wish to make public. People do want child pornography to stop but, not at the price of the government telling them what they should watch online.
The most stringent and powerful of censorship laws in the whole of Europe were very recently erected in Sweden. The Swedish government, in its bid to balance the protection of private lives of citizens and the surveillance laws required to prevent crime, seems to have tipped over in favor of the latter. By implementing these legislations, the Government of Sweden is robbing the privacy of not only its own citizens, but also certain people around the world. According to the new law, the government can eavesdrop on conversations by telephone, fax and email and can even shadow internet usage, should the flow of data cross the Swedish borders at any point along its journey. Simply put, the government can hear and see every communication that a Swedish citizen or party chooses to have with a non Swedish party located at an offshore location.
The government can track communications for sensitive words that they think pose a potential threat to national security. All this monitoring and censorship requires the approval of no court: that is, it is the discretion of the police. The law enacted by the National Defense Radio Establishment (FRA) makes it mandatory for the operators to channel the data of their clients to the FRA through certain collection nodes that are setup for the sole purpose of data collection. While the FRA claims that it is in the least interested in listening in on the conversations of citizens, the fact remains that it is capable of that and nothing is stopping them from doing so. The private correspondences of citizens who are not suspected of fraud or unlawful activities can also be monitored for no legitimate reason.
The law also provides that the Internet Service Providers need to monitor the sites that they are making available to their users. That is, the ISP will be responsible if the user accesses any illegal material on the internet, and so they have the authority to determine which all are safe sites and have the power to block sites that they feel have objectionable or harmful content. The term ‘illegal material’ is a loose term, and when the ISP is empowered to determine what all are ‘illegal materials’, it takes on a rather unpleasant hue of corporate subservience.
Then there is the financial aspect of these laws. These laws have no clauses about financial remunerations for the costs incurred by the Service Providers while setting up the requisite infrastructure for effective monitoring of internet usage. This will have the end effect of end users paying extra to have their conversations listened to. Experts believe that setting up all this architecture could amount to nothing as the terrorists could easily encrypt messages while ordering hits from offshore camps, unless encryption of email messages is classified as a punishable offense and VPNs are subjected to careful scrutiny. But such a move would be too repressive and a blatant violation of basic human rights. It would also lead to problems to the corporations who are wary of competitors eager for bread crumbs.
The main reason for the enactment of these tight laws is the mounting pressure from corporations that are being affected by copyright infringement. Sweden accounts for nearly eight percentage of the world’s peer to peer file sharing traffic. The hugely popular torrent sharing site Pirate Bay is based in Sweden. Sharing of large amounts of music and other copyrighted material over these networks are, the industry claims, leading to losses amounting to millions of dollars. While piracy and copyright infringement are deplorable crimes, screening of private conversations is not the way to avoid them.
The undeniable fact that surveillance infrastructure can be exported aids totalitarianism around the world. Western companies like Siemens, Nokia, and Secure Computing helped build Iran’s surveillance infrastructure while U.S. companies helped build China’s electronic police state. Every year brings more Internet censorship and control – not just in countries like China and Iran, but in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Sweden and other free countries. The control movement is egged on by both law enforcements, trying to catch terrorists, child pornographers and other criminals, and by media companies, trying to stop file sharers. Whatever the reasons maybe for enacting legislations legalizing the monitoring and censorship of internet usage, the governments need to find a workable balance between playing Big Brother and the invaluable privacy of citizens. And the bottom line is, it is a sign of the society’s state of bad health when technologies that someday might facilitate a police state are commissioned.
What is cryptography?
Generally cryptography is the technique to transform readable data to unreadable data. We deal with it every single day of our life. Many important areas of science use cryptography, but everyone of us has been using it for years, yet didn’t realize what he/she was doing. One can write and research endlessly when it comes to cryptography, therefor this is just a little peak in the areas where it is applied. Now let’s see where cryptography is used!
I don’t get it, what does this really mean?
Think of the ordinary people. We all have secrets, we have a lot of them, and some of them are so precious that we would rather die then tell something about it. Isn’t it? Another very simple example arises from family lives. A family can be considered like a small community consisting of 2-10 members, differing from country to country and depending on what you call “family”. You go somewhere with your family. You need to ask your father when you are going to your cabana which stands in a very beautiful place, and you don’t want others to find out you’re going there. You just ask your old man: “When do we go there?” And that’s it. You just used cryptography! Why? Only because others who heard what you’ve just said don’t know what you’re talking about.
