Google Founder: Internet Freedom Under Greatest Threat Ever

Threats range from governments trying to control citizens to the rise of Facebook and Apple-style ‘walled gardens’.

By IAN KATZ | UK GUARDIAN | APRIL 16, 2012

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world”. “I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

The threat to the freedom of the internet comes, he claims, from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behind Google’s partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks. He said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long, but now says he has been proven wrong. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,” he said.

He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

“There’s a lot to be lost,” he said. “For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”

Brin’s criticism of Facebook is likely to be controversial, with the social network approaching an estimated $100bn (£64bn) flotation. Google’s upstart rival has seen explosive growth: it has signed up half of Americans with computer access and more than 800 million members worldwide.

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”

He criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years,” he said.

Brin’s comments come on the first day of a week-long Guardian investigation of the intensifying battle for control of the internet being fought across the globe between governments, companies, military strategists, activists and hackers.

From the attempts made by Hollywood to push through legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government’s plans to monitor social media and web use, the ethos of openness championed by the pioneers of the internet and worldwide web is being challenged on a number of fronts.

In China, which now has more internet users than any other country, the government recently introduced new “real identity” rules in a bid to tame the boisterous microblogging scene. In Russia, there are powerful calls to rein in a blogosphere blamed for fomenting a wave of anti-Vladimir Putin protests. It has been reported that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed “national internet” from this summer.

Ricken Patel, co-founder of Avaaz, the 14 million-strong online activist network which has been providing communication equipment and training to Syrian activists, echoed Brin’s warning: “We’ve seen a massive attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world.”

Writing in the Guardian on Monday, outspoken Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei says the Chinese government’s attempts to control the internet will ultimately be doomed to failure. “In the long run,” he says, “they must understand it’s not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that.”

Amid mounting concern over the militarisation of the internet and claims – denied by Beijing – that China has mounted numerous cyber-attacks on US military and corporate targets, he said it would be hugely difficult for any government to defend its online “territory”.

“If you compare the internet to the physical world, there really aren’t any walls between countries,” he said. “If Canada wanted to send tanks into the US there is nothing stopping them and it’s the same on the internet. It’s hopeless to try to control the internet.”

He reserved his harshest words for the entertainment industry, which he said was “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot” by lobbying for legislation to block sites offering pirate material.

He said the Sopa and Pipa bills championed by the film and music industries would have led to the US using the same technology and approach it criticised China and Iran for using. The entertainment industry failed to appreciate people would continue to download pirated content as long as it was easier to acquire and use than legitimately obtained material, he said.

“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like; it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops [to buy legitimate content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy,” he said.

Brin acknowledged that some people were anxious about the amount of their data that was now in the reach of US authorities because it sits on Google’s servers. He said the company was periodically forced to hand over data and sometimes prevented by legal restrictions from even notifying users that it had done so.

He said: “We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done.”

FBI Plans to Shutdown Internet on March 8th

Russia Today
February 21, 2012

Millions of computer users across the world could be blocked off from the Internet as early as March 8 if the FBI follows through with plans to yank a series of servers originally installed to combat corruption.

Last year, authorities in Estonia apprehended six men believed responsible for creating a malicious computer script called the DNSChanger Trojan. Once set loose on the Web, the worm corrupted computers in upwards of 100 countries, including an estimated 500,000 in America alone. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation later stepped up by replacing the rogue Trojan with servers of their own in an attempt to remediate the damage, but the fix was only temporary. Now the FBI is expected to end use of those replacement servers as early as next month and, at that point, the Internet for millions could essentially be over.

When functioning as its creators intended, the DNSChanger Trojan infected computers and redirected users hoping to surf to certain websites to malicious ones. Traditionally, DNS, or Domain Name System, servers translate alphabetical, traditional website URLs to their actual, numeric counterpart in order to guide users across the World Wide Web. Once infected by the DNSChanger Trojan, however, websites entered into Internet browsers were hijacked to malicious servers and, in turn, directed the user to an unintended, fraudulent site.

