Internet / News

Britain’s “Porn Ban” is an Act of War

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The UK’s PM David Cameron has decided to play Mary Poppins and ban porn from his country’s Internet for the sake of its children. His proposed measures would impose a default filter on basically any device that can access the web. Adults can opt out and turn the filter off by contacting their ISP, but the troubling fact remains that the British government has seen fit to limit everyone’s experience for the sake of parents who don’t want to talk to their kids about sex, or opt IN to a filter.

Even with the filter in place, there are numerous ways for Brits to see online boning. From day one, the filter and ban will mean almost nothing to people with any web savvy (in other words, children). To the rest, it presents a serious barrier. Lacking the wherewithal to rustle up porn, a good amount of the country will be forced to either soldier on without it, or admit to their ISP and anyone else who looks at their Internet bill that they really want it enough to specifically ask. Fretting over first-worlders’ porn stashes may seem like a stupid thing to do, but regardless of this proposal’s effectiveness, or lack thereof, this attempt to widely police what a population can access should be seen as part of a much bigger and more serious issue: a civil war over the Internet.

The Internet is an extra-national entity, almost a nation unto itself. Populated and operated by ordinary people around the world, it exists in precisely the kind of grey area brought on by the entire technologically able world being connected and exchanging information 24/7. In real life, it’s operated and owned by companies and corporations. The sites people use to express themselves and get their message out are often owned by a third party (Facebook, Youtube, WordPress, etc). This leads to existential problems for the internet, which is simultaneously the medium of expression for multitudes of people and subject to the profit-minded whims of capitalists and legislation passed down by governments.

Hello, we’re from the Internet

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When my family got our first dialup modem, the Internet was still in a wild-west stage, a mysterious and romantic wilderness. We used Netscape Navigator, whose entire aesthetic was built around the idea of exploration and discovery. And the Internet has indeed been long regarded as a virtual world. Once I switched to Firefox and left Netscape behind, it lost some of its magic. Maybe it was just that I got used to the Internet, learned how to really use it. I had settled and become a citizen, and having lost my wonder I settled into a confidence and respect for this second home. I knew it could do almost anything, and that I could be or do or find almost anything I wanted on it. This is what the Internet has come to mean for many of its power-users.

But in recent years, we’ve seen several rounds of legislation that attempt to change that. SOPA and PIPA, bills written with the stated purpose of curbing online piracy, and CISPA, a cyber security bill, garnered the most attention, all of them sparking online protests and “blackouts.” Each bill has been criticized for widely-aimed methods that punish sites with user-submitted content, threaten the users themselves for activity that isn’t illegal, employ vague definitions that could enable censorship, attack the structural integrity of the Internet, and even help set up a global intelligence network based on online activity (tee hee). Each bill has been defeated, not gone to a vote, or threatened with a veto. And after each, the next one was announced, with largely the same issues as the others.

Such bills have a legitimate purpose, or at least appear to. Protecting one’s property, your feelings on copyright law aside, is a reasonable goal, and Internet piracy is a crazy assault on those rights. Providing security for real-life nations from attacks both on- and off-line is similarly well-intentioned. Putting the well-being of the Internet over these goals can and often does sound like entitled whining. The problem, as we all know, is that these bills fail at their stated goal and generally serve to reduce freedom on the Internet or turn it against its users. Piracy, like pornography, is going to find a way no matter what you do, and the only people who are really affected by anti-piracy measures are legitimate consumers. Have you really bought more movies or music since Megaupload was killed? The problem is that these bills aren’t written with the Internet in mind. Offline values and norms are being applied to a place where they don’t exist. Repeated iterations of flawed “solutions” like these only prove further that the Internet itself is under attack, not just media pirates.

Inorganic change is hostile change

The anonymity of the internet causes fear in non-digital state entities

The anonymity of the internet causes fear in non-digital entities and states

There’s also been a number of concerning decisions made by social media. Google+, which I had high hopes for as a better Facebook, instated a “real names” policy that attempted to remove the anonymity of its users. This action was taken presumably to mold their end of the Internet (like, basically half of the Internet) into a form that was less ambiguous and more familiar to the establishment.

At this point, Facebook is a pillar of the Internet. Despite its only marginal utility and its sapping of productivity, its disrespect for privacy, data mining, its not-ad “promoted posts,” a majority of users will acknowledge that it’s shitty (for that is basically indisputable), and then go on using it. Which makes its constant changes and ever-increasing privacy issues much worse. It’s stupid that people feel they have to use Facebook, but these changes really do feel like a violation because of that. The main channel for establishing one’s online identity is a machine that grinds its users up as food for advertisers. These sites, however, are private, and free to do as they wish. It’s important, in fact, that private websites have this right.

This is not the case with the Internet at large. The Internet started out as a novelty, something super fun and mysterious, but has matured into an integral part of the first world. Whereas Facebook is a single site, and basically just a drug that makes you feel connected and social, the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool for the individual that’s not only hugely empowering, but effectively necessary for modern life. Its users have come together and formed communities upon communities, a global consciousness and a culture that hops national barriers. It’s not owned by anybody but its users as a collective.

Attempts to dictate what Internet users can and can’t do, or making unwanted changes to the Internet itself, crosses a line, even if you are just targeting your own citizens. Extreme examples like Egypt and Syria outright shutting the Internet off spur discussion regarding free speech and the Internet’s place in the modern world, but these concerns are forgotten when it comes to enforcing copyright law and keeping kids from seeing porn. Egypt and Syria’s loss of capability was of course more severe and more important.  But this view only addresses the Internet’s value as a communication tool, when it’s clearly much more than that. Governments of the world have been acting like dictators over the Internet when they should be negotiating and trying to influence change, instead of forcing it. The trouble is that they have every capability and legal right to dictate, and will do so until they don’t.

Staking a claim

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Currently, the Internet relies on the good will of capitalists, an inherently ridiculous proposition. It is at the mercy of corporations and governments because it’s run using services they control. For the Internet to continue being a free place, it needs to adapt, and us along with it. Legislation like SOPA is never going to end, and petty annoyances like Cameron’s porn crusade will likewise spring eternal. The solution is to remove control from these people. Establish the Internet as a truly independent, distinct entity instead of letting it sit in some space between being that and just another way to make bank. With all of the power concentrated by moneyed interests, the Internet can only be the latter when it comes down to it.

Defeating legislation can only go so far. There will always be people who want to control what you’re doing online. To preserve the Internet as we idealize it, we need to learn how to escape and avoid methods of outside control. The UK’s porn ban can be avoided with a proxy. It can be circumvented through countless means, really, because it’s a weak-ass law that doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing. Everyone’s basically got this one handled. Imgur, Tumblr, websites that slip through the cracks, new websites, are all ways someone living under the porn ban could still get porn. Same goes for piracy; most people on Reddit or other sites for serious users could manage to find the latest episode of whatever show you’re trying to keep up with, torrent or streaming. We know how to do this stuff. But we don’t know how to deal with DNS bans. We don’t know how to keep our activity truly confidential.

When the Internet went out in Egypt, knowledgeable people helped restore small bits of service. Tor, though currently a home for pedophiles and drug traffickers, can be strengthened and adapted for widespread internet use free from most interference and tracking. Some of this work is already being done, especially now, with the NSA’s programs made public. This is the knowledge we should be gathering up and the infrastructure we should be building. The Internet must divest from the real world as much as possible. Then, we can laugh at CISPA like we laugh at David Cameron.

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