The role of cryptography in our lives
This technique is so important, that we couldn’t do a lot of things without it. Why so? Well let me explain to you. I will now take some of the most important areas of cryptography usage.
We live in a modern world. We must deliver emails, either for business, to friends, companies, famous people whose address we have. It doesn’t matter. We send emails all the time. People deliver around 210 billion emails daily ! When you deliver an email, it has to get trough the internet – a giant network consisting of a lot of computers most of which are unprotected and attackable. A lot of people like to steal data from others, sometimes only for fun, but danger comes when it’s about something else. Just think a minute of how big the Internet is. The first three countries in the highest number of internet users list are:
1.China (253.000.000 users)
2.USA (220.141.969 users)
3.Japan (94.000.000 users)
That’s a lot! There are around 6,720 billion people on earth. And only the first three countries have 0,567 billion Internet users. That is around 8,43%. Now imagine what is out there.
How do emails get protected while they are being sent? All connections between routers and routers themselves need to be secured. That is done by using data encryption. Generally there would be two methods for this security.
The first one is to use PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). This is both the name of a computer program and the protocol itself. But what is pgp protocol in fact? It is a method to secure emails, a standard in cryptographically secure emails. Basically it is used with MIME Security. Before encrypting with pgp, message body and headers should be in MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) canonical format. “multipart/encrypted” denotes encrypted pgp data and must contain the following parameter:
The multipart/encrypted consists of two parts. The first part is a MIME body with “application/pgp-encrypted” content type and contains the control information. Also the message body must contain the following line:
Complete information for decrypting is contained by the pgp packed format. The second part is also a MIME body, with a more simple structure. It contains the encrypted data itself and it is labeled with an “application/octet–stream” content type.
The second method is a tricky one. Sender owns a secure website, recipient has a username and password, and recipient can read the message after logging into the website.
However ISPs can encrypt communication between servers using TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SASL (Simple Authentication and Security Layer). E-mail servers use this kind of protection between each other for example, these servers need their communication protected so no unintended server can get a copy of any e-mail going through these e-mail servers.
TLS is also used in many different setups. TLS is also used with POP3, IMAP, and ACAP. If HTTP is protected by TLS, it provides more security then simple HTTP. A lot of existing client and server products support TLS, but many of them provide no support. Let’s check on more details about TLS/SSL.
TLS and SSL
TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) are almost the same, actually TLS is the successor of SSL; there are only slight differences between them. They are used for: instant messages, emails, browsing, internet faxing. Well, two of the above mentioned are used by everyone. Emails and browsing the Internet: things you do almost everyday. TLS plays an important role on the internet, especially in communications privacy and endpoint authentication. HTTP, FTP, SMTP, NNTP, XMPP are all protocols with TLS protection. TLS can add security to any protocol which uses a reliable connection (like TCP – Transmission Control Protocol). TLS is most commonly used with HTTP to create HTTPS. We also need to mention that TLS is growing in SMTP lately. In the case of VPN, TLS is used to tunnel an entire network stack. VPN will be discussed in its details later. Let’s just think about HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol).
There are around 63 billion websites all over the world, and around 1 trillion unique URLs!
Most of them have a lot of visitors every day. Imagine how important servers are, how important their security is. What would happen if an ordinary hacker could break into any server? Disaster! He would then break another and another and another… Data would be stolen every single minute; Internet wouldn’t have any safe zone. You would be afraid to send emails, to post anything to a blog/forum. It’s hard to understand what would happen without security, most of which is done by cryptography.
