Posts Tagged ‘Internet censorship’

The passing scene: March 22, 2021

March 22, 2021

Here are some articles I think are interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Steve Donziger Ecuador Case: Q&A With Human Rights Lawyer Under House Arrest by Jack Holmes for Esquire.  This lawyer won a lawsuit against Texaco (since acquired by Chevron), which lasted from 1993 to 2011, on behalf of farmers and indigenous people who lived in the Amazon rain forest, who accused the company of dumping cancer-causing toxic waste where they lived.  THey won a $9.8 billion award.  Chevron refused to pay and counter-sued their lawyer. Awaiting a verdict, he has been under house arrest for more than 580 days for refusing to hand over his computer and phone with confidential lawyer-client information on them.  Incredible!

How the West Lost COVID by David Wallace-West for New York magazine.  “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong?  How did others get it so right?”  This is the best article I’ve read on this particular topic.

Your Face Is Not Your Own by Kashmir Hill for the New York Times. “When a secretive start-up scraped the Internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit—and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.”  (Hat tip to O.)

Nina Turner: “Good ideas are not enough.  We need to marry our ideas to power”, an interview for Jacobin magazine.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

New study shows microplastics turn into ‘hubs’ for pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria by Jesse Jenkins of New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The Crow Whisperer by Lauren Markham for Harper’s magazine.  “What happens when we talk to animals?” 

The freedom of speech dilemma

January 29, 2021

The new documentary movie, “The Social Dilemma,” is about social media companies whose business plan is addiction.   We discussed it in the drop-in discussion group of First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., last Tuesday.

This is a real problem I’ve written about myself, and little of what was presented is new to me.

The Internet itself has inherent addictive aspects, to begin with.  Social media companies use artificial intelligence and behavioral psychology to make their offerings more addictive. 

They combine AI and psychological expertise with surveillance technology to target individuals who are susceptible to certain types of advertising and propaganda.

Since their aim is “engagement,” it is more profitable to generate fear and anger than contentment because the negative emotions have more impact.  For the same reason, it often is more profitable to steer people to sensational fake news than dull but accurate news.

All this is generally understood[Update 1/30/2021. Then again, the movie itself may be an example of what it complains of.]

So why are there so many calls for the social media companies to take on the role of Internet censors?  If Facebook and Google are the sources of the problem, what qualifies their employees to decide which news sites I should see and which I shouldn’t?

It is not as if they have given up on a business model in which profits are made by enabling propaganda by exploiting surveillance and addiction.

What the social media companies seem to be doing is cracking down on everybody—right, left or off the spectrum—who dissents from the official view.

Experts quoted in the film say that, because of the social media companies, there is no agreement on what is true and what isn’t, and they also say the very concept of objective truth is disappearing. 

But these are two very different things.  It is not only possible, but very common, to have agreement based on lies or false beliefs. 

There was an official consensus in 2002, supported by, among others, the New York Times, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. 

As a result of those lies, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East lost their lives; millions became homeless refugees. 

Popular journalists who questioned the WMD lies, such as Phil Donahue, were canceled.  They have never been rehabilitated. 

Those who went along with the lies flourished.  They have paid no penalty, even in reputation.

The consequences of the WMD lie were many times greater than the Pizzagate conspiracy theory lie.  Spreading the Pizzagate story endangered innocent lives, I’m not trying to justify it, but, in fact, nobody died as a result.

More recently the so-called mainstream media spread baseless claims that Donald Trump is a secret agent of Vladimir Putin.  Trump is many bad things, but that charge was absurd.  The media also spread baseless claims to smear Julian Assange.

Maybe you doubt the Russiagate and Assange claims were fake news.  Fair enough.  But how can you be sure if you don’t have access to the arguments on the other side?

What most critics of the social media companies, including the producers of the movie, don’t get is that there is one thing worse than producing competing versions of reality that nobody can agree on.