In coordination with the arrests in Estonia, the FBI shut down the malicious DNSChanger botnet network, and, additionally, replaced them with surrogate servers to correct the problem. Those servers, however, were installed “just long enough for companies and home users to remove DNSChanger malware from their machines,” according to the court order that established them. That deadline is March 8, and those surrogate servers are expected to be retired then. At that point, computers still infected with the Trojan will be essentially unable to navigate the Internet.

Who, exactly, will be affected? Security company IID (Internet Identity) believes that half of all Fortune 500 companies and more than two dozen major government entities in the US are still currently infected with the worm as of early 2012. Unless they take the proper steps to eradicate the Trojan from their systems, millions of users worldwide will be left hog-tied, helplessly attempting to navigate to nonexistent servers and, in effect, without the Web.

“At this rate, a lot of users are going to see their Internet break on March 8,” Rod Rasmussen, president and chief technology officer at Internet Identity, cautions Krebs On Security.

Currently, both the computer industry and law enforcement are working together through a coalition they’ve established called the DNSChanger Working Group. That group has been tasked with examining the options in phasing out the surrogate servers set up by the feds, but unless an alternative plan is agreed on, a great port of the Web will go dark next month.

“I’m guessing a lot more people would care at that point,” Rasmussen adds. While infected users are cautioned to correct the problem now, millions internationally are still believed to be infected. “It certainly would be an interesting social experiment if these systems just got cut off,” he adds.

The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom

by Robert McDowell
WSJ
February 20, 2012

On Feb. 27, a diplomatic process will begin in Geneva that could result in a new treaty giving the United Nations unprecedented powers over the Internet. Dozens of countries, including Russia and China, are pushing hard to reach this goal by year’s end. As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last June, his goal and that of his allies is to establish “international control over the Internet” through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a treaty-based organization under U.N. auspices.

If successful, these new regulatory proposals would upend the Internet’s flourishing regime, which has been in place since 1988. That year, delegates from 114 countries gathered in Australia to agree to a treaty that set the stage for dramatic liberalization of international telecommunications. This insulated the Internet from economic and technical regulation and quickly became the greatest deregulatory success story of all time.

Since the Net’s inception, engineers, academics, user groups and others have convened in bottom-up nongovernmental organizations to keep it operating and thriving through what is known as a “multi-stakeholder” governance model. This consensus-driven private-sector approach has been the key to the Net’s phenomenal success.

In 1995, shortly after it was privatized, only 16 million people used the Internet world-wide. By 2011, more than two billion were online—and that number is growing by as much as half a million every day. This explosive growth is the direct result of governments generally keeping their hands off the Internet sphere.

Net access, especially through mobile devices, is improving the human condition more quickly—and more fundamentally—than any other technology in history. Nowhere is this more true than in the developing world, where unfettered Internet technologies are expanding economies and raising living standards.

Farmers who live far from markets are now able to find buyers for their crops through their Internet-connected mobile devices without assuming the risks and expenses of traveling with their goods. Worried parents are able to go online to locate medicine for their sick children. And proponents of political freedom are better able to share information and organize support to break down the walls of tyranny.

The Internet has also been a net job creator. A recent McKinsey study found that for every job disrupted by Internet connectivity, 2.6 new jobs are created. It is no coincidence that these wonderful developments blossomed as the Internet migrated further away from government control.

Today, however, Russia, China and their allies within the 193 member states of the ITU want to renegotiate the 1988 treaty to expand its reach into previously unregulated areas. Reading even a partial list of proposals that could be codified into international law next December at a conference in Dubai is chilling:

• Subject cyber security and data privacy to international control;

• Allow foreign phone companies to charge fees for “international” Internet traffic, perhaps even on a “per-click” basis for certain Web destinations, with the goal of generating revenue for state-owned phone companies and government treasuries;

• Impose unprecedented economic regulations such as mandates for rates, terms and conditions for currently unregulated traffic-swapping agreements known as “peering.”