A lot of us also use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to transfer data between two computers. It works like you would open Windows Explorer to view files and folders. The only difference is that on an FTP connection you can also download files, not just view or browse them. There are a lot of FTP servers and clients available on the Internet. These tools can ease your work, you can organize your downloads if you use the client side, or you can organize what others can download if you use the server side. Seems like an easy way to transfer files from your friends, from your family members, to your family members, isn’t it? FTP even lets you to use usernames and passwords for your protection. All of the above mentioned is clear and nice said, but even this way FTP is vulnerable! How so? Regarding its architecture, FTP is built in a way which provides ability for users on the same network as the transfer is being processed to sniff data including: files, usernames, and passwords. There is no built-in security or data encryption. A well known solution for this security problem is to use either SFTP or FTPS. Be careful! It’s confusing. SFTP and FTPS are two very differently working file transfer protocols, they are not the same. SFPT is SSH (Secure Shell) File Transfer Protocol. SSH also uses public-key cryptography, which works like this: you have a text to encrypt, and you have a public key and a private key. Text gets encrypted with the public key, but only who knows the private key can decrypt it. With its architecture – the usage of public-key cryptography – SSH is basically used to log in to a machine and execute commands, but can also transfer files (trough SFTP or SCP), and also supports tunneling and port forwarding. FTPS is commonly known as FTP/SSL. FTPS uses SSL/TLS below standard FTP to encrypt the control and/or data channels.
VPN (Virtual Private Network) is like a virtual computer network. Why so? Think about the Internet. How does it work? It consists of a lot of computers and servers linked to each other. And how do connections exist and work? They exist physically, they are linked with wires. Basically the user has an ISP (Internet Service Provider) trough which it gains access to the Internet. Now, what’s the difference between Internet network linking and Virtual Private Network linking? VPN uses virtual circuits or open connections to have the network together.
All nice, but VPN needs security to be efficient and used. Well, it has a special security system. I’ll reflect on VPN security issues. Authentication is required before VPN connection. If you are a known and trusted user, you may have access to resources inaccessible to other users. More interesting is that servers may also need to authenticate themselves to join the Virtual Private Network. Strange mechanism, users are familiar with being required to authenticate themselves on a website or server…but a server also needs authentication? Yes, it does! There are various authentication mechanisms used in VPNs. Some of these mechanisms are included in firewalls, access gateways and other devices. A VPN authentication mechanism uses: passwords, biometrics or cryptographic methods which may be combined with other authentication mechanisms.
Secure VPNs are designed to provide necessary privacy for its users. The essence of this consists in cryptographic tunneling protocols. Secure Virtual Private Network ensures message integrity, confidentiality and sender authentication.
We can see how important cryptography is in our lives. These were rather technical details of cryptography usage. But let’s take some other examples too, not so technical!
Abbreviations. You may be smart, intelligent, but you’re lost if someone uses an abbreviation and you don’t know where it comes from and what it means. Assume you are on a holiday and hear someone saying: “I got that cool stuff from a good FTP server”. You don’t know what this is about if you aren’t familiar with File Transfer Protocol, and don’t know what it means and where it is used.
Think of the old days, the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. People had no mobile phones, no internet, and no e-mail sending opportunity. If they needed to say something to someone who was far away from them, and they didn’t want to use telephones…what could they do other then visiting that person or those persons? They used the Morse code. This is familiar to us, but many of us only know what it means, not how to understand or produce Morse code itself. There were two common solutions to produce Morse code. One of it worked only for short distances generally. It was something like you pick up an object and hit another object to produce noise; that noise was the Morse code. The other solution worked for big distances too. Assume it was night time, and a ship was sailing on the sea or on the ocean, fighting a huge storm. Back then, people had a lot of wooden ships, which couldn’t resist in front of a big storm’s power. So if there were people on the ground, 1-2 kilometers away from the ship location, they could have used a flashlight to guide the ship safely to the shore. The strong point of the flashlight Morse coding was that it worked even during daytime. Most commonly it was used to ask for help, if someone was in trouble during daytime. A lot of times there were people who had small boats, got themselves far away from the seashore, and didn’t know how to get back to the shore. It was terrifying, and people couldn’t afford themselves to “guess” where to go. So they waited until a ship came close enough to be on sight, and after that they used the flashlight, and were observed if lucky.