The worse thing is the social media companies working hand-in-hand with government to produce a common propaganda version of reality based on official lies.  This is what is going on right now.

If liberals or progressives think a government and corporate crackdown on “fake news” is going to be limited to actual white supremacists or neo-Nazis, they are very naive.

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The fallacy of the single evil

January 13, 2021

C.S. Lewis wrote somewhere that the devil always sends his temptations in twos, so that in backing away from one, you are liable to stumble into the other.

That’s very true of political temptations.

The cult-like behavior of hard-core Donald Trump loyalists, and of Q-Anon followers in particular, is a great danger to functioning of American democracy.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people who are disconnected from reality as I see it?

But the drive to censor MAGA Republicans, including Q-Anon, is an equal danger.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people and at the same time deny them a voice?

People who are silenced do not think they are refuted.

And I would be naive if I thought that censorship will be limited to persons and causes I disapprove of.

LINKS

Q-Anon and the Fragility of Truth by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The Man Who Saw the Coup Coming Is Surprised It Wasn’t Much Worse by Cam Wolf for GQ.

QAnon Woke Up the Real Deep State by Nicolas Grossman for Arcdigital Media.

The Terror of Liberals in a Time of Insurrection by Ian Welsh.

The Boot Is Coming Down Hard and Fast by Caitlin Johnstone.

Images via vitaliketh on Twitter.

The rising tide of censorship

June 10, 2020

Michael Moore was interviewed on Rolling Stone’s Useful Idiots podcast about the campaign to suppress the film, “Planet of the Humans,” a critique of the environmental movement.

It actually was taken down from YouTube for a few days because of a bogus concern about copyright.  Moore is a successful celebrity and was in a position to fight back.  As he pointed out, a younger filmmaker, in the same position as Moore when he made “Roger and Me,” wouldn’t have been able to do so.

Taibbi pointed out on his web log that this is part of a growing pattern of censorship.

The significance of the Moore incident is that it shows that a long-developing pattern of deletions and removals is expanding. The early purges were mainly of small/fringe voices on either the far right or far left, or infamously fact-challenged personalities like Alex Jones.

The removal of a film by Moore – a heavily-credentialed figure long revered by the liberal mainstream – takes place amid a dramatic acceleration of such speech-suppression incidents, many connected to the coronavirus disaster.

A pair of California doctors were taken off YouTube for declaring stay-at-home measures unnecessary; right-wing British broadcaster and trumpeter of shape-shifting reptile theories David Icke was taken off YouTube; a video by Rockefeller University epidemiologist Knut Wittknowski was taken down, apparently for advocating a “herd immunity” approach to combating the virus.

These moves all came after the popular libertarian site Zero Hedge was banned from Twitter, ostensibly for suggesting a Chinese scientist in Wuhan was responsible for coronavirus.

In late April, the World Socialist Web Site – which has been one of the few consistent critics of Internet censorship and algorithmic manipulation – was removed by Reddit from the r/coronavirus subreddit on the grounds that it was not “reliable.” The site was also removed from the whitelist for r/politics, the primary driver of traffic from Reddit to the site.

Then in early May, at least 52 Palestinian activists and journalists were removed from Facebook for “not following community standards,” part of a years-long pattern of removals made in cooperation with the Israeli government.

On May 13, human rights activist Jennifer Zeng noted that YouTube was automatically deleting Chinese-language references to terms insulting to the Chinese government, like gongfei, or “communist bandit.” Congressional candidate Shahid Buttar complained an interview with Walker Bragman about Democrats supporting surveillance powers was removed by YouTube.

Evan Greer of the speech advocacy group Fight for the Future had a post flagged by Facebook’s “independent fact checkers”—in this case, that noted pillar of factuality, USA Today – dinging him for a “partly false” claim that the Senate had voted to allow warrantless searches of browsing history.

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How harmful is ubiquitous pornograpy?

December 26, 2019

Pornography is as old, or almost as old, as human civilization.  But, thanks to the Internet, it is readily available to anyone in the USA and many other countries who has access to the Internet.

