November 19, 2011

Viacom's New SOPA/PIPA Internet Censorship Pitch - Truth Annotated Edition!

Viacom has just released a video calling for support of global Internet censorship via SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).

A truth annotated version of this approximately seven minute video is now available.

Viacom's New SOPA/PIPA Internet Censorship Pitch - Truth Annotated Edition!
(YouTube / ~7 minutes)


Posted by Lauren at 08:13 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

November 17, 2011

Why SOPA Censorship Is Actually Aimed at Google

As I've discussed very recently in Congress Declares War on the Global Internet - Internet Replies "Bring It On!" and The Coming Fascist Internet, there are many reasons to hate and fear Congress' efforts to censor and control the Internet via SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).

It obvious how such powers -- focused on the U.S. using unilateral leverage over the Domain Name System (DNS) to impose its views of "appropriate" Web materials globally -- would be abused, and expanded over time. If it's appropriate to shut down sites to protect the profits of Disney or Universal, every group concerned about items on the Net that they consider to be objectionable or dangerous -- or even just "inappropriate for children -- will be demanding Congress grant them similar Web censorship rights. "After all," they'll say, "aren't our children at least as important as entertainment industry profits?"

Notably, the anti-circumvention criminalization measures in SOPA would appear to mandate that any method of finding Web sites that is not subject to government control could be considered illicit.

And what is the main way that most people actually do find Web sites these days?

Most of us depend less and less on the confusing and often misleading mess of domain names. Without a doubt, search engines are the primary site discovery mechanism now, with Google obviously leading that pack.

SOPA is cognizant of this fact, by requiring search engines to remove sites from search results essentially on demand when sites have been accused of being primarily involved in "piracy"(not restricted only to sites that actually distribute pirated materials, but also sites that link to such items).

A simple thought experiment reveals why SOPA's model will fail to control piracy as its proponents wish, and why calls for its vast expansion -- primarily aimed at censoring Google -- can be anticipated.

SOPA, PIPA, et al. are generally focused currently on the concept of sites that are "centralized" repositories of "pirated" data, and sites that specialize in providing links and other information that aid discovery of those primary sources.

These legislative efforts assume that by "disappearing" such sites from the DNS and search engines, users will be unable to find the materials of interest, even if the primary repositories are operating in foreign jurisdictions not under direct U.S. control.

So let's think about this. Imagine that there are indeed a number of (possibly stable, possibly frequently moved) central sites that store large numbers of "pirated" files, and known sites that specialize in linking to those downloading sites (perhaps torrent-related, perhaps not). The U.S. knows where these sites are, and uses SOPA powers to remove them all from the DNS, and to order Google (plus other search engines under U.S. jurisdiction) to remove these sites from their search results.

But the repository sites in this example aren't actually shut down, only their names and search results have been liquidated.

If you could find these repository sites, you could still access the files, through use of IP addresses rather than domain names.

Now let's imagine that a large number of sites unrelated to "pirated" files, but sympathetic to free speech concerns, decided that they'd each list (on a sort of "by the way" basis) just a few -- perhaps even one each -- IP address links to "forbidden" material at those repositories (perhaps in a tiny font at the bottom of their home pages) open to Google and other search engine spidering.

What do we now have? It would seem we have a vast, distributed index that could be used to access censored materials despite government DNS takedown orders and the removal of primary linking sites from search results (also under government order).

Under this model, if you go to your favorite search engine looking for a particular movie (or whatever censored materials are of interest), you'll still likely find lots of results that lead to those forbidden repositories, even though no sites acting primarily to distribute those links are involved!

The reaction of censorship proponents would seem predictable -- they would demand that Google and other search engines remove pages/sites from search results even if there's a single mention of a link leading to "offending" material, regardless of the other data on those pages and sites.

In other words, proponents would demand a vast expansion of site censorship with enormous collateral effects, by moving from a "primarily engaged in" to a "merest mention of" approach -- with Google and other search engines the focus of their demands.

Combine this scenario with the needed more proof, you only needed to observe today's Congressional hearing on SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), which was much more akin to a lynch mob, or a scene from dictator's kangaroo court, than a honest attempt to explore the issues.

The hearing was stacked with SOPA proponents whose goal is simple -- get the entire Internet around the world under the boot of U.S.-ordered censorship and total control.

The only real anti-SOPA witness the House Judiciary Committee permitted was Katherine Oyama of Google, and the Committee overall treated her with the kind of unfairness and contempt that make everyday bullies and criminals look like rank amateurs.

It was a disgusting display by Congress, and a clear signal of how our leaders (from both parties) are hellbent on destroying Internet freedoms as we know them today.