We use telephones and mobile phones to communicate. Telephones transmit electric signals over a complex telephone network. This technology allows almost anyone to communicate with almost anyone. The only problem is given by the fact that telephones can easily be eavesdropped. Eavesdroppers only need three things to perform the operation: a pickup device, a transmission link and a listening post. If someone has the above mentioned elements, it can become an eavesdropper. The pickup device is most commonly a microphone or a video camera. These devices can record sound or and video images later to be converted to electric signals. Also some listening devices can store information digitally and then send it to a listening post. The transmission link can be a wire or a radio transmission. A listening post allows monitoring, recording or retransmitting signals. It can be as close as the next room, or several blocks away. An eavesdropper just has to put a bug into your telephone, and it’s ready. Don’t get confused, it’s only a matter of seconds to install a bug. The above mentioned method is based on installing devices. Landlines can also be tapped anywhere between your telephone and the telephone company’s office. Anyway, the installer of the telephone tap needs physical access to the telephone cables. There are several methods to gain access. This second method is called tapping, which involves no device installing and needs no access to the victim’s telephone. You can protect yourself against eavesdropping by using telephone encrypting devices. Mobile phones are used by almost every second man on earth. It has all the functionality of a simple telephone, but it adds more services like: SMS, MMS, Email, Internet, Gaming and Bluetooth. Mobile phones automatically connect to GSM towers or satellites, regarding to which of them is more efficient in time and also available. Mobile phone signals can be picked up just as a backyard satellite dish pulls television signals in. To protect yourself against eavesdropping, you can acquire cell phone encrypting devices. Fortunately there are encrypting devices for both telephones and mobile phones.
Many kids like to invent new things and explore everything around them! Probably you know about some kids encrypting their messages or diaries like choosing a custom ABC. That is easy to do. You get an extreme character for each letter of the ABC, and only you and the ones who need to be able to read your messages know which symbol corresponds to which character.
We’ve seen a lot of different areas of where cryptography is used in our days or in the past. As a common man, you can easily observe cryptography everywhere around yourself! It’s so amazing how far science got, and it keeps going and going, getting a lot of new knowledge every day. Emails and Internet are used by more and more people every day. We just can’t imagine our lives without it. And all of these work and get secured based on cryptography.
An anonymity service is a special type of service that requires the usage of certain software to make Internet surfing anonymous. The anonymity software utilises the public proxy servers or their own personal private proxy servers to conceal their actual IP addresses. An anonymous proxy server is a server that serves the purpose of a relay, linking the client and the viewed Web site. The use of anonymous proxy servers helps in hiding the IP address of the user’s computer from the Web sites that they are surfing and helps in providing encryption. Anonymous proxy servers are very helpful to users who want to make sure that their online activities cannot be kept an eye on. Privacy and anonymity is of great importance to users who use wireless networks since they are a lot more susceptible to be spied around than they would have been if they were using a wired network. Proxy servers are widely used by numerous organisations that include schools and corporations. They use proxy servers to consolidate their security and get anti-malware and caching services. Proxies are widely used in businesses to stop avoiding the acceptable use policy since it does not require any browser configuration for the user. It also helps in the prevention of exposing their data to the other third party websites. Proxy servers also help in the prevention of web bugs also known as ‘web beacons”, “pixel tag” or “invisible GIF”. The function of these malicious entities is to pass information from the client’s computer to other third party Web sites. These bugs work together with the cookies. The web bugs make information available to be collected and tracked in the Internet’s inexistent environment. It is usually a single-pixel see-through GIF image. The web bug can transfer the data when its HTML code is pointed to a website to repossess the image.
The purpose of the proxy is to supply a network address translation, which functions to veil the particulars of the inner network. Provided that the user’s configuration is cautious enough and the user has not unveiled too much of unencrypted personal information, the proxy alone can provide anonymity to casual Internet users. One of the things that make proxies so efficient in providing anonymity is that they deal with the data at the protocol level instead of dealing with data packets. As a result they can scrutinize all the protocol transfers, providing a more detailed filtering, security and reviewing abilities. This gives the proxies the ability to filter out unwanted data types such as Flash contents, ActiveX controls or executable files.
Internet Service Providers (ISP)s provide internet access to the users. All the information to and from the users is conveyed through the user’s ISP. As a result, all the ISPs are capable of tracking all the things about the consumer’s unencrypted Internet actions. The ISPs sometimes collect information about the users under their service. They are not supposed to do so due to certain issues like legal, business and ethical factors. From a privacy point of view, the ISPs should gather information required to supply the Internet connectivity only, but it is believed that ISPs gather furthermore information such as the users’ cumulative browsing behaviour as well as personally-identifiable histories. The possibilities of this gathered information can be numerous and whether or not the ISPs notify its users about this, it is a considerably important privacy concern. Although the ISPs claim that they make the information available to the government if requested, it is thought that the ISPs use these collected information and they sometimes sell these information to other third parties. If the data is well encrypted reaching the Internet from the users, an ISP will not be able to tract the data contents. HTTPs are the most accepted standards for web-traffic encryption but still the ISP is capable of tracking the IP addresses of the user and the recipient. A lot of commercial services and programmers have stepped forward to work on anonymous proxy services to help organisations and businesses to mask and protect their data. These services usually do not share or sell any personal information belonging to the user and do not use any cookies or anything equivalent. The data created by their users are not viewed under any circumstances nor are they stored, they contain the rights to disapprove anyone of their services for any reasons under their judgement. These services are usually very helpful to their clients but are strictly against certain types of abuses like child-porn or spamming.