This is something new in the world.  Never before has pornography been so ubiquitous.  By pornography, I mean depiction of sex in a cruel or degrading light.

Scientific studies indicate that prolonged exposure to pornography re-wires certain centers of the brain, much as taking addictive drugs does.

I don’t find this hard to believe.  We know that the human brain changes depending on how it is used.  A famous study of London taxi drivers showed that that process of memorizing the city street grid in order to pass a licensing test resulted in the growth of extra neurons in the memory centers of their brains.

Pornography addiction, which is a something I never heard of until five or so years ago, is so widespread a concern that there are 12-step groups to help fight it.

Some experts say that many adolescent boys and girls are growing up with a distorted view of sex through exposure to pornography.

Erectile disfunction (ED) is an increasing problem among men.  Involuntary celibates, or “incels,” have always existed, but now they constitute an identity group.

There is no proof that Internet pornography, in and of itself, is a cause of either erectile disfunction or involuntary celibacy.  But there are reports of men find who find more pornography more arousing than flesh-and-blood women, and also less trouble than dealing with an actual person.

∞∞∞

Life is harder for young men today than it was when I came of age.  (I’m 83).  It is perfectly understandable that some of them should turn to pornography, drugs or alcohol for solace, even these are false solutions that make their problems worse.

For one thing, young men today face a more uncertain and unforgiving economy than I did.  There is a widespread attitude that lack of success in economic competition defines you as a contemptible loser.

There also is a widespread attitude that postponing sex and marriage, rather than being a rational response to circumstances, also defines you as a loser in the arena of sexual competition.

Young men also are up against a certain hostility to men and masculinity in our culture.  Even qualities such as stoicism and risk-taking that once were honored are considered “toxic masculinity.”

Then there is the sexual revolution, which holds out the promise of unlimited sexual gratification, and the feminist revolution, which requires men to be careful of what they do and say around women.  As a society, we haven’t yet figured out how to strike a balance between the two.

Not all young men experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, not all who do turn to drugs, alcohol or pornography as a response, and not everybody who finds solace in drugs, alcohol or pornography becomes an addict.  I don’t want to make overly sweeping generalizations.

I do think a stagnant economy, current cultural expectations and ubiquitous availability of pornography are bad ingredients that produce a poisonous mix, and there is nothing to stop it from getting worse.

I give Jordan Peterson a lot of credit for helping young men.  I don’t agree with him about everything, but he presents an an ideal of a healthy and even heroic masculinity in opposition to so much of what young men hear today.    His 12 Steps for Life is excellent advice

Of course women also experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, but the topic of this post is Internet pornography, and I don’t think that pornography is a big issue for women, except for its impact on the men in their lives.

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Pornography addiction is a kind of drug addiction

December 19, 2019

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that Internet pornography is a true addiction, like heroin, alcohol or tobacco addiction.

It literally rewires the human brain.  The male human brain is hard-wired to respond to sexual novelty.  It processes Internet pornography as a constant access to new sexual partners engaging in new kinds of sexual activity.

Brutal and kinky is a more powerful stimulus that erotic and gentle, so that would be the bias of any Internet side that wants viewers to keep coming back.

My inclination is to err, if I must, on the side of protection of free speech.  I am suspicious of any form of censorship.  But I have to reconsider after reading an eye-opening article yesterday by a writer named Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry who surveyed the scientific literature on pornography addiction.

Porn is a sexual stimulus, but it is not sex.  Notoriously, heroin addicts eventually lose interest in sex: this is because their brains are rewired so that their sex reward system is reprogrammed to seek out heroin rather than sex.  

In the same way, as we consume more and more porn, which we must since it is addictive and we need more to get the same kick, our brain is rewired so that what triggers the reward system that is supposed to be linked to sex is no longer linked to sex—to a human in the flesh, to touching, to kissing, to caressing—but to porn.