If this all weren't so deadly serious, there would almost be comical aspects. The MPAA, faced with complaints that SOPA (and the similar legislation on the Senate side -- PIPA [PROTECT IP]) would break DNSSEC, merrily suggested that it simply should be rewritten so that government censorship orders could be easily implemented.

That the MPAA would make asinine comments like that is actually easy to understand. After all, they view the entire world as simply a film script to be sent out for rewrites on demand. And since their real goal (along with various of their brethren) is to rewrite technology to protect their traditional profit centers -- civil rights be damned -- we should not be surprised when they treat the entire planet like extras to be ordered around like slaves.

So Congress wants to declare War. Judging from my email, the Internet is champing at the bit for battle.

I have never before seen such a flood of messages ranging from "I'm terrified for our future" to "What can we do?" to "Here are my ideas for fighting back."

It's certain that this war could bring with it many causalities. Network fragmentation in various forms is an obvious example, since the rest of the world seems unwilling (surprise!) to allow the U.S. to keep dictating Internet policy forever, especially when the U.S. want to use its skewed control over the DNS (Domain Name System) as a judge, jury, and executioner baton to beat other countries' sensibilities to a pulp.

All manner of "workarounds" to such censorship are being proposed, many extremely intriguing, most of which would actually be illicit under the anti-circumvention provisions of SOPA. There's been a massive increase in queries regarding my proposed distributed Internet naming system (IDONS), but this is a long-term proposal, not a weapon for the immediate battles at hand.

Still, it is apparent that if Congress proceeds along their current path of trying to dictatorially censor sites, search engines, and other aspects of Internet operations, they will be setting loose the technological dogs of war in ways that are beyond the scope of their darkest nightmares, and that make "Anonymous" and the "Occupy" movement look like fleas on an elephant by comparison.

That isn't a threat. It's a prediction. It's a prediction made with the hope (though admittedly not the expectation) that Congress will step back from the precipice that leads to the destruction of the Internet in the form that has brought freedom of communication to the world, to a degree and in manners never before imagined.

Congress' approach to dealing with the issues of piracy is to figuratively use hydrogen bombs as a palliative measure -- cities reduced to rubble won't have much of a piracy problem.

But in the real world of the Net, the technological means to fight such a war are remarkably well distributed among Internet users at large. It seems as if the Congressional push for SOPA/PIPA reveals an utter cluelessness by Congress regarding what is actually about to be unleashed.

If Congress really wants to go to war against the Internet, they'll have their war. But it will be like nothing the world has ever seen before. You can count on it.


Posted by Lauren at 01:18 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

November 13, 2011

The Coming Fascist Internet

Around four decades ago or so, at the U.S. Defense Department funded ARPANET's first site at UCLA -- what would of course become the genesis of the global Internet -- I spent a lot of time alone in the ARPANET computer room. I'd work frequently at terminals sandwiched between two large, noisy, minicomputers, a few feet from the first ARPANET router -- Interface Message Processor (IMP) #1, which empowered the "blindingly fast" 56 Kb/s ARPANET backbone. Somewhere I have a photo of the famous "Robby the Robot" standing next to that nearly refrigerator-sized cabinet and its similarly-sized modem box.

I had a cubicle I shared elsewhere in the building where I also worked, but I kept serious hacker's hours back then, preferring to work late into the night, and the isolation of the computer room was somehow enticing.

Even the muted roar of the equipment fans had its own allure, further cutting off the outside world (though likely not particularly good for one's hearing in the long run).

Occasionally in the wee hours, I'd shut off the room's harsh fluorescent lights for a minute or two, and watch the many blinking lights play across the equipment racks, often in synchronization with the pulsing and clicking sounds of the huge disk drives.

There was a sort of hypnotic magic in that encompassing, flickering darkness. One could sense the technological power, the future coiled up like a tight spring ready to unwind and energize many thousands of tomorrows.

But to be honest, there was little then to suggest that this stark room -- in conjunction with similar rooms scattered across the country at that time -- would trigger a revolution so vast and far-reaching that governments around the world, decades later, would cower in desperate efforts to leash it, to cage its power, to somehow turn back the clock to a time when communications were more firmly under the thumbs of the powers-that-be.

There were some clues. While it was intended that the ARPANET's resource sharing capabilities would be the foundation of what we now call the "cloud," the ARPANET was (somewhat to the consternation of various Defense Department overseers) very much a social space from the beginning.

Starting very early on, ARPANET communications began including all manner of personal discussions and interests, far beyond the narrow confines of "relevant" technical topics. A "wine tasting enthusiasts" mailing list triggered reprimands from DoD when it became publicly known thanks to a magazine article, and I won't even delve here into the varied wonders of the "network hackers" and "mary hartman" mailing lists.