Open proxy servers allow client connections from all kinds of IP addresses and connect to any Internet resources. Therefore open proxies are misused in large portions to deliver spam in e-mails. While using proxy servers, all the data which is transferred between the client and a destination passes through the proxy servers with most of its data in unencrypted form. Therefore chances are there that malevolent proxy servers might record all the things sent through the proxy together with unencrypted passwords and login names. The activities can be concealed from the sight of the client’s destination by linking proxies that do not expose information about the actual requester. If the sources of these proxies are not known, the client can turn out to fall victim to fake security since those particular details are forgotten.
Keeping all these things in mind, while using proxy servers, it is vital to know whether you wish to use an unknown free proxy for your important communications or a commercial privacy service which is known, specialized in these matters and has something to lose.
Nineteen Eighty-four (1984), an anti-utopian (dystopian) novel, published in 1949. The writer George Orwell tells the story of Winston Smith and his dilapidation by the dictatorial superstate Oceania in which he lives. He grew up during the revolution and the civil war in post- World War II United Kingdom. He was orphaned Due to the loss of his parents during the civil war and was placed in an orphanage by the “English socialism” movement. Eventually he got a job in the Outer Party and has been a member ever since. The novel describes a world of “Totalitarianism” where “Thought crime” means death through the dealings of “Thought Police”. The “Thought Police” were said to have placed Telescreens, hidden microphones and informers in every public place and not to mention the Party households.
That was “1984” a book from the year 1949. Now come to reality, think of our world today. Think about the last time you stepped out on the streets, have you ever noticed the sidewalk surveillance keeping an eye on you all the while? The government says you got to put them in your house too, why?! For security reasons of course. To hell with security who is going to give me my privacy. Have you walked into your work place or your friends place without ever getting the feeling that you were being watched? Or spoken over the phone thinking it was only your girlfriend who could hear you on the other side, if you have, say hello to wire tapping. It does get on your nerves doesn’t it? You think maybe you can calm your senses down with a drink at the local bar, oopps!! Guess who you meet there? Your old friend the CCTV grinning right back at you. Ok, forget the drink, lets get out for some fresh air, who doesn’t like fresh air, it’s good for the health too. Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t like the fresh cameras keeping fresh eyes on my neck. You can’t even have a peaceful walk around the park. It’s like “Thought Police”, remember “1984”? Ok, let me see, we must have something that the book doesn’t have. Ah!!! I got it. Our government got complete control over mass media which is constantly manipulated to act in accordance with the past doings of the ruling party. Uh, nope, the book got this one too. Maybe you can enjoy some privacy in your car, go for a long drive to the country, they have ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) and traffic analysis, they can track you but at least they can not see you! The government got an eye on everything you do; the world is a raw victim to “Totalitarianism”. We are the free people of a free country with the rights of every man for himself, nice statement to say and hear, but beware! All that glitters is not gold. This organization (Totalitarianism) is commanded by the political powers using misinformation circulated through the state-controlled mass media, secret police, mass surveillance, widespread use of terror tactics. And forget freedom of speech, they do have laws which covers the regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism. Whew! Talk about free speech. You could go to jail for doing the same thing they claim you were free to do.