Which is why we are witnessing a phenomenon which, as best as anyone can tell, is totally unprecedented in all of human history: an epidemic of chronic erectile dysfunction (ED) among men under 40.

Pornography, including sado-masochistic pornography, has always been with us.  It is as old as civilization.  But never before has pornography been so universally available.  A 12-year-old boy with a Smartphone has more access to sexual stimulation than the most decadent Roman emperor, Turkish sultan or 1970s rock star.  I’m glad I’m not a parent today.

As Gobry admits, we don’t have conclusive evidence of the effects on society of universal availability of hard-core pornography.

… What we do know is that large numbers of our civilization are hooked on a drug that has profound effects on the brain, which we mostly don’t understand, except that everything we understand is negative and alarming.

And we are just ten years into the process.  If we don’t act, pretty soon the next generation will be a generation that largely got hooked on this brain-eating drug as children, whose brains are uniquely vulnerable. It seems perfectly reasonable and consistent with the evidence as we have it to be deeply alarmed.

Indeed, what seems supremely irrational is our bizarre complacency about something which, at some level, we all know to be happening.

I am in favor of sexual freedom.  Do whatever you like with whatever consenting adult you like in your own space.  This is more than a question of individual behavior.  It is a question of what kind of society we want to make.

LINK

A Science-Based Case for Ending the Porn Epidemic by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for American Greatness.  Print-Friendly Version.

U.S. Constitutional rights, on-line and off-line

May 6, 2016

internetcensorshipsurveillance20120202Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Terrorism, the Internet and free speech

August 14, 2013

I’ve posted a good bit lately about abuses of power by the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies.  My friend Daniel Brandt recently e-mailed me some links to articles by a UK news service called The Kernel which are a good reminder that there are Islamic terrorists who really should be spied on.

islamic-awakeningThe articles describe how terrorists are recruited through Islamic jihadist discussion forums.  Typically there will be an open forum which argues the radical Muslim jihadists are justified.  People who post on the forum and have someone to vouch for them are then admitted to closed forums which discussed actual terrorism.

I don’t believe the NSA and the other Homeland Security agencies should spy on all Americans.  I don’t believe they should spy on peaceful protesters.  I don’t believe they should encourage and then entrap people into terrorists plots.  But they do have a right and duty to monitor pro-terrorist web sites so they can nip plots in the bud.

Here are links to The Kernel series.

The scariest sites on the Internet by Jeremy Wilson.

The hosts keeping radical Islamic forums online by James Cook.

CloudFlare: ‘terrorists little helper’ by James Cook.

Chaos on campus: Islamists and social media by Jeremy Wilson.

When ‘free speech’ means defending evil murderers by Milos Yiannopoulos, editor-in-chief.

The Kernel is especially concerned about an Internet company called CloudFlare.  Daniel Brandt also is critical of that company.  What CloudFlare purports to do is to provide services by which web sites can product their anonymity, survive denial of service attacks and optimize their efficiency.

cdn-hosting-cloudflareThe Kernel writers criticize CloudFlare for protecting radical Islamic web sites against denial of service attacks by US and UK intelligence services.  Daniel Brandt’s criticism is broader.  He says CloudFlare also provides a shield for malicious hackers, cyber-bullies, hard-core pornographers, copyright pirates and other kinds of lawbreakers.

Here are links to statements of CloudFlare’s position.

CloudFlare and Free Speech by Matthew Prince, chief executive officer.

Ceasefires Don’t End Cyberwars by Matthew Prince.

Here are links to statements of Daniel Brandt’s position.

Web watchdog’s new site: CloudFlare Watch.org

CloudFlare Watch

What it all comes down to is which you fear more, abuse of freedom or abuse of power.  This is not an easy question.  What Milos Yiannopoulos fears most is abuse of freedom.  What I fear the most is abuse of power.

