Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

Posts Tagged ‘regulation

If border controls go up in cyberspace…

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…it won’t be because of sophisticated “cyberwar,”  “cyberespionage,” or anything that has similar sci-fi-ish connotations. It’ll be because of incidents like these protest hacks of an Australian film festival coming out of China, all because of the festival’s Uighur connection.

Not war. Not espionage. Obstructions. Annoyances.

What’s troubling is when public perceptions of obstructions like these get conflated with more serious, state-sponsored threats – particularly in a time of significant debate around Internet regulation, monitoring, and privacy. Watch this excellent Bloggingheads discussion between Evgeny Morozov and Ethan Zuckerman to understand why.

Written by Mark

July 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Questioning “digital Pearl Harbor”

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In its Sunday op-ed section, the New York Times raised the specter again of “digital Pearl Harbor,” this time contained in a quote from the CEO of a network security company:

“If you’re looking for a digital Pearl Harbor, we now have the Japanese ships streaming toward us on the horizon,” Rick Wesson, the chief executive of Support Intelligence, a computer consulting firm, said recently.

The term dates back to 1991, first used to discuss the U.S. government’s digital signature standard, and took on new prominence in a speech delivered by Richard Clarke at a computer security conference in 2000, in which he advocated the establishment of a Federal CIO position with responsibilities for cybersecurity (a policy that is coming to be realized, eight years and a few months later).

The term has also proliferated – roughly 303,000 Google results tonight – to the point where it’s straining credibility, like other overused metaphors involving cyberspace and international goings-on, nefarious or otherwise. A few points for consideration:

1.  After a wargame sponsored by the Gartner Group and the U.S. Naval War College in 2002 – named, predictably enough, “Digital Pearl Harbor” – 79% of participants walked away saying that a “strategic cyber attack is likely within the next 2 years.” Saying that you could use better security is not the same as saying that the attack is just over the horizon.

2.  “Cyberwar,” “cyberespionage,” Internet-enabled crime, virus releases, and simple malfunctions can be difficult to distinguish from each other by their effects. Political actors schooled to think only in terms of “Pearl Harbors” (or “Munichs,” for that matter) may be predisposed to solutions which could be wasteful, or even counterproductive. A hypothetical:  imagine the Cold War never ended, but turned even more tense. A new worm originates from inside Russia and disrupts U.S. air traffic systems. Is it the work of a bored college student? The prelude to an attack? In 1983, a Soviet air defense commander “made a serious but honest mistake” in the shootdown of a South Korean 747 due to conditions of tension and high alert, according to a CIA monograph. The point is that there’s a danger of escalation in any crisis, and while these conditions do not currently exist, metaphors like “digital Pearl Harbor” substitute predisposition for analysis.

3.  As Bruce Schneier has pointed out, legitimate security concerns, once given a backdrop of “ships streaming towards us” or terrorism, tend to get washed out by calls for regulation that limit the productive use of technology and threaten privacy. 

It might be time to start a contest for a new metaphor.

Written by Mark

February 16, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Valentine’s Day roundup: more Iranian netroots, Saudi Arabia and satellite TV, and net piracy…

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1.  John Kelly and Bruce Etling have updated their map of the Iranian blogosphere, noting a dramatic change in what they’re now calling the “CyberShia” cluster. The authors note that this could represent a debate around Islamic law, or may reflect an effort by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to recruit 10,000 bloggers (the cyber-equivalent of opening a Starbucks on every corner?).

2.  King Abdullah has fired Saudi Arabia’s most senior judge, who last year opened the legal door to the killing of satellite channel owners airing “evil” programming. This may be a little more than Wahhabism vs. skin. As The Guardian noted last fall, several channels are owned by royal family members, and the judge’s fatwa was issued on a radio program. A year prior to the fatwa, the issue with satellite programming wasn’t so much debauchery as it was “programs related to witchcraft,” threatening the religious establishment:

“The popularity of charlatanism and magic has increased amongst Arab satellite channels, which, in turn, has led to an increase in the number of charlatans. These individuals aim to give off an image of a pious sheikh who can solve individual problems. There are others who have a strong sense of persuasion that has been learnt throughout many years of experience. His/her viewers feel compelled to watch and listen as if they have hypnotized the words and become convinced of his/her abilities to solve their problems.”

3.  The Pirate Bay goes on trial Monday. Wired’s Threat Level provides the details…suffice to say that the case has significant implications for cross-border copyright law, possibly raising more questions than answers. The operators of this BitTorrent tracking service have indicated that the service will live, regardless of the verdict, raising yet more questions about legal boundaries and enforceability.

Written by Mark

February 14, 2009 at 10:53 am

Infrastructure, Intent, and Power

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Ethan Zuckerman delivered a brilliant presentation at the Berkman Center last week on “Mapping Globalization” – for the summary version, see the related post on Ethan’s blog). His talk discusses the significance of mapping flow across infrastructure to better understand where nominal and real connections meet, and, more importantly, where they don’t. 

Also mentioned is the potential mapping of intent, something he’s so far been unable to find. This had me paying more attention to a blog post / Guardian op-ed this week by Bruce Schneier, who recapitulates his quite sensible position against government attempts to “ban, control, or disrupt” new communications infrastructure. The logic behind these attempts seems clear, when thinking through Zuckerman’s schema:  despite the best privacy-eroding efforts, no government has yet found a method for mapping intent, and distinguishing deviations that might pose a security challenge to infrastructure. 

