Thursday, 31 July 2008

The folly of the banners

Humans are infinitely resourceful. When the Nazis overan Europe one of their first actions in the occupied territories was always to confiscate all the radios. Within a couple of years, the continent had manufactured hundreds of thousands of home-made crystal receivers and were twiddling their cat's whiskers to tune in to the BBC. Even in the POW camps each block pretty well had its own radio.

Ban alcohol and in two minutes every second shed will have a bucket of something fermenting. Stop hundreds of tonnes of herbal cannabis entering the country and in five minutes the inner cities turn to horticulture. Ban printing and folk will start carving potatoes into serif blocks. Ban hunting and hounds will kill more foxes than ever.

There's probably an equation somewhere that quantifies the relationship between the complexity of the banned technology or process, the risk of getting caught and the strength of desire for the outcome of the banned thing. Freedom of expression and communication is a pretty powerful driver; those who imagine that the government can effectively regulate the web through the ISPs are away with the fairies.

The internet was designed to be the ultimate Samizdat medium. Digital packets that can be routed and shunted around a million resilient connections and coupled up again into coherence. Every 12 year old knows how it works. The final copper or fibre optic cable that connects most of us is just the most convenient option, not the sole option. And just as Europe became expert builders of radios out of old scraps of copper wire and cotton reels in WWII, in no time at all whole populations could establish clandestine web access that bypasses the ISPs. If they have to.

Just ask the security services whether they'd prefer the current unregulated arrangements or an underground interweb running beneath a tightly regulated 'official' web through compliant ISPs. Idiots.


Blue Eyes said...

If Jaqs doesn't know it, her advisers do. Flouting the rules will be a strongly punished offence and suspicion will just be used as an excuse to turn over dissidents' homes. The great totalitarian dream is to criminalise us all so that the state has some lever over us if we step out of line.

Think I'm being paranoid?

Newmania said...

Who is doing what to the internet then ?

Raedwald said...

Just some nonsense from Jacqui Smith, Paul. Spyblog has a few notes on it at