This book explains the nature of the uninterrupted war, and exposes the truth behind the Party’s slogan, “War Is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.” We might not be shouting out or repeating the same slogan from “1984”, but we can sure see what it means. This slogan is practically living a physical form in the world today. “We are not attacking them, we are trying to free them from their miseries” that’s what our government says when they declare war on other countries right? They even track where your money is going. Someone got to tell them that it’s not their money that I am spending, it’s my money. Who are you to care where it goes. It’s my money and I demand a freedom to spend it where and how I wish. They should get this simple thought through their thick scull. I don’t mean to sound or be pessimistic, but believe it or not, we are living the life of 1984, a vision George Orwell had in the year 1949. I think the higher political levels are using the “Dystopian” society as the role model which used fascism, bureaucracy, socialism, chaos, anarchy, totalitarianism, dictatorships and other forms of political, social and economical control. The funniest part is it is a fictional society. Makes u laugh doesn’t it? Woah! Hold on your horses, I don’t dare laugh. Who knows what they might have implanted in my brain after I was born. With all these biometric data identification and DNA testing things, I pretty much can not have a private thinking session in my own brain. The problem is, with these facilities, the surveillance, voice recognition, ANPR, biometric analysis, you can be framed of a crime you did not do and it makes it look more like you actually did it.
Well, the final point is where I take you back to the header of the writing, “Is it 1984?” what would you answer to this question? If your answer is Maybe, I would nicely ask you to wake up and go brush your teeth. If the answer is NO, well what can I say, you are the ruling party. The vivid answer would be YES. Why? Why not? Go read the book again. Then come back to reality. You would see what I am talking about. There is no difference, we are simply living life in the vision of George Orwell in 1984.
Freedom of Speech on the Internet Once upon a time, the world was made up of many, many communities that each had different opinions about free speech. Some allowed it, some prohibited it, and some operated in vast grey areas depending on what their particular dictionaries defined as freedom of speech. It really only mattered what a county’s particular constitution said about free speech, and most of them had something that ended up being somewhere in the middle regarding free speech.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that it became apparent that there was going to be something that could take the world’s different ideas of free speech and make them all into one basic definition, and one basic idea. That was the internet. The internet was this broad land where anyone could go, and where anyone could post just about anything. There wasn’t anything that was too much for the internet – as things got more complex, sites just got bigger and more able to handle large amounts of information. Everything got bigger, in fact. At last count, there were millions of web sites, and millions of domain names. Everyone wanted in on the action. Especially the companies that decided to log on to the internet as well. Remember all of them, vying for places to be and domain names, thinking they would hit it rich and make the big time just by being online? It just so happened that there were a lot of business that made it online… and a lot more that did not. When it came right down to it, selling things online was simply another way of selling, and in the selling world, some things work while other things do not.
However, the internet ended up being about much more than selling. It ended up being about having a place to speak your mind and to tell others what you really thought. It very easily become apparent that being online was like being on a huge sounding board, that spread all over the world. You could say anything, and there were no rules and regulations to censor you. Even on sites that had adult content, people were posting things and people were seeing things. There was no way to control what went onto the internet, and there still is no way to make sure certain things stay off of it. It was a nightmare for a country that didn’t want its citizens to see anything.
Before nations were able to log onto the internet, borders between countries meant so much more than they do now. Governments could set rules about the kinds of things that were allowed in their countries. They could search people as they left and came into their countries, taking away things that were either not supposed to leave their home land, or not supposed to be brought in. Governments could control publishing houses, and tell them what they could and could not put into books. Music, writing, and the arts, could all be censored due to the government, and all it would take to enforce the censorship would be government police raiding homes. It was very easy for governments to censor what their citizens were allowed to see, and what they were allowed to do.
There were countries that contained citizens who were not allowed to know anything about the rest of the world. And, when important things happened in these countries, the rest of the world wasn’t allowed to know about it. It was easy for governments to shut down radio and television links and cut phone lines. Information could be trapped and kept, either in a country, or out of a country. For a lot years, you could see that the countries that had leaders who did not want any information about their country to get out were virtually shut off from the rest of the world.
Then, the internet came to be. And since then, boarders have been eliminated, much to the anger of the leaders of countries who do not want their citizens to see things they should not see. It has all changed drastically in the last 20 years. The internet has no country boarders. There is no way to restrict certain sites to be only viewable within a country, and no way to prevent citizens of a country from having access to sites that are within another country. If someone has an internet connection, they can view any sites on the internet. There is no way for a country to only allow its citizens to view one particular site over another, unless they set up an internet of their own and don’t let their citizens connect to other internet sources. The thing about the internet is that no matter how hard someone tries to keep something off of it, it is nearly impossible to do. There are even ways for people to get around sites that require passwords and other things in order to get on the site. Hackers have been logging in to view things for many years, and this means that even if a company tries to make their sites into sites that have restricted or limited viewing, it is going to be to no avail.
