Is It Possible To Block The 'Bad Stuff' Online Without Also Stopping The 'Good Stuff'?

from the challenges dept

Rick Falkvinge points out that Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, is defending internet censorship in a recent editorial responding to the concerns of some internet activists (Google translation of the original Swedish), who he says just don't "understand" the internet.

Bildt's point is that you have to ban the "bad flows" online, or else you have "anarchy." He claims that there are limits to free speech everywhere around the world, and it's perfectly acceptable to block certain forms of "bad" speech. The problem here is that it's not as easy as Bildt makes it out to be to distinguish "good flows" from "bad flows." And it's the sort of thing that is regularly abused by governments in promoting censorship. The Chinese government, for example, regularly claims that its Great Firewall is merely protecting citizens from bad or dangerous information. The problem that many people have is that governments given the power to dictate what is a "good flow" and what is a "bad flow," usually can't resist the temptation to take things that they just don't like or which weakens their own power, and designate them as "bad flows."

As we recently noted in discussing how infrastructure for freedom often looks exactly like infrastructure for piracy, distinguishing between these two things is not so easy, and almost any attempt to stop "bad flows" runs a serious risk of massively stifling important "good" flows as well. Separately, Falkvinge highlights that Bildt and others may be confusing freedom of expression and freedom of information:
As Niklas Dougherty writes, the key problem with Mr. Bildt's reasoning is that he is unable (or unwilling) to distinguish freedom of expression from freedom of information. Freedom of expression can indeed have some limits, though always post facto. The most famous example is that you can't shout Fire! in a crowded theater, but there are plenty of other examples: you can't distribute military secrets, people's medical records, et cetera.

However, the freedom of information is a different beast. This is the freedom to seek, fetch and research information and the expressions of other human beings unfettered, and has nothing to do with sending a message to any other human being. The freedom of information must be absolutely unhindered, with no exceptions. None. Not one. If you are cracking down on this, you are interfering with private correspondence and the right to partake of the ideas of others. Such behavior would also in sharp violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (article 8).
This is an important distinction, that I don't think that many people think about or consider when discussing these ideas. So, even if you are going to segment "good" information from "bad" information, you also need to distinguish expression from information itself.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:01am

    freedom of information doesn't have to be disguised as something else, it doesn't have to use a regressive transfer format, and so on. Pure freedom of information is "I send you this file" and you use clear and open methods, like FTP or even email to move the file.

    When people start trying to hide things (like has happened with bit torrent protocols) and act like they are breaking the law, people tend to look over.

    Why do you have trackers instead of a central Napster style server if the information you are sharing is legal? Why go through the process of hiding servers off shore, of playing games with file titles, and signing up for VPNs if everything you are doing is legal?

    You can walk down a sidewalk or you can stand on it and sell drugs. If you stand around looking like a drug dealer, people will react.

    If you really want freedom of information, stop acting like criminals.

     

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    crade (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:15am

    Re:

    What are you on crack? So I'm not allowed to keep my pin number secret anymore?

     

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  3.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:23am

    Re:

    "If you really want freedom of information, stop acting like criminals."

    No. A million times no. I want both and I always will. I want the power to act as I please in a way that is legal and I expect not to be harrassed or hindered simply because a small group of people that also act like me happen to do things that are illegal. I expect to be able stand anywhere on the sidewalk my taxes paid for that I damn well please and if, as may happen, the police get itchy about it, I expect NOT to have my pockets searched just because I'm standing there.

    I expect to be innocent until proven guilty. I demand that my government realize that they work for me, not the other way around. I insist that laws be crafted by those that represent the people should actually SERVE constituent interests rather than special interests rife with rich coffers built by past piss poor laws. I expect evidence to be utilized when building policy rather than silly faith-based propoganda. I seek the richness of knowledge and joy over the false happiness of extravagent wealth.

    I expect my fellow citizens to disagree on anything they wish except that we have the right to disagree. I expect businesses and merchants to work within the framework of reality and common sense, not the false battlefield set up by politicians paid off in the legal bribes we call lobbying money. Most of all, and I mean MOST OF ALL, I expect this country and its representatives to be loyal not to a flag or the gang-like idealogy of our country, but rather to our ideals and our freedoms.

