Wikileaks, Intermediary Chokepoints And The Dissent Tax

from the getting-past-the-choke-points dept

We already posted Glyn Moody's response to Jaron Lanier's critique of Wikileaks, but I also wanted to point to and discuss an excellent rebuttal/debunking to Lanier's piece by professor Zeynep Tufecki, who notes that, contrary to Lanier's claims, Wikileaks hasn't exposed "the hazards of nerd supremacy," but rather the "dissent tax." The dissent tax is a great way to summarize the point I've been trying to make about how Wikileaks has really exposed corporate intermediaries who are too centralized. In Tufecki's explanation, the "cost" of avoiding those intermediaries is the dissent tax:
What the Wikileaks furor shows us is that a dissent tax is emerging on the Internet. As a dissident content provider, you might have to fight your DNS provider. You might need to fund large-scale hosting resources while others can use similar capacity on commercial servers for a few hundred dollars a year. Fund-raising infrastructure that is open to pretty much everyone else, including the KKK, may not be available. This does not mean that Wikileaks cannot get hosted, as it is already well-known and big, but what about smaller, less-famous, less established, less well-off efforts? Will they even get off the ground?

These developments should alarm every concerned citizen, even those who are thoroughly disgusted by Wikileaks. This is the issue that the Wikileaks furor has exposed, not nerd ideology. This is the story and likely will be more important than the release of diplomatic cables (which were already available to millions of people) through major newspapers after scrutiny by journalists. This question will stay with us even if Wikileaks dissolves, and Julian Assange is never heard from again.
This does such a nice job of summarizing the point I'd been trying (and probably failing) to make over the past few weeks that it's worth reading again. Of course, the real question is what happens next. And what we're seeing is that the response is for a lot of smart people to start looking at all these chokepoints that have created that dissent tax, and look for ways to route around them, and build more distributed, more censor-proof infrastructure pieces, such that any such dissent taxes in the future will be minimized.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Ragnar Krempel (profile), Dec 27th, 2010 @ 12:15pm

    Indeed, the problem is not that some companies choose not to do business with Wikileaks (which in and of itself should be perfectly acceptable), but that those companies represent such a large portion of a particular field that they are essentially shutting Wikileaks out.

    Be that a good thing or a bad thing in this particular case, this gives the impression that influence peddling, threats and bribery have replaced the Rule of Law. This is not acceptable under any circumstances. If we believe that no-one is above the law then the same applies for ideas and ideals. There can be no morally superior principle that is above the rule of law.

    The rule of law has been a cornerstone of democracy (and other systems of government) for over 23 centuries. It would not be an overstatement to say it is a cornerstone of civilization. I cannot see how it can be removed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    chris (profile), Dec 27th, 2010 @ 12:53pm

    a new way to calculate costs

    the problem with the industrial view of efficiency is that it takes a very narrow view when calculating costs.

    distributed systems are inefficient systems: they're full of redundancy and move at the speed of their slowest node. they're also complex to build, difficult to update and hard to manage. distribution is pretty much the enemy of the economic and industrial idea of efficiency. it used to be generally accepted that a DNS change will take 24 hours or more for to fully replicate world wide, image waiting that long for a password change, or a copy of your bank statement.

    distributed systems are the way of the future, but the way of the future needs a new way to look at costs. streamlined production, economy of scale, the 80/20 rule... pretty much every accepted business, engineering, and design principle will need to be revisited as the old centralized way of thinking and doing gives way to the distributed model.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    HelpfulJones, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 1:03pm

    Bull-Butter!

    This "dissent tax" is the silliest damn thing I've heard of in quite a while. What is this guy a professor of? Making up rights out of wholecloth?

    If you perceive a need in the marketplace, then stand-up your own hosting company and market yourself to the perceived need. And do it quick! I desperately need to find a provider who will host all these video's of your haggard, drooling daddy and your fat, alcoholic momma, BOTH orally satisfying German Shepherds (both the dog and human varieties).

    No commercial entity should be forced to accommodate a customer. Period. Whether that customer is me with my sordid videos, wikileaks, the KKK, AlGore, AlSharpton or even (this is stretching it) "Unknown-Hinson, the KING of Country Western Troubadors".

    Now, my sordid videos example is truly abhorrent (as some find wikileaks to be). But if you as a hosting company find my videos distasteful for *whatever* reason, you should most certainly not be forced to host them. I have no moral, ethical or legal right to your services. The fact that I can't find *ANY* hosting company that is willing to accommodate me makes no difference. I DO NOT have a right to your hosting services. If I can't find an agreeable host, I can either keep looking, change my content, create my own hosting company or give up. The burden is on me, not you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Dec 27th, 2010 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Bull-Butter!

    I'd agree with you, if there weren't also regulatory capture in the US.