This posed a difficult problem for governments that wanted to establish rules and regulations about what their citizens could and could not know. Because it was nearly impossible to outlaw technology like computers and cell phones, it became impossible as well to outlaw the internet, much less restrict what citizens were able to find there, and therefore what they were able to learn, about their country or the rest of the world. This was very frustrating, and still is very frustrating, to countries that want their citizens to have technology but don’t want them to see things that are going on in the real world. Most of the concerns for governments in these countries lie in the fact that when a person logs on to the internet, not only can they access information that their government might not want them to see, they can also access information about their government, and news about their own country, that other countries are reporting. This becomes very dangerous for countries, because many governments try to keep things from their citizens, but these things are impossible for the rest of the world not to notice. When something happens in a particular country, it might not report it to its citizens, but the rest of the world is surely going to notice, and they are going to talk about it. You will find that news, especially news about major operations in different countries, is readily available online. This becomes the norm for people who are trying to look up information about the country that they live in, they will find it out from news sources outside of their country.
In many instances, the internet became the tool of the truth, and thus it remains. In 1990, during the Tiananmen Square rebellion, even though the government tried to shelter the rest of the world from what was going on, other Chinese communities around the world were able to see and hear everything, because of the internet. The same thing happened during the Russian Coup in 1991. The information blackout which took out the television and radio stations was bypassed by an internet company called Relcom, who stayed online in order to keep Soviet citizens, and citizens around the world, up to speed about what was going on. The first real well know Internet Relay Chat occurred during the Kuwait invasion that same year – users logged on and got information up to the second about what was going on in Kuwait, because internet connections and links were able to stay operational more than a week after the radio and televisions were cut out.
Because of situations like these, citizens are able to find out things about their own countries that they might not have ever had access to. This is going to allow someone to be able to see things that their government doesn’t want them to see. If you can look online and see what your government is doing, through the eyes of another country, you are going to learn a lot.
Just look at the United States right now. If we listen to our own news broadcasts, they do tell the news, as in they tell what the government wants us to know. It isn’t always that they aren’t telling us the truth, it is just that they are putting a spin on to it. Especially on conservative media channels, people are talking about things in such a way that makes it hard to believe that our country could do anything but good. Everything that a country like the United States does is good in the eyes of people in the news room. This is blatant propaganda, because they are only reporting the things that might look good to others, and they are failing to report things that might make us look bad. And the style of reporting is the most frustrating of all. The United States has a habit of hiring nice looking people to tell personal interest stories so that everyone will have a nice chuckle and think that our country is the best country in the world. They don’t tell things that are disturbing, and they don’t report news that might not be pretty and beautiful to the other people who are currently watching the programs. If you want to find out news in the United States, the best thing that you can do is to go to a site that reports things that happen in the US but reports them from another perspective. Independent British media channels will tell you want is actually going on in the United States, and they’ll give you an idea of what was said and what was not said, and what really happened. They don’t care how they look, and they don’t care what truths they fail to tell.
That doesn’t meant that the governments feel good about their citizens being able to know what is going on in the world. And it doesn’t mean that governments felt good about allowing access to all of their citizens having access to information. Even in the United States, in 1996, the government attempted to quell freedom of speech on the internet by passing the Communications Decency Act, which tried to prohibit adult material from being distributed on the web. Due to the blatant disregard for freedom of speech, as well as the absolute impossibility of being able to enforce such a law, it was quickly found to be unconstitutional. This doesn’t mean that things like this never happen. All of the time there are reports of websites that get blocked out from certain places. It happens more than you’d think, because the government has hackers as well, and they have people that can go in and find ways to disable sites. There are a lot of ways that sites can become disabled, and if your site is targeted by the government, you can expect that you might have quite a few problems staying online. It is interesting to note that in that same year, many countries all around the world were trying to make their citizens immune to the freedoms of speech that were showing up all over the place. China mandated that if anyone used the internet, they had to register with the police. Germany banned access to adult newsgroups. Saudi Arabia restricted the internet so that it could only be used in hospitals and universities. Singapore passed restrictions that called for anyone having a political or religious site to register with the government. In New Zealand, the courts declared that computer disks and hard drives were a form of publication, and there fore could be censored. This sounds an awfully lot like what happens in the US though, when a site is taken offline.