    This is the Dark Helmet Manifesto....

     

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:25am

    Censorship by any other name...

    So, who gets to declare what's good and what's bad?

    Honest information about copyright reform obviously falls under "bad" information--according to some.

    Speech about citizens' rights is apparently "bad" too.

    How about honest discussion about sex? Among adolescents--those who are most in need of accurate information about it?

    What about information supporting atheism and denouncing superstition?

    Accurate information about the dangers and benefits of illicit drugs?

    Where EXACTLY does one draw the line between "good" and "bad" information, especially in light of the fact that good are bad are amazingly subjective to begin with?

     

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    J. Jackson, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:27am

    Can I...

    Can I get an AMEN brotha!

    "If you really want freedom of information, stop acting like criminals."

    No. A million times no. I want both and I always will. I want the power to act as I please in a way that is legal and I expect not to be harrassed or hindered simply because a small group of people that also act like me happen to do things that are illegal. I expect to be able stand anywhere on the sidewalk my taxes paid for that I damn well please and if, as may happen, the police get itchy about it, I expect NOT to have my pockets searched just because I'm standing there.

    I expect to be innocent until proven guilty. I demand that my government realize that they work for me, not the other way around. I insist that laws be crafted by those that represent the people should actually SERVE constituent interests rather than special interests rife with rich coffers built by past piss poor laws. I expect evidence to be utilized when building policy rather than silly faith-based propoganda. I seek the richness of knowledge and joy over the false happiness of extravagent wealth.

    I expect my fellow citizens to disagree on anything they wish except that we have the right to disagree. I expect businesses and merchants to work within the framework of reality and common sense, not the false battlefield set up by politicians paid off in the legal bribes we call lobbying money. Most of all, and I mean MOST OF ALL, I expect this country and its representatives to be loyal not to a flag or the gang-like idealogy of our country, but rather to our ideals and our freedoms.

    This is the Dark Helmet Manifesto...."

     

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    crade (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:37am

    The real issue I think is what we see already, the govt's won't even take down what they think is bad, or even what they don't like, they will take down anything and everything. They have no idea at all about what it is just that taking it down is a convenient way to also take down something they don't like. They shut down the phone network for the whole city without a second thought just because someone mentioned they are watching porn without a license. Just go arrest the guy and let me talk to my gramma will you?

     

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    Wiggs (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Re: Re:

    Your ideas intrigue me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    The war of ideology (and the inability of both the citizens and our elected officials to see anything beyond it) is one of the largest problems America faces today, in my opinion. The two-party system suffocates independent thinking and pragmatism, requiring people to spout off talking points that they may not fully agree with or even understand just to get elected (or in some cases, even appear on the ballot!).

    Evidence. Pragmatism. Compromise. Citizen representatives, not career politicians. TERM effin' LIMITS for all government positions. These are just a few of the things that I would like to see come out of all levels of government.

    And while I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony.

     

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    cc (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:48am

    Re:

    Is that a shockingly roundabout way of making the "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" argument?

    Sure sounds like it to me.

    If governments really cared about upholding communications privacy, then your idealistic concept of "pure freedom of information" would hold merit. Since governments don't care about such privacy, the public cater to themselves using various forms of encryption.

    Problem, Echelon?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:49am

    Re:

    fsck you

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re:

    So what you are saying is that you want police to ignore all activity that looks illegal, and only respond after the fact.

    You want the TSA and various other 3 letter organizations to stop worrying about people who appear to be planning terrorist acts, and only to take action after they happen.

    You want the government to ignore your actions, no matter how illegal, until you present them with a complete package that explains your actions, written by you.

    Got it.

     

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 7:58am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So, what you are saying is you want the death of personal responsibility.

    You want the ATF and various other 3 letter organizations to care for your physical and mental being from cradle to grave.

    You want the government to do all of your thinking for you so you can remain ignorant, never developing any ability to reason and not knowing why you should.

    Got it.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "So what you are saying is that you want police to ignore all activity that looks illegal, and only respond after the fact."

    Uh, yeah, pretty much. If police are responding to activity that simply "looks illegal", then we have a massive problem, especially since the courts are rife with people on both sides of the aisle that can't agree on what's legal or illegal. So, yeah, definitely.

