December 08, 2010
Is The Internet A Public Sphere?

The current flap about WikiLeaks and companies booting the site off their servers either due to government pressure, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, or commercial pressures serves to remind that there's no guaranteed free speech on the internet because the internet is not a real public square.

Some internet experts say the situation highlights the complexities of free speech issues on the Internet, as grassroots Web companies evolve and take central control over what their users can make public. Clay Shirky, who studies the Internet and teaches at New York University, said that although the Web is the new public sphere, it is actually “a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech.”

Do we need a subset of the internet that is really guaranteed to allow free speech?

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “Any Internet user who cares about free speech or has a controversial or unpopular message should be concerned about the fact that intermediaries might not let them express it.”

She added, “Your free speech rights are only as strong as the weakest intermediary.”

Think about it: If you can't communicate via electronic means it is like you become silenced. Fewer people will read hard copy newspapers. Of course, relatively few people get to decide what goes in hard copy newspapers anyway.

Is the internet demonstrating that private property actually will protect speech rights fairly well? Does one have so many ways to transmit one's message that the private nature of the internet is not a problem? I'm not clear on this. Got any thoughts?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 December 08 11:49 PM  Comm Tech Society

Brett Bellmore said at December 9, 2010 4:08 AM:

Of course, as long as you have any connection to the internet at all, you don't NEED to rent somebody else's servers. You can host your own site.

It's rather like saying you been denied the right to freedom of the press if the NYT won't publish your advertisement. No, they're just demonstrating that freedom of the press is a right of people who own presses. Not people who rent them.

I'd say that, if this progresses to the point that DNS's are being pressured by the government to not resolve wikileak's latest url, THEN you're in the domain of censorship.

Jamie said at December 9, 2010 4:24 AM:

What is needed is better anti-censorship tools, like easier to use onion routing and distributed storage (If you haven't looked in to it, distributed storage isn't as unmanagable as it may at first seem).

We have decent tools, but the problem is that they're really only usable by folks who know what they're doing, and have an aura of being seedy.

I agree with Brett that DNS is a bellweather, because it remains a centralized choke-point for states to pressure. A similar, somewhat related problem is SSL - it is a top-down, heirarchic certification chain that our browsers implicitly trust. The problem is that our browsers by default trust a lot of certification authorities, some of which are not really trustworthy, depending on your definition of trust. It is known that wildcard keys are in the hands of Chinese and Saudi companies. Nobody has proof, but it would be silly to imagine that the U.S. intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies don't. This means that, depending on your threat model, you can't trust your browser when it says that SSL key is owned by, say, Google or Microsoft. Think of what that means, not just for your email, but for automatic system updates.

Systems like Debian, use GPG keys for signing updates, which uses a web-of-trust model, so if you trust GPG and the Debian community, you can be a bit more confident about your system, at least.

Lono said at December 9, 2010 7:53 AM:

The public internet is and always has been a honeypot.

They aren't stupid - they knew exactly what they were doing when they allowed a military system to transition to a civilian one.

Get ready for the centralized Internet 2.0 - brought to you by Microsoft (The Palladium Project) and the Mitre Corporation (Total Information Awareness project)

We all fell for it - but did we really have any choice?

Soon enough the only free speech of any real consequence will be through Steganography and/or BBS style encrypted server to server VPN set ups.

So I guess I'll get this off my chest now - most Mensans do not believe the preponderance of evidence supports the U.S. Govt's Conspiracy Theory regarding 9/11 - it simply wouldn't hold up in a court of law - and that is exactly why the U.S. Govt. has NEVER formally charged Bin Laden with 9/11.

Here are some great videos if you really want to know what is going on behind the scenes these days:

The Corporation
BBC's Century of Self
Secrets of the Cia
Thirteen Days
JFK by Oliver Stone
JFK II: The Bush Connection
RFK Must Die
The Secret Government
Conspiracy of Silence
Reprise: Dark Secrets - Inside Bohemian Grove
Bush's Brain
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Why We Fight
Terror Storm: Final Cut
Lone Gunman: Pilot Episode
Fahrenheit 9/11
Loose Change: Final Cut
9/11 Press for Truth
Steven Jones lecture on Thermate Findings
ATS interview with William Rodriguez
Pilots for 9/11 Truth Videos
9/11: Blueprint for Truth
Jersey Girls
Who Killed John O'Neil
Fabled Enemies
7/7 Ripple Effect
The Science of Man and Origins of Big Brother
Money as Debt
The Money Masters
Endgame 1.5
Wake Up Call - New World Order Documentary
Various Fluoride and Aspartame Documentaries
The World According to Monsanto
Fall of the Republic: The Presidency of Obama
Fabled Enemies
The Obama Deception
Invisible Empire
Out of the Blue

So there you have it - more truth above then you will get in ten years of reading wikileaks (another honeypot) or the Daily News (tm)


(while you still can)

Lono said at December 9, 2010 8:12 AM:

Hmm - my last comment I tried to post here presented a message that the site owner would review the entry before posting it - never got that before - the Ironing is Delicious!


th said at December 9, 2010 5:59 PM:

Shouldn't you define freedom of speech? Wikileaks has been around for 4 years exposing all things dear to the left, it's only after the clinton's get mentioned that we are all in an uproar. Freedom of speech therefor is defined as anything that remains therapeutic to certain members of the left and not a threat to it.
Didn't the new york times refuse to publish the climate emails on grounds the information was illegally obtained, amazing how good they are at changing the issue from their hypocrisy to another necessary round of crotch grabbing from the govt in the form of internet control.

Randall Parker said at December 9, 2010 11:09 PM:


Beware of Lono. He just gave you that list of books or videos to lure you into ordering them. Once you've ordered them you go on a list and Lono gets bonuses for every opponent of the regime that he outs.


Oh sure, no secret government agency is logging who clicks thru to your links. You aren't trying to trip us up. You aren't testing us for loyalty.


Freedom of speech is therapeutic for me. Giving everyone my wisdom relieves me of the burden of being the only person who is aware of my penetrating insights. Letting everyone else know what I think shifts the responsibility for knowing the revealed truth.

BioBob said at December 10, 2010 12:52 AM:

LOL @ Randall - Lono is full of sh*t anyway. My vote is that the internet is as free as anything else is -- due to it's international and corporate granularity. The whole system consists of low grade electronic warfare with the general user the beneficiary. China may try to control but Taiwan subverts, etc etc. For every website like Boing Boing that subverts conservative points of view, the dragon's teeth of opposition are sown and grow; conservative sites proliferate.

I agree that DNS is potentially a gatekeeper but for every domain server which is subverted, the potential for foreign DNS ips can proliferate. There are just too many alternatives for any real complete control for a somewhat open society to control. Not only is there HTTP but also many other protocols (eg IRC) riding the same wave. Only severely repressive societies can have any real possibility for control. Open software systems counterbalance corporate proprietary ones, etc etc.

Any real control by Western governments was lost long ago; its the wild west now.

jamie said at December 10, 2010 6:44 AM:

BioBob: I agree that DNS is potentially a gatekeeper but for every domain server which is subverted, the potential for foreign DNS ips can proliferate. There are just too many alternatives for any real complete control for a somewhat open society to control. Not only is there HTTP but also many other protocols (eg IRC) riding the same wave. Only severely repressive societies can have any real possibility for control. Open software systems counterbalance corporate proprietary ones, etc etc.

You seem to misunderstand some of the technical and organizational details of how the net works.

Sitting "above" the registrars (like Network Solutions and Godaddy, the people who rent you DNS pointers) is an organization called ICANN. ICANN is responsible for setting policy and accrediting registrars. Control of ICANN is complicated, but the U.S. Department of Commerce plays a large role, as do stakeholders at Netowrk Solutions, which itself has interesting ties to defense-related firms. In any case, ICANN has the whip-hand when dealing with registrars (other than NSI). That isn't to say that someone at the DoC will pick up the phone and tell ICANN to lean on the registrar offering service to, say, Wikileaks, but you can be sure that the operation is not free of influence. If you're interested in these things, google around a bit - the politics of ICANN has been a lively topic of discussion for about a decade now.

The talk of protocols makes no sense, in terms of points of control - all a protocol is is an agreement to trade data a certain way. If you want to choke a service, there is no difference between an IRC server and an HTTP server, aside from the port number. (It is more complicated than that, of course; there are distributed IRC schemes for the larger networks just as large HTTP installations are distributed as well, and there are protocols that are specifically designed to be distributed and self-healing, like onion routing.) But the short of it is that if your adversary can block http traffic, they can block irc, smtp, ftp, nntp, ssh, or echo, or...

Lono said at December 10, 2010 8:13 AM:


What jamie said - educate yourself before you make specious attacks on others.


Thanks for releasing my post to the wild - I know it is controversial - but I figured you were looking for open debate of all kinds on this subject here.

I do, in fact, sometimes wonder if my friends/co-workers who associate with me on LinkedIn - the only online social network I dain to use - are getting a little more than they bargained for.

As for the videos I listed - they are almost all available for sale - but several may be at your local library - and almost all of them are available for free on youtube or google video - most often with the Documentary producers blessing.

One thing I should note - is many of these videos are unrated by the mpaa - and thus may not be suitable for minors due to sometimes explicit depictions of real world violence - both modern and from WWII footage.

(nothing like beheadings or any of that stuff - I won't watch that on the net even if it is potentially newsworthy)

So don't invite a bunch of local teens to screen one of these like one foolish individual did - and who is now serving a 3 year sentence for endangering minors or some such lunacy.

Please note none of these videos in any way endorse a specific religion, race, or political party.

(I have distilled this list to the very best from over a hundred doc's I've seen in the last 7 or so years)


Engineer-Poet said at December 10, 2010 11:09 AM:

Lauren Weinstein is part of an effort to create a distributed replacement for DNS.

The internet interprets DNS-based censorship as damage and routes around it.

BioBob said at December 10, 2010 3:39 PM:

Sorry Jamie, getting your exercise by jumping to conclusions ? that's not what i was talking bout. Suck it up

1) Any country can setup its own competitive system to ICANN if they don't care about global interoperability. The reality is that there is potentially more than "one web"; all that is required for the proliferation of competing webs is to nerf the one we have based on DNS resolution enough so that competition becomes necessary or required.
Such issues have already come up eg

2) Jamie, if i send packets directly to an IP , I don't need any DNS, do I ? that's a standard IRC mode of operation, which is what I was talking about, ad therefore control over DNS is meaningless in those cases where IP resolution is not required.

What I was referring to was the fact that anyone can set their DNS to any appropriate DNS IP they feel like, so if one is blocked, another will serve, which is what I was discussing in particular, a la wikileaks DDOS attack on one DNS server eg It's true that if overall DNS registration is not proliferated across DNS servers the problem is larger - but that wasn't what I was discussing.

@ Lono ROFL Dood

Wolf-Dog said at December 10, 2010 9:33 PM:

Theoretically, even if a certain group of people form their own Internet company to publish whatever they want, if the governments of the world ultimately decide to block access to these websites, all they would have to do is to legislate and instruct the telecommunications companies to block access to these websites even if these websites are not taken down. For instance, any country can censor foreign websites because their local telecommunications companies can be controlled.

In fact, these days even private surface mail is on its way to become more tightly controlled: due to terrorist activity, UPS now requires that the sender should present a photo ID in order to mail a package. And in the future, since letters can also contain harmful substances, new legislation will probably require that the sender has to register the letter and perhaps even its contents. A few decades ago, in some countries, registered letters had to be put in an open envelope, so that the government authorities can actually read the letter.

In the future dystopian societies, it is very possible that the governments will determine the entire educational system: I have been in favor of computerized education, but in the future if all education and courses become electronic, it is possible that the government will be able to determine line by line every bit of math, physics, history, economics, spirituality, philosophy, etc, that will be studied.

Engineer-Poet said at December 11, 2010 4:41 AM:

Electronic education is also uniquely suited to being editted and excerpted in commentaries; such efforts would backfire, as counter-efforts went over the propaganda in detail.

Randall Parker said at December 11, 2010 10:18 AM:


No need to thank me. I'm fully on-board with the game plan to reveal all the thought criminals. I've got a great desert island set aside for me as reward for my role in bringing on one world government. Surely they won't renege on their promises to me once they have total dictatorial control over the whole world, will they?


It occurs to me that since one can set up one's own DNS one could create new domains and URLs that only those willing to use that DNS server (or allied servers) would be able to use for web navigation.

jamie said at December 14, 2010 7:54 PM:

Biobob -

I apologize for being somewhat late coming back to this. I thought I'd comment for the record.

Sorry Jamie, getting your exercise by jumping to conclusions?

Why, yes! Thanks for asking.

Any country can setup its own competitive system to ICANN if they don't care about global interoperability. The reality is that there is potentially more than "one web" [...]

Sure. I don't see why you're limiting yourself to countries, though. You can run your own root server for you and your pals. It is actually pretty easy for a moderately skilled sysadmin - I set one up for a private network over a decade ago, and the mechanics are much less arcane now than they used to be.

What is less simple is getting other people to care, and to run name servers that consider yours authoritative.

But given your apparent enthusiasm for IP addresses, it isn't clear to me why you care about DNS at all - just advertise your IP whereever it is you like to advertise. As we're forced (kicking and screaming) into IPv6 by resource issues, you might find that less than optimal, but I'm sure the samizdat spirit will carry you through.

Of course, you didn't explain how your advertised IP for your IRC service will handle a court order, or failing that, a braindead DDOS attack. But hey, we have lots of protocols in our tubes, right?

Rob said at December 16, 2010 12:24 PM:

>>The internet interprets DNS-based censorship
>>as damage and routes around it.

If your ISP decides (or is told by the government) to block DNS queries, how will alternate roots help?
If your ISP decides to block tunneling, HTTPS/SSL, Tor, or other protocols, what can you do about it?
If your ISP deploys DPI equipment and shoots down or alters packets, what can you do about it?
If your ISP announces their own routes for certain IP blocks, what can you do about it?

How many of you have real alternatives for fast at-home Internet connectivity? Most of us in the US have one government sanctioned monopoly provider. Two if we're lucky. I hate Comcast with a passion, but I'm still forced to send them money every month.

>>Of course, as long as you have any connection to the internet at all,
>>you don't NEED to rent somebody else's servers. You can host your own site.

The Comcast AUP explicitly forbids this in section I, "Prohibited Uses and Activities". To host at home you'll need to upgrade to their business class solution, or order a real circuit from a government licensed telco.

If you think your ISP couldn't completely monitor and control what you do on the Internet then you are deluded. Your only chance of controlling your ISP is by controlling your government.

Engineer-Poet said at December 17, 2010 5:44 AM:
If your ISP decides to block tunneling, HTTPS/SSL, Tor, or other protocols, what can you do about it?
How could any ISP block HTTPS or SSL?  That would break 80% of people's most important web sites right there.
Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©