Or, you should look at what happens in elementary schools and in public libraries. Yes, there is a reason to limit a student’s access to adult information, but schools have gotten to the point where they are limiting their students’ access to many sites. They have gotten so afraid of students getting into trouble because of something that they find online that they have made it hard for a child to do much of anything on the computers at school. This means that the teachers are also unable to visit the sites that they’d like to visit while at school. Now, I’m not saying that we should let our kids look at porn online while they are at school, but because of all of the limitations, there are plenty of good and decent sites that are becoming more and more off limits to kids in schools, and this is bothersome. However, even with rules and regulations in certain places, it quickly becomes apparent that a country or a government can try again and again to banish free speech from the internet, and they can try to limit what their citizens see, but in the end, one of these things could contain the power of the internet, or the power of free speech. Even in a place where schools ban certain sites, those sites can’t be taken down permanently because of that. And even if government hackers attack certain sites, that doesn’t mean that those sites are going to be unavailable. It means that people sometimes have to work harder in order to get their rights that are supposed to be infallible.
Sometimes, we have to work a little bit harder to actually take part in the things that the constitution says we should be able to take part in. I think its funny, actually, because sometimes it seems like in order to get our freedom of speech we have to fight for it, when all of those battles are supposed to have already been won for us. I guess that means that sometimes we just have to work extra hard. But that’s okay. Its worth it, in the end. It becomes very clear to anyone that the internet is an area in the world that everyone has equal access to. This is not counting the countries that don’t allow their citizens to have computers, or to have the internet at all. This means that if you can reach the internet, in any way, shape, or form, you are going to be able to have access to the same information that everyone else in the world can. It is virtually impossible to stop these practices. If a person can get to a computer, there is no way that they can be banned from sites, unless they are in a place that will filter the content of the sites that they see. However, it is impossible for a government to figure out how to filter all of the computers that are in their country, which means that if a person is in a place where they have their own computer with an internet connection, and aren’t relying on a public place that might ban certain sites, they can actually get to any site that they would like to get to, and not be stopped along the way.
Its mind boggling, really. To think that there is a certain place that exists only in waves and on computers, through the phone and cable lines. This place is so extensive that there is room for anyone’s ideas, and there is time enough for anyone to speak their mind. However, this place cannot be touched or felt. It is a place that only exists in microchips, which I find amazing. You can visit it, and with a single click you can be somewhere that is halfway around the world. It is amazing what you might find on the internet, there are no limits to the things you might be able to see and do. And if you cannot find a site that has exactly what you are looking for, you can go ahead and make a site. Anyone can. It is easy. And it is even free. There are hundreds of places that will let you set up your own site, free of charge. And they will let you post your thoughts and your opinions and your beliefs. It is absolutely amazing to me.
What is also amazing is that in the end, there is no way around it. Some countries don’t have internet access for their citizens, or they have it but it is extremely expensive or hard to come by. However, technology has advanced so far that in the end, it also becomes impossible to prevent people form getting online, even in countries that don’t have internet servers of their own. Many phone companies operate overseas, and these companies can allow you to dial in to the internet, even if you can’t access it from your cable lines. You can also get the internet on mobile phones, making it available anywhere that there is mobile phone service. There is no way to protect your citizens from the internet, and there should not be. In the end, even if you ban an internet company from coming in and setting up cable modems and DSL connections, your citizens could get cell phones and pay to connect their computers to the internet. The internet has become the real world, because it is the one thing that everyone has access to.
The world was not intended to be a place in which people were only given the information that their governments wanted them to hear. However, this has happened a great deal in the years leading up to the invention of the internet, and take a look at what has happened. Because of the information block out imposed by many governments around the world, people who aren’t educated have spread the AIDS virus to many more people than they would have had they had the education. Crime and conspiracies abound in all governments of the world, but are even more so in the places where the government controls what its citizens are able to have access to.
The internet is our path to worldwide freedom. No matter who is knocking on your door, or what you can and can’t do in the street in front of your own home, if you can have access to the internet, you can say and do anything you’d like. You can learn about any subject, you can speak your mind on any issue. The internet is the true key to freedom of speech. It is in fact the only place that is really left where you can speak your mind. Even in countries like the United States, that claim to have free speech, I wouldn’t be surprised if that ends up being just a myth. But this is online. I can say anything I want here, and I will be okay. That means that I can find a way to truly always have my freedoms of speech, even if they are slowly being taken away from me in my own home town. But that is for another article, all together.