• Establish for the first time ITU dominion over important functions of multi-stakeholder Internet governance entities such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit entity that coordinates the .com and .org Web addresses of the world;

• Subsume under intergovernmental control many functions of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Society and other multi-stakeholder groups that establish the engineering and technical standards that allow the Internet to work;

• Regulate international mobile roaming rates and practices.

Many countries in the developing world, including India and Brazil, are particularly intrigued by these ideas. Even though Internet-based technologies are improving billions of lives everywhere, some governments feel excluded and want more control.

And let’s face it, strong-arm regimes are threatened by popular outcries for political freedom that are empowered by unfettered Internet connectivity. They have formed impressive coalitions, and their efforts have progressed significantly.

Merely saying “no” to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance is likely to be a losing proposition. A more successful strategy would be for proponents of Internet freedom and prosperity within every nation to encourage a dialogue among all interested parties, including governments and the ITU, to broaden the multi-stakeholder umbrella with the goal of reaching consensus to address reasonable concerns. As part of this conversation, we should underscore the tremendous benefits that the Internet has yielded for the developing world through the multi-stakeholder model.

Upending this model with a new regulatory treaty is likely to partition the Internet as some countries would inevitably choose to opt out. A balkanized Internet would be devastating to global free trade and national sovereignty. It would impair Internet growth most severely in the developing world but also globally as technologists are forced to seek bureaucratic permission to innovate and invest. This would also undermine the proliferation of new cross-border technologies, such as cloud computing.

A top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without borders. No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make engineering and economic decisions in lightning-fast Internet time. Productivity, rising living standards and the spread of freedom everywhere, but especially in the developing world, would grind to a halt as engineering and business decisions become politically paralyzed within a global regulatory body.

Any attempts to expand intergovernmental powers over the Internet—no matter how incremental or seemingly innocuous—should be turned back. Modernization and reform can be constructive, but not if the end result is a new global bureaucracy that departs from the multi-stakeholder model. Enlightened nations should draw a line in the sand against new regulations while welcoming reform that could include a nonregulatory role for the ITU.

Pro-regulation forces are, thus far, much more energized and organized than those who favor the multi-stakeholder approach. Regulation proponents only need to secure a simple majority of the 193 member states to codify their radical and counterproductive agenda. Unlike the U.N. Security Council, no country can wield a veto in ITU proceedings. With this in mind, some estimate that approximately 90 countries could be supporting intergovernmental Net regulation—a mere seven short of a majority.

While precious time ticks away, the U.S. has not named a leader for the treaty negotiation. We must awake from our slumber and engage before it is too late. Not only do these developments have the potential to affect the daily lives of all Americans, they also threaten freedom and prosperity across the globe.

Mr. McDowell is a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

What does Government Control of the Internet Mean?

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
January 18, 2012

Remember all those articles you read a year or two ago that warned us all about the end of the internet as we knew it? That moment has come. Different from what has been reported on the dying corrupt corporate media, the new legislation intended to regulate internet traffic and content, among other things, is not a threat to internet piracy; that is just the excuse to approve it. What the bill known as SOPA really threatens is the free access, posting, reading and circulation of information as we now know it.

Luckily, such legislation has met significant opposition, not only from internet users, but also from internet companies. This opposition has made the usual liberty-violating suspects, AKA Joe Lieberman and his pals, to back off their intention to discuss and pass SOPA on the floor of the Senate and House. Websites like Wikipedia warned against the bill and threatened to shut down its services Wednesday. The company said if the legislation found fertile ground in Congress, it would cause an online blackout.

“Before it looked like it would pass with 80 votes, and now [the online protest] looks like something that will suck the votes away,” said a democratic insider in Congress. With other powerhouses like Google joining the protest, many believe the bill will be shelved, at least for now. One of the points that has Internet companies on their toes is the one that imposes new requirements on internet service providers (IP’s). Bill supporters like Harry Reid adventured themselves to say that “is not perfect” but that the bill intends to “protect American ingenuity and commerce” and that it was “too important to delay.” What this really means is that corporations in control of Congress want to have legal leverage to impose penalties on internet content, much like the United States government produced legislation obligates “Free Trade” partners to renounce to patents and intellectual property which they must sign away to off-shore corporations.