    "You want the TSA and various other 3 letter organizations to stop worrying about people who appear to be planning terrorist acts, and only to take action after they happen."

    Again, if the TSA are going about their business based on how things appear, then we're doomed. Plus, define "appear". And while we're on the subject of the TSA, the ridiculousness that they're currently involved in is exactly what you get with your line of thinking. The sooner people realize that terrorists are a statistical anomaly so small that they're barely worth thinking about, the better off we'll all be.

    "You want the government to ignore your actions, no matter how illegal"

    Oh, I see. You're an idiot that can't read. I BEHAVE LEGALLY. So leave me the fuck alone.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:03am

    Re:

    If you really want freedom of information, stop acting like criminals.

    Ahhh....the old "If you are not doing anything wrong, you don't need to hide your activities" line.

    First, I always like to respond with this: If you are arguing this, then I naturally assume that you will have no problem with me going through all your personal papers, financial records, your wife's underwear drawer and your closets. Right? You have nothing to hide, correct?

    And secondly, even if I am doing nothing wrong, I still have something to protect and it's called my privacy.

     

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    Andrew F (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:04am

    Freedom of information

    I'm not sure I understand the "freedom of information" vs. "freedom of expression" dichotomy. Anyone want to clarify?

    It sounds like the fact vs. expression dichotomy we recognize in IP (e.g. you can copyright expression but you can't copyright facts). But that doesn't seem to be what Falkvinge is getting at -- he includes medical records and military secrets. Those are totally factual though, so that can't be it.

    An alternate reading is that he's really talking about not restricting information before it becomes available -- i.e. no prior restraints. But that's not "seek, fetch, and research".

     

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    Ryan Diederich, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:19am

    Umm No...

    We dont want the TSA acting after the fact. The TSA protects (or it is supposed to anyways) us from acts that KILL PEOPLE.

    Piracy never killed anyone, cept maybe in Somalia :P

    Anywhoo, the piracy problem can be summed up very quickly and easily.

    Historians look at the laws of a certain time period to learn how the people felt at that time. The laws of colonial times (USA) made it difficult to divorce your spouse because people looked down upon it at the time.

    Are those laws still the same now? I dont think so.

    I dont think the shift in the law happened suddenly, it needed momentum first. People would have started to break the law, or just run away from it. Eventually the law adapted to the way people now felt.

    The same will happen here. With 70% of people saying piracy is socially acceptable (assuming the study can be trusted) then it wont be long until most people feel that way. Its my belief that the upper age range (like 50-60 plus) is not okay with it, because they only think in LPs and CDs and not MP3s. Once they are dead we will be all set.

     

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    Greevar (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Exactly, we wouldn't want to judge the intent of people by their actions rather than our preconceived notions of what criminal activity "looks" like. "That guy looks like he might be carrying weapons grade Anthrax, we better go harass him!" How can anyone know what it looks like when someone is planning a terrorist attack? Do premeditated acts somehow look different when they are thinking about it compared to other types of planning and thinking? Of course not!

    We don't want the government to ignore criminal activity. We want them to respond to clear intent to do harm rather than scrutinize each and every person in sight as a potential terrorist or criminal. I shouldn't have to be scrutinized as potential a criminal just because I want to move about in public. If you start looking for potential criminals, you'll start seeing them everywhere. This is in itself criminal, because we go about with the reasonable assumption that we are considered innocent until someone can prove we have done wrong, not that we might do wrong.

    Crime and terrorism doesn't have a singular recognizable face that one can point to and say "that's what a terrorist/criminal looks like", but so many idiots pretend that they can. Executives commit crimes all the time. Does that mean anybody in an expensive suit and works in an office is a criminal? If you saw one standing on the street, would you chase down a cop and tell him you saw a criminal? No, criminals commit crimes, not people who maintain a particular appearance. The same goes for terrorists, or have we forgotten about domestic terrorists like McVeigh and the Unibomber? Do they look like a terrorist? What's the criteria that defines the appearance of such a person? Terrorism and crime is something people do, not what they are. You can't judge someone to be a criminal/terrorist until you can prove that they have done something to that effect. Crime prevention isn't about judging who will do a crime next, but to remove the incentives that give people reason to commit crimes and violent acts in the first place.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:55am

    Is It Possible To Block The 'Bad Stuff' Online Without Also Stopping The 'Good Stuff'?