In fact, the now ubiquitous mailing list "digest" format was originally invented as a "temporary" expedient when "high volumes" of traffic (by standards of the time) threatened the orderly distribution of the science-fiction and fantasy oriented "sf-lovers" mailing list. Many other features that we take for granted today in email systems were created or enhanced largely in reaction to these sorts of early "social" communications on the very young Net.

The early ARPANET was mostly restricted to the U.S., but as international points began to come online the wonders expanded. I still remember the day I found myself in a "talk" (chat) link with a party at a military base in Norway -- my first international live contact on the Net that I knew of. I remember thinking then that someday, AT&T was going to start getting concerned about all this.

The power of relatively unfiltered news was also becoming apparent back then. One of my projects involved processing newswire data (provided to me over the ARPANET on a friendly but "unofficial" basis from another site) and building applications to search that content and alert users (both textually and via a synthesized voice phone-calling system -- one of my other pet projects) about items of interest.

For much of the Net's existence, both phone companies and governments largely ignored (or at least downplayed) the ARPANET, even as it evolved toward the Internet of today.

AT&T and the other telcos had explicitly expressed disinterest early on, and even getting them to provide the necessary circuits had at times been a struggle. Governments didn't really seem to be worried about an Internet "subculture" that was limited mostly to the military, academia, and a variety of "egghead" programmers variously in military uniforms and bell-bottoms, whether sporting crew cuts, scruffy longhairs, or somewhere in-between.

But with the fullness of time, the phone companies, cable companies, governments, and politicians galore came to most intensely pay attention to the Internet, as did the entertainment industry behemoths and a broad range of other "intellectual property" interests.

Their individual concerns actually vary widely at the detailed level, but in a broader context their goals are very much singular in focus.

They want to control the Internet. They want to control it utterly, completely, in every technologically possible detail (and it seems in various technically impossible ways as well).

The freedom of communications with which the Internet has empowered ordinary people -- especially one-to-many communications that historically have been limited to governments and media empires themselves -- is viewed as an existential threat to order, control, and profits -- that is, to historical centers of power.

Outside of the "traditional" aspects of government control over their citizenries, another key element of the new attempts to control the Net are desperate longings by some parties to turn back the technological clock to a time when music, movies, plus other works could not so easily be duplicated and disseminated in both "authorized" and "unauthorized" fashions.

The effective fall of copyright in this context was preordained by human nature (we are physical animals, and the concept of non-physical "property" plays against our natures) and there's been a relentless "march of bits" -- with text, music, and movies entering the fray in turn as ever more data could be economically stored and transferred.

In their efforts to control people and protect profits, governments and associated industries (often in league with powerful Internet Service Providers -- ISPs -- who in some respects are admittedly caught in the middle), seem willing to impose draconian, ultimately fascist censorship, identification, and other controls on the Internet and its users, even extending into the basic hardware in our homes and offices.

I've invoked fascism in this analysis, and I do not do so lightly.

The attacks on fundamental freedoms to communicate that are represented by various government repression of the Internet around the world, and in the U.S. by hypocritical legislation like PROTECT IP and SOPA (E-PARASITE), are fundamentally fascist in nature, despite between wrapped in their various flags of national security, anti-piracy profit protection, motherhood, and apple pie.

Anyone or anything that is an enabler of communications not willingly conforming to this model are subject to attack by authorities from a variety of levels -- with the targets ranging from individuals like you and me, to unbiased enablers of organic knowledge availability like Google.

For all the patriotic frosting, the attacks on the Internet are really attacks on what has become popularly known as the 99%, deployed by the 1% powers who are used to having their own way and claiming the largest chunks of the pie, regardless of how many ants (that's us!) are stomped in the process.

This is not a matter of traditional political parties and alliances. In the U.S., Democrats and Republican legislators are equally culpable in these regards.

This is a matter of raw power that transcends other ideologies, of the desire of those in control to shackle the Internet to serve their bidding, while relegating free communications for everyone else to the dustbin of history.

It is very much our leaders telling us to sit down, shut up, and use the Internet only in the furtherance of their objectives -- or else.

To me, these are the fundamental characteristics of a fascist world view, perhaps not in the traditional sense but clearly in the ultimate likely impacts.

The Internet is one of the most important tools ever created by mankind. It certainly ranks with the printing press, and arguably in terms of our common futures on this tiny planet perhaps even with fire.

The question is, are we ready and willing to fight for the Net as it should be in the name of civil rights and open communications? Or will we sit back compliantly, happily gobble down the occasional treats tossed in our direction, and watch as the Internet is perverted into a monstrous distortion to control speech and people alike, rather than enabling the spread of freedom.

Back in that noisy computer room so many years ago, I couldn't imagine that I was surrounded by machines and systems that would one day lead to such a question, and to concerns of such import.