According to congressman Lamar Smith, another supporter of the bill, its only intention is to target websites that work abroad which engage in illegal activities. Smith said that the bill “does not grant the Justice Department the authority to seek a court order to shut down any website operated in the U.S.” This isn’t necessary anyway because the FBI is already shutting down websites without the need for legal authority to do it. So, the current proposal to stop internet piracy has nothing to do with copyright infringement, but with creating a legal framework to carry out internet censorship.

If you don’t think this is true, please listen to Joe Lieberman’s testimony on CNN, where he clearly states that SOPA will give the president the power to disconnect the United States’ internet from the rest of the world’s internet. Sound familiar? That’s right. This is what China does. Only certain websites will be allowed to spread their content online. What Lieberman is saying is that the government will have the power to control what information gets to everyone in the USA. Maybe it will be reduced to the “official” information, because of course, that is all you need to know, isn’t it? One of Lieberman’s gigantic lie during the interview is that this bill is needed to protect the infrastructure, which according to him is “online”. Although the infrastructure, especially basic services such as electricity and water management are interconnected into a single system in many parts of the USA, those systems are not available to be accessed over the Internet, so even if a chinese or indian hacker managed to enter US Internet, it could not physically manipulate such systems.

But if this is the congressman’s main concern, why are developed countries like the USA, and others in the third world, such as Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador, adopting smart-grid management systems, which are easier targets to be hacked into? The answer to this is simple. One of the most important aspects of global governance is to centrally control the energy resources of the planet, and in order to to this, they need a centrally managed system which will operate over what we know today as the internet. See, the world wide web was not built for us to enjoy it. It was a catch. The web is a convenient tool that was put out for everyone to get accustomed to and more importantly, dependent on, addicted to. But the net is nothing more than a part of a global infrastructure grid to as I said before, control it all.

The way Mr. Lieberman would respond to these questions is… correct again, playing the fear card. “It is a matter of National Security”. He explained to CNN that “a cyber attack on America could do much damage by incapacitating our banks, communications, our finances, our transportation…? My question to this answer is, who in the world has the power to carry out such significant attacks? Governments and Corporations only. So why do the people, who have in large part financed the research, development and operation of the Internet must surrender their free access to the web so the government [any government] is entitled to decide what I read, watch and listen to? Why aren’t the governments where the supposed threats originate at responsible for eliminating hackers who “threaten” the web? Why doesn’t the USA establishes dialog channels to negotiate with governments so they take care of those who run illegal businesses in each country? That does not happen because this bill is not about ending piracy or copyright infringement, but as I repeated many times, about controlling the web.

The so called SOPA bill is not the first attempt to censor the internet. Unfortunately, governments around the world have succeeded in passing legislation that gives them strong powers over the net. In China, for example, the government, in an effort to erase dissent, protests and hatred against government corruption. The most recent piece of legislation was the Cybersecurity Act, which congressmen said was the ultimate weapon against cyber threats. That is the problem with power, the more you give away, the more the bureaucrats want. Now it seems the Cybersecurity Act is not enough, so they want to pass the SOPA bill.

In contrast to what SOPA sponsors say, Internet threats do not come from isolated hackers in China or India. Those large threats come from governments. Take for example the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iranian infrastructure. As we now know, that virus was created and sent there by the United States and Israel, in an effort to curb the country’s thirst for nuclear energy.

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has already taken it upon itself to shut down websites for alleged violations of copyright laws. These supposed violations have not been proven, and in most cases they are websites that link to, not publish, copy written materials. Contrary to what it said before and during the attacks on free speech, the DHS has now retracted from many of the accusations made against several websites.