    No because your bad is my good and my good is your bad.

     

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    Jay (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:57am

    A second view

    Maybe, just maybe it's not the business of the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT about what I do online. If I want to spend money on a legal purchase, the government doesn't need to know how much to try to tax me. They get it off the business already.

    Maybe, just maybe, it's not their business about who's music I like, which political party I'm affiliated with, or what I like about the 4th amendment, MY PRIVATE LIFE.

    Maybe you should think about that before trying to call people online some kind of terrorist for wanting to keep my life online, just that. PRIVATE.

     

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    Randy (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 8:57am

    Re: strawman argument

    "When people start trying to hide things (like has happened with bit torrent protocols) and act like they are breaking the law, people tend to look over."

    So you don't have a problem stopping using the AC handle and post your name, phone number, address? Because, you know, if you have to use the AC handle what are you hiding? Are you hiding from the police? I should turn in your IP address so they can track you because you might be a criminal of some sort since you won't post your name.

    Outside of the fact that torrent seems to be more efficient method of distributing files amongst members of a team, I also encrypt it because it isn't anybody else's business.

    Why do I have to change the way I do business because you are afraid that I might be doing something illegal even though you have no proof?

     

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  20.  
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    Ken, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:08am

    Adult Content

    The solution to free speech and censorship is easy.

    1. Create an .ADL for Adult domain not XXX or other taboo moniker... Free to current holders of .COMs...

    2. Ask that all adult content NOT JUST PORN, (i.e. alcohol, tobacco, sensitive materials, violence, adult language, etc.) use this domain for any content not age appropriate. They can maintain the existing .COM or others and simply redirect traffic to the new domain.

    3. Schools, Libraries, and others could selectively restrict content on age appropriateness...

    4. Countries that wanted to treat their citizens like children???

     

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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:09am

    Re:

    Why do you have trackers instead of a central Napster style server if the information you are sharing is legal? Why go through the process of hiding servers off shore, of playing games with file titles, and signing up for VPNs if everything you are doing is legal?

    Since everyone else has refuted the other nonsense you wrote, let me hit some other points.

    A central server (or even server farm) is inefficient. A distributed network is more efficient for distribution, as well as not being a single point of failure in the event of hardware or network problems. This also addresses your bizarre comment about "hiding servers offshore" - it is not hiding, it is having more efficient and convenient locations.

    VPNs have become necessary because ISPs have decided that they want to control what their customers have access to and what speed they can get it at (aka DPI gear and traffic shaping). VPNs are also valuable when dealing with repressive governments who also want to decide what their citizen have access to, and supposedly freedom loving governments who wish to protect their own embarrassing secrets from being released.

    If you really want freedom of information, stop acting like criminals.

    When corporations and governments stop being criminals instead of simply acting like them, maybe you'll have a point.

    Your move.

    (disclaimer, some of the above post is sarcastic, some is deadly serious)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:16am

    Re:

    Download BitMate the bittorrent client funded by the U.S. government.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:17am

    The answer to the question in the title, as answered by the article, in one word: "Nope".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:23am

    Re:

    You're a funny guy. I'd like to see you distributing a 3gb patch to a million users at the same time with FTP. Or better yet: email.

    LOL!

    Also:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ftp#Secure_FTP

    Yeah...still can hide it. Better chalk that one up as illegal too.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:26am

    Re: Re:

    Also, I find it ironic that you, an Anonymous Coward is howling and jumping and screaming about the horrors of encryption, while keeping your own identity secret.

    What do you have to hide? Are you selling crack? It sure looks like it!

    * calls the cops *

     

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    The eejit (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:45am

    Re: Adult Content

    Hell, just separate all domains into two TLDs: .SFW and .NWS (for Safe For Work,. and Not Work Safe.) Can't possibly be that hard if everyone wants it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:46am

    Sure you can!

    You just need to a very specific short list of "good" sites, and white list them, blocking everything else.