Yiannopoulos thinks Twitter, YouTube and CloudFlare should be regarded as publishers, like Huffington Post, and exercise pro-active responsibility to take down dangerous content, based on their own judgment.  He doesn’t think this is censorship, but what else would you call it.

I think Twitter, YouTube and the like should be regarded as public utilities, like Rochester Telephone, which provide services to all members of the public unless there is a specific legal reason not to do so.

What do you think?

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Cypherpunks uncut

August 1, 2012

I think the Internet is potentially one of the greatest tools to promote human freedom and access to ideas and knowledge.  I think it also is potentially one of the greatest tools of Big Brother for surveillance and censorship.  For this reason I was particularly interested in the two-part series on the Cypherpunks on Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow program.  The RT network recently released an uncut version of Assange’s Cypherpunk interviews, which I also viewed with great interest.

The first part is more than an hour long and the second part is two hours long, and my guess is that most people who view this post won’t have the time or the interest to watch them in their entirety.  But I am posting them anyhow, for whoever might be interested, and also am linking to them in my Documentaries menu on the right.

The Cypherpunks are a loose movement whose goal is to promote individual privacy by providing encryption that would allow people to prevent unauthorized people, including government agents, from reading their private communication.  Assange interviewed three notable Cypherpunks—Andy Muller-Maguhn of Germany, a member of the Chaos Computer Club, a hacker organization; Jeremie Zimmerman of France, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, which advocates for free circulation of knowledge on the Internet; and Jacob Appelbaum of the USA, an independent computer security researcher and a participant in the Tor project to create on-line anonymity systems.

They drew a frightening, but (I think) true, picture of the ability of governments to collect and record every electronic transaction by every individual—e-mails, credit card purchases, Google searches, bank deposits and withdrawals, telephone calls—while themselves operating behind a veil of secrecy.

Applebaum gave an example of a man indicted for posting information on the Internet in violation of a secret law whose text he was not allowed to see.  The judge was allowed to see the law, and the man was acquitted, but presumably the loophole in the law was tightened up.  I have to write “presumably” because there is no way to know.

Muller-Maguhn said that just as the invention of the printing press made everyone a potential reader, the creation of the Internet has made everyone a potential writer.  Anyone, not just professional writers who are able to please professional editors, has the means of writing out what they think and know, and communicating it to the world.  This is valuable and important, and it doesn’t matter that only a little of the writing is of high quality.

These three, and Assange himself, are more libertarian than socialist.  Assange said the three basic freedoms, from which all other freedoms flow, are (1) freedom to communicate, (2) freedom of movement and (3) freedom to engage in economic transactions, and the third may be the most fundamental.  He may have been playing devil’s advocate when he said the latter, but I don’t think so.

I came across these videos on This Day in Wikileaks, a daily blog with daily news and commentary about Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.  I have put a link to it on my Links menu on the right.

I have put a link to Assange ‘The World Tomorrow’ —Cypherpunks uncut version, the Digital Journal version of the interviews, on my Documentaries menu on the right.

Click on Digital Journal: Cypherpunks Part 1 and Part 2 for the original 25-minute broadcasts.

Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow was broadcast by the RT (Russia Today) network.  It was started by the Russian government for its own purposes, and for that reason should be regarded with skepticism, but it also provides information and ideas not available through the established U.S. TV networks.  In the same way, the Voice of America is an agent of the U.S. government, but provides information to Russians they might not get from their domestic broadcasters.  When I was younger, I never thought I would ever make this comparison, but times have changed.

Copyright, censorship and the Internet

January 18, 2012

Copyright infringement over the Internet is a real problem.  If I was an independent movie maker, struggling to make a living, I wouldn’t want to see free copies of my movie being downloaded without receiving any compensation.  But giving the federal government new powers is not a good solution to this problem.

Congress is considering two bills – the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House of Representatives and the Protect Internet Privacy Act in the Senate – intended to prevent Americans from having access for foreign Internet sites that don’t observe U.S. copyright laws.