The endgame with the SOPA legislation is that once the governments are given the power to control the content on the internet as well as how and who can post it, that will make it so everyone will need a government license to post information online. Guess what information will be allowed and what won’t? Whatever information that does not comply with the government guidelines. That includes but is not limited to health, politics, war, technology, human rights, individual rights, constitutional rights and so on.

Net Neutrality: Last Step Towards Complete Tyranny

World Wide Web lock down begins in the USA

By Robert McDowell

Tomorrow morning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will mark the winter solstice by taking an unprecedented step to expand government’s reach into the Internet by attempting to regulate its inner workings. In doing so, the agency will circumvent Congress and disregard a recent court ruling.

How did the FCC get here?

For years, proponents of so-called “net neutrality” have been calling for strong regulation of broadband “on-ramps” to the Internet, like those provided by your local cable or phone companies. Rules are needed, the argument goes, to ensure that the Internet remains open and free, and to discourage broadband providers from thwarting consumer demand. That sounds good if you say it fast.

Nothing is broken that needs fixing, however. The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist. Furthermore, the Obama Justice Department and the European Commission both decided this year that net-neutrality regulation was unnecessary and might deter investment in next-generation Internet technology and infrastructure.

Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being “data driven” in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.

It wasn’t long ago that bipartisan and international consensus centered on insulating the Internet from regulation. This policy was a bright hallmark of the Clinton administration, which oversaw the Internet’s privatization. Over time, however, the call for more Internet regulation became imbedded into a 2008 presidential campaign promise by then-Sen. Barack Obama. So here we are.

Last year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski started to fulfill this promise by proposing rules using a legal theory from an earlier commission decision (from which I had dissented in 2008) that was under court review. So confident were they in their case, FCC lawyers told the federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., that their theory gave the agency the authority to regulate broadband rates, even though Congress has never given the FCC the power to regulate the Internet. FCC leaders seemed caught off guard by the extent of the court’s April 6 rebuke of the commission’s regulatory overreach.

In May, the FCC leadership floated the idea of deeming complex and dynamic Internet services equivalent to old-fashioned monopoly phone services, thereby triggering price-and-terms regulations that originated in the 1880s. The announcement produced what has become a rare event in Washington: A large, bipartisan majority of Congress agreeing on something. More than 300 members of Congress, including 86 Democrats, contacted the FCC to implore it to stop pursuing Internet regulation and to defer to Capitol Hill.

Facing a powerful congressional backlash, the FCC temporarily changed tack and convened negotiations over the summer with a select group of industry representatives and proponents of Internet regulation. Curiously, the commission abruptly dissolved the talks after Google and Verizon, former Internet-policy rivals, announced their own side agreement for a legislative blueprint. Yes, the effort to reach consensus was derailed by . . . consensus.

After a long August silence, it appeared that the FCC would defer to Congress after all. Agency officials began working with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman on a draft bill codifying network management rules. No Republican members endorsed the measure. Later, proponents abandoned the congressional effort to regulate the Net.

Still feeling quixotic pressure to fight an imaginary problem, the FCC leadership this fall pushed a small group of hand-picked industry players toward a “choice” between a bad option (broad regulation already struck down in April by the D.C. federal appeals court) or a worse option (phone monopoly-style regulation). Experiencing more coercion than consensus or compromise, a smaller industry group on Dec. 1 gave qualified support for the bad option. The FCC’s action will spark a billable-hours bonanza as lawyers litigate the meaning of “reasonable” network management for years to come. How’s that for regulatory certainty?

To date, the FCC hasn’t ruled out increasing its power further by using the phone monopoly laws, directly or indirectly regulating rates someday, or expanding its reach deeper into mobile broadband services. The most expansive regulatory regimes frequently started out modest and innocuous before incrementally growing into heavy-handed behemoths.

On this winter solstice, we will witness jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah as the FCC bypasses branches of our government in the dogged pursuit of needless and harmful regulation. The darkest day of the year may end up marking the beginning of a long winter’s night for Internet freedom.

Mr. McDowell is a Republican commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.