Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brave New World circa 1991

In 1991 two things happened. Well, several things but two really important things. Linus Torvalds created a kernel inspired by Minix and Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet. Sort of. Both did nothing more than build on the past, just like everyone else who creates something, but they each gave us something that would inadvertently remake the world.

I won't give you a history lesson here, you can go right over to Wikipedia and read the history of the Internet and Linux. My point here is the present. In response to the surge of information sharing unprecedented in history governments and private organizations struggled to cope, regulate and understand the new world emerging. At first only industrialized nations could access the web, but as hardware became cheaper and second hand hardware more prolific, and with the help of free and open source software like GNU/Linux the people in the world were meeting each other anew.

Content owners and middle men panicked at the ability of people to share and governments recoiled at the ability to learn. Misinformation and malware spread, too, but open software and the non governmental nature of the web countered this. Even while copyright laws became harsher and trade treaties more draconian, distribution outpaced the best of legal strategies. The web was open and there wasn't much that could be done about it. Authoritarian countries have had some success but the advent of software like TOR and proxies on top of satellite internet connections have hampered their regimes greatly.

But now the UN is taking steps to take over the web from private organizations. They think they can monitor and control it, as the US government has tried to do for years. Unfortunately they still misunderstand the creation that has been unleashed. Any computer running any operating system can now communicate with any other computer. All content is tradable and sendable. The UN and FBI have focused on DNS, the system that allows us to type in names to go to websites instead of numerical addresses, but DNS is just a convenience. Already most of the web is the "Dark Net," unconnected to DNS servers and completely unregulated. Many illicit activities take place on the dark net, but so do many activist activities. Whole scale shutdowns of internet nodes can temporarily keep a nation offline, such as in Syria or the Great Firewall of China. While extreme, this method does still work.

But not for long. Projects like are working on mesh networking. If there is power and working hardware in a region, people can communicate. They can move in and out of the web, the dark net, and the mesh. The more the governments of the world try to stop information now, the more layers will grow around it. Government sponsorship created the web but it has long since left their control. TOR protects activists and byzantium works on keeping them online. The greatest tool for information sharing is only now starting to grow into maturity and it will be the end of authoritarian regimes, corporate overreach and hidden politics. Wikileaks spies on governments and shares anything it finds, bitcoin offers secure and unmanipulated currency while linux has opened a world of tools that can be used to build as many webs as are needed to keep ahead of those who would suppress information.

If I were an authoritarian government, NGO or multinational corporation right now I would be trembling in fear.

Logic Priest

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