One might even imagine a scale reflecting the balance between individual and government power in a society based on (a) the degree to which information regarding infrastructure is open and accessible, (b) the degree to which user access to information and communications infrastructure is private, and (c) the degree to which the availability or use of communications technologies are regulated, if not banned outright. Watching changes to such a scale over, say, the last decade – perhaps overlaid on a world map – could provide a fascinating glimpse into the impact of information technology on civil societies. 

P.S. …speaking of, Slashdot is featuring an article on the pressure exerted by Nokia to pass a law possibly in violation of the Finnish Constitution’s privacy guarantees.

Written by Mark

February 1, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Vietnam’s crackdown on blogging

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A week ago, the Washington Post  summarized the Vietnamese government’s efforts to restrict online critics in a campaign dating back to August. What the piece misses is something Time picked up in a similar, late December summary,  the China connection: 

In December 2007 and January 2008, 56-year-old human rights activist Nguyen Hoaong Hai — who blogged under the pseudonym “Dieu Cay” — organized demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City against the government’s permission of the Olympic torch to pass through Vietnam. The demonstrations protested Chinese occupation of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea — which Vietnam also claims. Within months, police arrested Nguyen on charges of tax evasion — a move widely seen as retaliation. “It’s pretty clear that what he was really thrown in jail for was for criticizing China’s claim over the Paracels,” says Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. In December, an appeals court upheld Nguyen’s 30-month jail sentence.

The WashPost piece focuses on the potential role of Yahoo! and Google – per the new regulations, “Internet companies” are required to report to the government every six months, although the application of this to non-Vietnamese companies is unclear. But the possible role of China would seem to be more interesting here, especially considering the relationships China has effectively forged with companies like Yahoo! and Microsoft.

1.  First, the high-profile arrest described in Time has paralleled growing cooperation between China and Vietnam in the military and technology sectors, with a new technology-cooperation agreement concluded in December

2.  Second, there’s the Burma precedent – not just in the example of the Internet-fueled protests of 2007, but in the allegations that Burmese military personnel received training abroad (specifically Russian) and other support in the junta’s cyber-crackdown. There’s an implication in the WashPost piece that the Vietnamese government is coming to the game somewhat late, in terms of its monitoring effectiveness. Even in the absence of international cooperation (e.g., if Yahoo! and Google were to close access to their blogging platforms), there’s a question as to whether Vietnam will need technical support to put teeth into its new edicts, and how it will acquire it.

3.  Third, there’s an interesting correlation between recent Chinese efforts to go after online pornographers and a line in the Vietnamese law banning “obscenity and debauchery” … regardless of whether or not it receives any technical support from abroad, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suspect that Vietnam is looking to China as a model for how to leverage the economic benefits of the Internet without sacrificing political control.

Written by Mark

January 24, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Technology

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New media questions in the UAE

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As reported in today’s WSJ, the United Arab Emirates is passing a new media law which threatens fines against journalists publishing information that “harms the economy.” Fake Plastic Souks has a good roundup of local media reaction, and points out that the new law seems to omit any reference to blogging, Twittering, YouTube, or any other online channel. But one doesn’t have to be a committed cynic to think that the UAE is likely to adopt a broad interpretation of “media,” given the precedent recently set in South Korea.

In fact, the parallel to South Korea might be more pronounced than a first glance would suggest. “Minerva” – offline, Park Dae Sung – was arrested for blogging about government moves to keep the won from falling against the dollar. As The National noted in December, the UAE’s Central Bank has kept interest rates higher than in the U.S. to contain inflation, despite a dollar peg, thanks to forward contracts betting on a devaluation of the dirham in 2009. 

There’s a dilemma at work here. The crisis in the capital markets has a great deal to do with transparency and a lack of reliable information, particularly when it comes to asset quality and balance sheets. But the sheer quantity of information (which by definition will include misinformation and speculation), as well as the speed and ease by which it can be produced, may risk exacerbating the situation. Such would seem to be the fear of policy-makers, at least.

The danger, of course, is that “the economy” becomes the new excuse for worldwide Internet regulation (after “terrorism” and “pornography”)…a danger that’ll become depressingly real as 2009 progresses.

p.s. – see The Emirates Economist for a blog dedicated to economic analysis of the Gulf states

Written by Mark

January 23, 2009 at 3:48 am

Posted in Business & Economy

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South Korean blogger shorts the economy, gets arrested

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Here we go. A few posts back, I wrote about the global economic downturn, and the probable consequences for Internet regulation. The AP is reporting today that South Korea, one of the most Internet-intensive countries in the world, has arrested a blogger for spreading “false economic information over the Internet” – specifically, for reporting that the South Korean government had ordered the finance sector to stop purchasing U.S. dollars, in order to keep the won from falling against the dollar.

The AP goes on to report that the popular blogger had been a regular critic of the government’s handling of the economy and was self-taught in economics, although he lied online about his credentials. 

I’m sure the Asian financial crisis of the late ’90s in still very much in policy-makers’ minds. If anything, the arrest seems to reflect a fear that there are fewer effective policy mechanisms than there were a decade ago.

Written by Mark

January 10, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Posted in Business & Economy

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