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Web site blocking is oppressive and won't work

Column Censorship is evil and can't win
Fri Dec 02 2011, 17:21

katecolumnWEB SITE blocking is pressed for on various grounds, all of them bad.

Whether it's copyright trolls wanting to censor filesharing web sites to extract high prices for their content or the UK Prime Minister wanting to shut down social networks during times of unrest, web site blocking is oppressive by its very nature. In addition, it won't be effective.

Any attempt to censor the internet delves into dodgy realms as it tries to pull the plug on the very freedom the internet is supposed to provide. We've all heard of it. A journalist friend once interviewed rock band Oasis for a Chinese publication, but the piece was later removed because the band had once played at a concert for 'Free Tibet'.

Totalitarian Communist China's tactics, as an example, are monitoring and oppression, and as developed and free, democratic nations, the UK and the US should oppose such tactics, not adopt them.

However, despite this, some law enforcement officials and politicians continue to promote them, and the UK Digital Economy Act (DEA) and the US SOPA and Protect-IP bills have met with massive public opposition from those who decry draconian measures that won't work.internet-police

Blocking web sites is futile. It won't work as the internet is built to interpret censorship as damage and route around it, and internet users have proven their ability to bypass attempts to constrict access and data flow. Even if censorship is attempted, the means to defeat it will always stay ahead of the police state capability to close down communications, without a total shutdown - which commerce cannot afford.

That's why the UK Government's suggestion that social networks like Twitter should be shut down in times of social unrest, such as during last summer's London riots, is frankly all too ridiculous. Yes, the police could lock down Twitter, but another social network would quickly spring up in its place. Only last week at a Westminster Eforum talk, the CEO of security company Sibylline, Justin Crump told the audience that any attempt to close down social media will be fruitless, pointing to the fact that more networks would spring up faster than they could be blocked.

Worse still, attempting to block web sites gets you some pretty dodgy friends. At the same event, it was mentioned that the Government's plans to block social media during times of popular unrest had drawn applause from certain countries that you "wouldn't want to get into bed with". Why then, does the UK Government think it is the answer?

First, no one in the Government is likely part of the generation that grew up knowing the internet, so its mandarins aren't equipped to try to deal with what goes on in cyber space. Ironically, those who supposedly incited riots on Twitter and Facebook mostly didn't, but they were of the generation that grew up understanding the internet. Who will win out? Do the maths.

The ridiculousness of trying to block web sites is also clearly understood by The INQUIRER's readers. When we asked in a poll, "What would you do if your ISP had to block a web site like Newzbin2?", by far the most popular answer was, "Laugh at the futility of the MAFIAA trying to censor the Internet". This demonstrates that web site blocking won't stop internet users from accessing copyrighted content, no matter what draconian measures the media cartels bribe corrupt politicians to put in effect.

But the copyright MAFIAA trolls are vicious. Only recently, the BPI sent a request to BT to block Bittorrent tracking web site The Pirate Bay, following a recent court order that forced BT to implement web site blocking against Newzbin2.

BT had challenged the entertainment industry, claiming that it should not be held responsible for how users might use its services, but this argument sadly failed to convince the judge.

And just as blocking social media is fruitless, filesharing web sites will just keep popping up under different names, which is exactly what had happened with Newzbin2, formerly Newzbin.

Meanwhile, if BT blocks web sites in its DNS servers, users can simply switch to alternative ones, such as OpenDNS at or any number of others. Or they can use software that has been released by Newzbin2 that it claims circumvents the web site blocking altogether.

Even worse, web site blocking could increase broadband prices for customers, as the ISPs would have to foot the bill, and we know they won't simply absorb that cost but will pass it on to all subscribers.

And it's not like BT and other ISPs are against the internet traffic that so-called 'piracy' generates. Broadband companies want customers who download lots of material, as they will be the ones paying the highest tariffs, so much so that BT has hinted it could package in VPNs for consumers to get around copyright enforcement schemes dreamed up by the media content cartels.

So the government is going to block web sites? It can try, but it will be fighting a losing battle. Censorship of the internet is oppressively draconian and simply will not work, so even to attempt it is pointless. It's time to find a way to please the consumer and the free citizen, rather than bowing down to copyright trolls and politicians who fear honest opposition so much that they will try to suppress it. µ


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