The blossoming we've seen of the Internet was not necessarily easy to predict back then. But the Internet's fascist future is much more clear, unless we fight now -- right now -- to turn back the gathering evil.


Posted by Lauren at 01:38 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

November 07, 2011

Important Warning Regarding T-Mobile Android Caller-ID Blocking (and a Fix)

Many people routinely block their outgoing Caller-ID (Calling Number ID - CNID) for privacy and security reasons. Persons who choose to do this depend on the blocking to work reliably.

Unlike conventional landline carriers, mobile carriers do not necessarily offer the ability for subscribers to order their lines permanently set by default to block CNID on outgoing calls. T-Mobile in particular only provides the ability for subscribers to ask for CNID to include their number and names, or only their numbers. They will not provide "complete" blocking via your account.

Instead, to completely block CNID (including the number), T-Mobile depends on the integral GSM cellular commands that control these functions. (Please note that everything in this discussion refers specifically to T-Mobile USA. I am not asserting that the same situation necessarily exists for AT&T or other carriers, but concerned subscribers may wish to test their configurations regardless of their carrier.)

On Android phones running on T-Mobile (I do not have relevant data regarding non-Android phones), the commands to control CNID are typically within the (Call Settings->Additional Settings) menu (along with the Call Waiting setting).

There are usually three settings possible for CNID, which are supposed to take effect until changed by the user: Network (Operator) Default (for T-Mobile, this is send CNID), Hide number (CNID blocked), and Show number (CNID enabled). These are completely separate from "per call" (three character) codes that can control CNID on a one time basis for a single call.

These settings (along with the Call Waiting setting) are actually stored on the cellular network. When you go to the relevant settings page, you can often see the brief delay as the phone interrogates the network for the associated settings data.

Unfortunately, my testing has revealed that the "Hide number" setting to block CNID may under various circumstances revert without warning to sending CNID (Network/Operator Default).

Despite a battery of my own tests and reports from other helpful parties, I am unable to pin down the precise combination of circumstances that result in this situation. Clearly the HTC Vision (T-Mobile G2) running Android 2.3.4 is vulnerable, but I have reports of other phones and other system levels exhibiting similar behavior sporadically.

In some cases, it appears that use of T-Mobile's (otherwise excellent) Wi-Fi (UMA) calling feature results in the CNID setting reverting unexpectedly from blocked to unblocked even when Wi-Fi calling is later disabled, but there are other situations, sometimes apparently related to booting in low signal areas (among other factors), that seem to be involved.

There are so many possible combinations that it isn't even clear that Android itself is really a factor per se, and we may be looking at a more fundamental issue related to T-Mobile's infrastructure.

In any case, regardless of your phone type, it's better to be safe than sorry when blocking CNID. T-Mobile outright refuses to block CNID at the account/line level to fix this problem.

But happily, Android's flexibility and a wonderful free Android app called Prefixer (on Android Market) provide an excellent workaround.

Prefixer implements a highly flexible rule-based system (with "regular expression" pattern matching - how cool!) for altering dialed numbers on the fly based on a range of criteria, changing how they are logged, and so on. This turns out to provide everything we need to feel secure that CNID is working as we expect. In fact, we can even improve on "normal CNID behavior" via the use of Prefixer.

For now, I've created a Prefixer rule set with the following characteristics:

1) All ordinary calls are automatically prefixed with the per-call CNID blocking code.

2) Calls starting with the CNID unblocking code are left alone, but an extra confirmation is required to complete the call

3) Special numbers staring with '*' and '#" are left alone

4) Regular numbers prefixed specifically with "###" are rewritten as the regular numbers prefixed with the CNID unblocking code, and require extra confirmation.

So, you can feel comfortable that all ordinary calls have CNID blocked regardless of the GSM "Call Settings" CNID status, plus you get the extra confirmation if you decide to unblock CNID for a specific call (either via *82 or ###).

You can install Prefixer from the Android Market link above. The rule set described is located at:

After installing Prefixer, you may be able to browse to this URL from your phone and have the rule set drop automatically into the app, or you can download the file from the "myruleset.pfx" file directly from the URL above, place it on your phone's SD card, and import via Prefixer's (More->Import rules) command.

Then check the other Prefixer options as desired, make sure to set the app to its "ON" (green) state, and you should be good to go. You can look over the rules in the app, and once everything is working you can uncheck (Preferences->Show triggered rule) so you don't see the number rewriting information each time you dial.

Again, this all applies specifically to T-Mobile USA. But subscribers on other carriers may also desire to verify whether or not CNID blocking is actually working correctly in all circumstances.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, or if you need further information regarding "Prefixer" usage.

Take care, all.


Posted by Lauren at 09:49 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein