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Strong opinions, weakly held

Somebody can always cut you off

The big First Amendment news this week is that Amazon Web Services cut off WikiLeaks. They say it was because WikiLeaks violated their terms of service, most people think it was due to pressure from Senator Joe Lieberman. We know for sure that Tableau Software took down some data visualizations based on the leaks at the request of Senator Lieberman. Last night, their DNS provider cut them off.

Columbia Journalism Review interviewed researcher Ethan Zuckerman about what these takedowns mean for the rest of us. Here’s the bottom line:

What’s really hard about this is that we perceive the web to be a public space, a place where you should be able to go and set up your soapbox and say whatever you want to say to the world. The truth is, the web is almost entirely privately held. So what happens here is that we have a normative understanding that we should treat this like public space—that you should have rights to speak, that no one should constrain your rights—but then you discover that, basically, you’re holding a political rally in a shopping mall. This is commercial speech, controlled by commercial rules.

What the WikiLeaks incident shows us is that there’s always somebody who can cut you off. Even if you run your site on your own software on an open source platform on a server sitting in your living room, your Internet access can be cut off, or your DNS provider can shut you down. If you host your content on a commercial provider or on a social network, there are different points at which you can be cut off. If your speech is published on the Internet, it’s published with the consent of one (and probably more) entities who have no obligation to respect your First Amendment rights.

The closest you can get is peer-to-peer sharing, which is why the government and corporations hate it so much.

7 Comments

  1. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the fact that the web is almost entirely privately held. What bothers me is that there are so few holders.

    Peer-to-peer is a good answer as you point out.

  2. When I saw the title, I though this was going to be about rude drivers….LOL! This is a very good post. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to connect or disseminate a message. I hope that it will always remain this way but there is certainly no guarantee.

  3. There are multiple levels to this, obviously – my Internet access takes multiple forms, my domain registrar(s) is/are different from my Internet service provider(s), etc. Wikileaks was very stupid to register its wikileaks.ch domain via the same registrar that cut them off for inciting a DDoS, for example.

  4. I’m having no trouble with accessing the wikileaks website. wikileaks.nl works. wikileaks.ch works. 213.251.145.96 this ip also works.

  5. Raytheon has informed its employees that they are forbidden from visiting Wikileaks at all, even if at home, on their own time and computers.

    http://www.dailybreeze.com/latestnews/ci_16762048

  6. Isn’t that pretty much the case in the real world as well? You can’t protest without a permit. You can’t put a sign in your yard because of your HOA. You could go print your own newspaper, but your paper supplier could always cut you off.

    Heck, you can’t even travel without the feds taking pictures of your wang.

  7. “let the net turn to shit faster. the #cypherpunk kids were right, and we need p2p meshes. necessary inevitability. #NotReallyThisCynical” http://twitter.com/#!/rektide/status/11795103093886977

    it strikes me that some have already arrived at this future, that the necessity has unfurled at a high application level. pirate bay is using bittorrent to syndicate dns over encrypted links.

    of course, this is far shy of a physical content-ignorant mesh, which is more or less the real run around end game ultrawideband makes at least conceivable (if not absolutely one hundred percent necessary for spectrum utilization reasons). there’s a wonderful fancy there, ad-hoc networks providing bandwidth in plenty to any who ask– the tempering “reality” that steps in is that these meshes, although unimaginably colossal in aggregate bandwidth, would likely still be trunked to the existing routing infrastructure, rather than form any kind of globe spanning public mesh (think of the routing latency of a 60,000 hop route from Maine to Singapore, and the complexity of reliable transmission / path discovery). so much for the open net; it’d still be a corporate system, not a public wireless. shed a little tear for that unrealized magnificent vision; the tech may not be practical, the notion may not be completely morally and ethically without mark, but there’s levels of technical and social harmony and elegance to the idea of the public mesh that deserves your quiet little tear drop.

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