    Mastercard and Visa do approximately 90% of all current card transactions. DNS resolvers are primarily based in the US. Remember, that the First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits actions that basically limit free speech.

    Moreover, the reasons given for cutting off Wikileaks have no basis in US Law. The DoJ has not given a list of charges to any representative of the Wikileaks organisation.

    I'm pissed as a fart, and I'm still owning your arguments. What does that say about your arguments?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Roland, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 2:01pm

    they'll use Amazon, again

    Wikileaks can set up a shell to put some innocuous content on AWS, then upload the goodies, then let everyone know where to find them. It'll get taken down, of course, but all Wikileaks needs is a couple of hours to get the job done. AWS simply can't respond that fast, much less examine all the uploaded content.

    As for Visa/MC & the big banks, just use a small local bank or credit union, & send a check. See wikileaks.org/donate for mailing addresses.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 7:33pm

    Dissent is very different from breaking the law. Speaking up doesn't immediately mean illegal activity.

    godhatesfags.com and kkk.com are both online, with no need for a dissent tax. Heck, the miserable and misleading http://www.sarahpac.com/ is still online too as are http://www.birthers.org/ All of those could rightly be shut down for extremist views (or ignorance, your choice). They are still up.

    Wikileaks is a very special case. Their DNS issues are total BS, because they could easily self DNS and have no issues. The whole DNS blocking thing was created from whole cloth. They can self DNS a .ORG domain easily, without issue, rather than relying on some third party to do it.

    Wikileaks also represents a legal black hole for many companies. Knowing that the materials were obtained illegally (case pending against Manning), and that the distribution of government secrets could be an issue, it isn't unusual for companies to shy away from this sort of thing.

    Can you give us 10 solid examples of companies or organizations that could not get hosting of some sort legally, who could not just rent cage space and pay for their own peering? Or is this just another desperate and whiny plea to somehow protect wikileaks?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 1:53am

    Re:

    So Wikileaks is worse than Westboro Baptist Chuch (who have actually killed someone) and the KKK (who have been known to kill many hundreds, if not thousands of people).

    Nice work there. Wikileaks is a method of releasing whistleblowers documents, nothing more, nothing less. The KKK and Westboro have been directly involved in actively illegal activities, yet there's a deafening silence from Visa, MC and Paypal.

    Odd, that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    vivaelamor (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 6:35am

    Re:

    "Dissent is very different from breaking the law. Speaking up doesn't immediately mean illegal activity."

    Afaik, Wikileaks has not had any charges brought against them. If you would like to correct me on that, feel free.

    "Knowing that the materials were obtained illegally (case pending against Manning), and that the distribution of government secrets could be an issue, it isn't unusual for companies to shy away from this sort of thing."

    If it isn't unusual then can you give us 10 solid examples of companies or organisations that this happened to for similar reasons?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 7:26am

    Re: Re:

    You missed the point entirely. At no point do I suggest that Wikileaks is worse than anyone else, far from it. There is no scale of "better or worse" here, just noting that these sites that many would consider objectionable (as you apparently do) are easily able to stay online without some sort of special internet tax to pay for them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 7:33am

    Re: Re:

    Afaik, Wikileaks has not had any charges brought against them. If you would like to correct me on that, feel free.

    The source of the documents is sitting in a jail cell (some say he is being tortured because he is in jail... whatever!). The US is still considering it's legal options regarding Julian Assange and others involved in the Wikileaks operation.

    Then again, I am sure that the Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK have plenty of members who have never been in jail. It doesn't make their opinions any less tolerable to many, which is the point.

    If it isn't unusual then can you give us 10 solid examples of companies or organisations that this happened to for similar reasons?

    Would you like a listing of all online hosting companies that will not host torrent trackers, porn, DirecTV card hacking, hacking tools, toolbar installers, or sites that may incite hate? There are tens of thousands.

    Would like a listing of hotel chains that will not host a hacker convention, a porn convention, or allow adult movies in their rooms?

    Tens of thousands of examples of companies to shy away from activities that they feel may be illegal, immoral, or that may cause them legal problems in the future. They don't have to wait for a judgement to make a decision, they can choose to not do business with anyone in those areas if they wish.

    The point is that all of those activities (save maybe the toolbars and hacking types) can easily exist without any need for some sort of internet tax.

    Question: Why isn't wikileaks using their .org domain? After all, the .org isn't locked up or anything, they could switch the DNS to their own servers (running their own DNS server) and be back up in seconds. They are doing it because it makes them look like internet martyrs. It's sad. It works too, based on the tone of this TD post.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 11:26am

    Re: Re: Bull-Butter!

    > Remember, that the First Amendment of the US
    > Constitution prohibits actions that basically
    > limit free speech.

    No, the 1st Amendment prohibits actions BY THE GOVERNMENT that limit speech.