The problem with this is that a web site with thousands of pages could lose its domain name if just one of the pages linked to a prohibited site. The entertainment industry has interpreted copyright in an extensive way.  Girl Scouts have been prohibited from singing copyrighted songs around campfires, and home videos of children have been taken down from YouTube because copyrighted music was playing in the background.

The broad provisions of the law would be virtually impossible to comply with, and experience shows that when you have laws that are impossible to obey, they will be enforced selectively.  You can imagine how easy it would be to drum up a copyright infringement issue on a site that links to Wikileaks.

The legislation is supported by the Motion Picture Association of America and Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and other media companies, and opposed by the heads of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Reddit and other on-line companies and organizations.  Because powerful corporate interests are involved on both sides, and because enforcement of the law could inconvenience middle-class white Americans, it has drawn more controversy than what to me are more serious civil liberties issues.

But given the record of the U.S. government in the past couple of decades, and also given the record of Hollywood and the music industry in enforcing their supposed rights, we Americans should be wary of giving the government new arbitrary powers.  Sometimes it’s better to live with a problem than to do things that will make matters worse.

Click on How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation for a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Click on How SOPA would affect you: FAQ for analysis by Declan McCullough, chief correspondent for CNET.

Click on SOPA and PIPA: Just the Facts and SOPA explained: what it is and why it matters for discussions of the pros and cons of the legislation by writers for PC World and CNNMoneyTech.

The United States government has been critical of foreign governments, such as China and Iran, for blocking their citizens’ access to prohibited knowledge and ideas on the Internet.  Yet these laws would create enforcement machinery identical to those countries, although for a different stated purpose.  It is a big act of faith, requiring ignorance of history, to think this machinery would not be misused.

[Update]  Click on Why we need to stop SOPA and PIPA for the viewpoint of the head of the MIT Media Laboratory.

Cyberspace’s war of independence

December 12, 2010

In 1996 John Perry Barlow famously issued  A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Barlow was, among other things, a founder of the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), one of the first on-line discussion groups, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Internet civil liberties union.

He believed that the Internet had created a new kind of non-material realm beyond the control of governments, like the Western U.S. frontier of old.

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.

via A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

The idea of cyberspace as a parallel non-material reality was in the air – not just among science fiction writers such as Vernor Vinge in True Names (1981) and Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash (1992), but business visionaries such as George Gilder in Microcosm (1989) and Telecosm (2000).  Gilder said the electronics revolution created a new economy based on “bits,” or pure information, which was intellectually and morally superior to the old economy based on “atoms,” or mere material objects.  People spoke of how “meat space” had been superseded by “cyberspace.”

More soberly, Barlow’s EFF co-founder John Gilmore (the third was Mitchell Kapor of Lotus) said that information circulated over the Internet could not be suppressed because of the Internet’s distributed nature.  A newspaper has its offices and presses in buildings with known street addresses, but Internet sites – interacting with other sites – can’t be so easily pinned down.  As he put it, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

This idea, too was in the air.  Some people credited the Internet for the fall of Communism.  One writer – I forget his name – ridiculed George Orwell for fearing totalitarianism and wrote an alternate ending to Nineteen Eighty-Four in which the power of Big Brother crumbled because the citizens of Oceania had learned to network their telescreens.

The business and political world embraced the idea of Internet freedom.  Rupert Murdoch said, “Advances in the technology of communications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarianism everywhere.”  And Bill Gates said, “You cannot control the Internet.”

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Bill Gates’ Microsoft Corp., along with Google, Yahoo and other corporations, went along with Internet censorship in China, but supposedly that was all right.  The mere presence of the Internet and networked communication were supposed to be a liberating force in and of themselves.

Ronald Reagan said, “The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip.” Bill Clinton said that Internet censorship would be like “nailing Jello to the wall.”

“Imagine if the Internet took hold in China,” George W. Bush said. “Imagine how freedom would spread.” And Barack Obama told the Chinese, “I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet – an unrestricted Internet access – is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”

Now we have a test case for John Gilmore’s thesis.  The test case is Wikileaks.

