Perhaps it had to come to this…

December 18th, 2012

From Techdirt, 2012-12-17:

China Tries To Block Encrypted Traffic
from the collapsing-the-tunnels dept

During the SOPA fight, at one point, we brought up the fact that increases in encryption were going to make most of the bill meaningless and ineffective in the long run, someone closely involved in trying to make SOPA a reality said that this wasn’t a problem because the next bill he was working on is one that would ban encryption. This, of course, was pure bluster and hyperbole from someone who was apparently both unfamiliar with the history of fights over encryption in the US, the value and importance of encryption for all sorts of important internet activities (hello online banking!), as well as the simple fact that “banning” encryption isn’t quite as easy as you might think. Still, for a guide on one attempt, that individual might want to take a look over at China, where VPN usage has become quite common to get around the Great Firewall. In response, it appears that some ISPs are now looking to block traffic that they believe is going through encrypted means.

A number of companies providing “virtual private network” (VPN) services to users in China say the new system is able to “learn, discover and block” the encrypted communications methods used by a number of different VPN systems.

China Unicom, one of the biggest telecoms providers in the country, is now killing connections where a VPN is detected, according to one company with a number of users in China.

This is the culmination of at least 35 years of official concern about the effects of personal computers.

I’m old enough to remember. As soon as computers became affordable to individuals in the late 1970s there was talk about “licensing” computer users. Talking Heads even wrote a song about it (Life During Wartime).

The good guys won, the bad guys lost.

Then, even before the Web, we had the Clipper chip. The EFF was created in response. And again the good guys won.

Then we had the CDA, and then CDA2. And again, the bad guys lost and the lovers of liberty won.

In the West, the war is mostly over (yet eternal vigilance remains the price of liberty).

Not so in the rest of the world, as last week’s ITU conference in Dubai demonstrated.

I say – let them try it. Let them lock down all the VPNs, shut off all the traffic they can’t parse. Let’s have the knock-down, drag-out fight between the hackers and the suits.

Stewart Brand was right. Information wants to be free. I know math. I know about steganography. I know about economics.

I know who will win.

3 Responses to “Perhaps it had to come to this…”

  1. Bob Says:

    This is a bit off-topic, but “information wants to be free” has always bugged me. It’s anthropomorphizing information and portraying people who limit information as bad guys because they’re denying poor li’l information’s desires.

    They’re not as catchy, but the more accurate phrases are “information can be copied at trivial expense” and “some people wish other people’s information was free”.

  2. Dave Says:

    What are you? What am I? Patterns of atoms. Information.

    I want to be free.

    Quantum decoherence is effectively leakage of information. And preventing that leakage is difficult (as anyone who has tried to build a quantum computer will tell you). That’s because information really does want to be free. This is built into the nature of the universe.

    And has nothing to do with price.

  3. Bob Says:

    Wow. Just “wow”!

    Reaction #1: This is going in a direction I NEVER expected. My jaw just dropped as I read it.

    Reaction #2: Dave is information. Dave wants to be free. Therefore information wants to be free. 🙂

    Reaction #6 (I had other reactions, and I even wrote them out, but I’m jumping to this one): Define “want”. When we speak of a person wanting something, we’re referring to a conscious desire, and the implication is that the person will suffer emotional anguish if the desire is denied. And we’re referring to a mental state, not an outward behavior.

    When we speak of water wanting to flow downhill or information wanting to be free, we’re saying it behaves a certain way. We’re not suggesting it will suffer emotional anguish if we thwart it. “Want” for people is a different word than “want” for objects. They’re homonyms.

    We could denigrate consciousness and emotional anguish as nothing more than chemical reactions and therefore no more significant than water flowing downhill. But I’m not prepared to do that. I will alter my behavior in response to human anguish (and even the anguish of some animals). I won’t alter my behavior to accommodate the “wants” of water or information.

    Consider entropy. We could say “the universe wants to be disordered”. Well, tough. I’m still going to try to bring order to my little corner of it, even though I know entropy is winning outside of my corner.

    Likewise, I will keep some information “in chains” to the best of my ability no matter what it “wants”, and I won’t morally equate that to keeping a human in chains. (*)

    Which is what I think some of the more militant “free information” people are doing.

    (*) Tyrants are trying to keep information “in chains” as a means to keep humans in chains. Their moral crime is against the humans, not the information.

Leave a Reply