    The 1st Amendment has no applicability to private entities, nor are their actions restricted by it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    vivaelamor (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "The source of the documents is sitting in a jail cell (some say he is being tortured because he is in jail... whatever!). The US is still considering it's legal options regarding Julian Assange and others involved in the Wikileaks operation."

    So, you're saying the justification is not that they've broken the law but that they may have broken the law; despite the fact that they haven't been charged with anything, let alone found guilty?

    "Then again, I am sure that the Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK have plenty of members who have never been in jail. It doesn't make their opinions any less tolerable to many, which is the point."

    As I understand it, the same companies aren't refusing to deal with the KKK etc. So I fail to see your point here.

    "Would you like a listing of all online hosting companies that will not host torrent trackers, porn, DirecTV card hacking, hacking tools, toolbar installers, or sites that may incite hate? There are tens of thousands."
    I asked for 10, why would I want all of them? I also asked for examples that had similar reasons to those you quoted, namely that the materials were obtained illegally and are government secrets.

    "Would like a listing of hotel chains that will not host a hacker convention, a porn convention, or allow adult movies in their rooms?"

    I'm unsure of the relevance here; was Wikileaks banned from a hotel?

    "The point is that all of those activities (save maybe the toolbars and hacking types) can easily exist without any need for some sort of internet tax."

    OK. I wasn't expecting that. Please note that they were talking figuratively about a tax, not literally.

    "Why isn't wikileaks using their .org domain? After all, the .org isn't locked up or anything, they could switch the DNS to their own servers (running their own DNS server) and be back up in seconds. They are doing it because it makes them look like internet martyrs."

    I don't know why. If it's to look like martyrs then I have to doubt its effectiveness.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 3:30pm

    Re:

    "The rule of law has been a cornerstone of democracy (and other systems of government) for over 23 centuries. It would not be an overstatement to say it is a cornerstone of civilization. I cannot see how it can be removed."


    History shows that all democracies follow the same route ..

    -Ideology and self sacrifice for the good of the many
    -Self interest and influence peddling for the good of the few
    -removal of civil liberties
    -Societal failure

    Rise, lather, repeat ...

    Each time the cycle repeats it gets closer to being ideal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 3:42pm

    Re: a new way to calculate costs

    "distributed systems are inefficient systems: they're full of redundancy and move at the speed of their slowest node. they're also complex to build, difficult to update and hard to manage. distribution is pretty much the enemy of the economic and industrial idea of efficiency."

    Every thing you just said is wrong.

    "distributed systems are inefficient systems" - Twitter

    "they're full of redundancy and move at the speed of their slowest node." - Google

    "they're also complex to build, difficult to update and hard to manage." - Google, Twitter ... etc

    Distributed systems are really efficient, they move at the speed of the fastest node, they are simple to build and update, when you change a password at any large site you are dealing with a local distributed (replicated, mirrored, etc) system.

    Revisiting old centralized systems started the day the internet began and mainframes started becoming obsolete. All the leg work, design theory, and coding has already been done.

    Welcome to the future ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 3:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Bull-Butter!

    "The 1st Amendment has no applicability to private entities, nor are their actions restricted by it."

    Two things, I "Report"ed your comment just for shits and giggles, and when governmnet influences corporations to violated the constitution that is a clear violation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 5:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Bull-Butter!

    > Two things, I "Report"ed your comment just for shits and giggles,
    > and when governmnet influences corporations to violated the
    > constitution that is a clear violation.

    Two things:

    1) I "Report"ed your comment just for shits and giggles also. Didn't get much of either out of the process. The fact that you did is puzzling. I guess it doesn't take much to please small minds.

    2) If you believe that the Constitution is so "clearly violated" in this situation and that mere government influence strips a private entity of its own constitutional rights, it should be no problem for you to back up that assertion with controlling legal authority-- case law, statute, code or regulation.

    Betcha can't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 6:56pm

    Dissent tax

    Good for you, Michael!
    Having had all the security clearances lower level people can hold, for many years, security is about protecting the guilty.
    While I think Obama is GREAT, he fails miserably on transparency, which is why I am so thankful for Wikileaks. I am so glad they did what they did, and I am very happy about the reported 1.5 million Assange is reportedly getting for book rights. I even want to contribute to Wikileaks, and I am very careful with my money.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 9:44pm

    Re:

    "Wikileaks also represents a legal black hole for many companies. Knowing that the materials were obtained illegally (case pending against Manning), and that the distribution of government secrets could be an issue, it isn't unusual for companies to shy away from this sort of thing."

    The NYTimes also represents a legal black hole for many companies. Knowing that the materials were obtained illegally (case pending against Manning), and that the distribution of government secrets could be an issue, it isn't unusual for companies to shy away from this sort of thing."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This