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Wikileaks and Julian Assange

December 6, 2010

This was originally entitled: War of Wikileaks: secrecy vs. anonymity.

Click on WikiLeaks for the WikiLeaks home page. [Added 7/7/11]

Click on WikiLeaks | Media for current articles in The Guardian. [Added 7/14/11].

Click on Media Fix for links to updates on Julian Assange and Wikileaks. [Added 4/14/11]
Click on In Conversation with Julian Assange Part I  and Part II  for Julian Assange’s philosophy and view of the world.  [Added 7/7/11].

Julian Assange and the Wikileaks crew are not spies.  They have not revealed the secrets of the United States government or any other government to a hostile foreign power, unless the government regards the American people itself as an enemy

They are not hackers.  Their investigative reporting is limited.  They are more like publishers or syndicators.  They provide a venue in which you can send secret documents and expect to see them published.  They are doing what the New York Times did in 1971 when it published the secret Pentagon Papers.

But they are doing more than trying to inform the public.  They are waging a nonviolent form of warfare against governments and institutions whose functioning depends on secrecy.  They do this by attacking their ability to keep secrets.  These institutions are then faced with a dilemma: (1) cease honest communication internally, in which their operations are hampered, or (2) risk having their real purposes and activities know, in which case their operations are hampered.

Assange regards the U.S. military-diplomatic-intelligence establishment as the equivalent of a terrorist network.  It operates by means of violence concealed by lies.  From his standpoint, inhibiting internal communications within the U.S. State Department is a feature, not a bug. In his words:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.

Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

Via Interesting Question

A government or any other organization needs free and frank internal communication to function well.  But if an organization engages in criminal activities, open communication creates a risk that its activities might be revealed.  An organization that says one thing in public and does another in private risks disillusioning its members when it tells them the truth, and risks losing touch with reality to the extent it doesn’t.  Assange’s aim is to heighten these contradictions.

Assange is completely right that our government has conspiratorial functions. What else would you call the fact that a small percentage of our governing class governs and acts in our name according to information which is freely shared amongst them but which cannot be shared amongst their constituency? And we all probably knew that this was more or less the case; anyone who was surprised that our embassies are doing dirty, secretive, and disingenuous political work as a matter of course is naïve.

But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something, precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more. Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.

via zunguzungu.

Some thuggish politicians and commentators have openly called for Assange’s murder. That such things can be said in public is a measure of how barbaric our political discourse has become.  But I don’t think his enemies will try to assassinate him. What I expect the United States government and his other opponents to do is to fight him in terms of information – and disinformation.

As much as Wilileaks’ targets rely on secrecy, Wikileaks relies on anonymity.  Wikileaks reportedly has about 40 core members and 800 key supporters, most of them unknown to the public.  They go about their business while the semi-fugitive Julian Assange functions as the public face of Wikileaks.

My guess is that the CIA and other intelligence agencies will strike back by trying to discover just who they are, and then, if they can’t bring criminal charges against them, try to smear their reputations and hound them out of their jobs.  I don’t know enough to guess whether Assange’s legal troubles in Sweden are an example of this.

Another tactic would be to plant bogus information and use it to discredit Wikileaks.  The Pinochet dictatorship in Chile once planted false atrocity stories on Amnesty International and then, when Amnesty published them as true, used them to discredit the human rights organization.

The foundation of Wikileaks is its ability to guarantee anonymity to whistleblowers.  It could survive the unmasking of some of its own members, but it could not survive the loss of that absolute guarantee.  So I am sure intelligence agencies are working overnight to penetrate Wikileaks’ security.

Wikileaks’ effectiveness depends on public trust that it has the integrity and competence to assure the documents it publishes are authentic.  Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose and easy to undermine.  It would take one big foulup to undermine that trust. Of course, foulups can occur without sabotage or subversion.

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