    Having seen that type of nonsense in action, I assure you it works great, and people love it!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Okay. Tell your local police to stop patrolling the streets (because after all, they are just looking for suspicious activity) and tell the TSA and ICE agents to go home open the border, and call it a day. Personal responsiblity all the way. They can come out after we citizens are absolutely sure a crime has occurs. You can signal that by lying on the sidewalk bleeding as an "innocent person" walks away with Ipad and wallet.

     

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    crade (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:53am

    Re: Adult Content

    I don't think anyone is stopping you from making a .adl domain and asking people to move their adult content to it.

     

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    MrWilson, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 9:58am

    Re: Adult Content

    So my blog will randomly change its top level domain depending on if I want to talk about adult topics or child-friendly topics?

    A network administrator needs to be consulted on any "solutions" to this issue.

     

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    crade (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 10:02am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You don't get punished for looking suspicious, at least not here. I guess with the patriot act you can there now.

     

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    cc (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 10:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There's a difference between looking suspicious because a gun is bulging from your pocket, and looking suspicious because you are wearing a rude t-shirt or look Muslim. The job of the police is to catch the former, not harass the latter.

    And even if you are caught standing over a dead body holding a bloody knife, you are still some way from being found guilty by a court.

     

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    Greevar (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah, that's exactly what I said. Good job ignoring what I said and make it all up so you can make me look like I'm advocating for rampant crime and violence. The job of the police is to stop crimes in progress or at least apprehend those that just committed a crime. Their job is not to patrol the streets and assume every person out there is a potential criminal, but it is to patrol the streets for unlawful behavior as opposed to people who "look" like they are about to commit a crime. It's no easier to spot a terrorist out of a crowd than it is to spot a catholic out of a crowd of protestants.

     

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    Jay (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 10:43am

    Re: Umm No...

    And how many terrorists have been caught?

    Better question: How many times have the TSA infringed on our Constitutional rights in name of security?

    The law was changed based on sentiment, true. That doesn't mean that they never had consequences.

     

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    Richard (profile), Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 11:25am

    Re:


    When people start trying to hide things (like has happened with bit torrent protocols) and act like they are breaking the law, people tend to look over. Why do you have trackers instead of a central Napster style server if the information you are sharing is legal?


    Bit torrent is not designed particularly as a stealth mechanism. It is designed to avoid the costs of a central server by allowing a lot of people each to contribute a little bandwidth in return for their own download. The fact that various "enforcement" authorities have been able to harvest large numbers of IP addresses shows that it isn't particularly effective if you want to hide. If hiding is what you want then there are MUCH better options available.

    Why go through the process of hiding servers off shore, of playing games with file titles, and signing up for VPNs if everything you are doing is legal?

    Costs may be less offshore, filenames are meaningless anyway whether you "play games" with them or not and of course VPNs are heavily used by commercial organisations to hide (legitimately) sensitive information.

     

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    Big Al, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 1:54pm

    Re: Can I...

    the Dark Helmet Manifesto? Really? Sounds more like a paraphrase of your constitution to me...

     

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    Jose_X, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 4:01pm

    The mentality that

    the government owns the people v. the people own the government

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 4:05pm

    Re: Re:

    I'll adhere to the "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" argument as soon as the government starts following it.

    Well, maybe not then, because the government isn't supposed to be hiding stuff from us in the first place.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2011 @ 5:13pm

    It's a matter of perspective...

    Nevermind.

    The "good stuffs" on the internet that the governments block looks exactly the same as "bad stuffs" in their eyes.

    They'll put effort to make sure "good stuffs" in the eyes of government still pass through the filters.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 4th, 2011 @ 6:11am

    Re: Re: Can I...

    Yeah, that was kinda the point....

     

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    JEDIDIAH, Mar 4th, 2011 @ 6:59am

    The cluelessness just boggles the mind...

    > If you really want freedom of information, stop acting like criminals.

    This is really funny because the single biggest class of user for encrypted Internet communications is CORPORATIONS.

    Yes. Corporations like to use encryption on the Internet so that their private business matters are not open to snooping. This allows people to collaborate across the planet no matter where they're located.

    Once again our resident media shill has stumbled upon yet another area that shows just how unimportant "entertainment" is. Computing technology is used by everyone including companies that do real work and create real products and have revenues that dwarf entertainment-in-general.

    The problem with bending over backwards to satisfy "content" is that they are a very small minority. Letting them meddle in technology issues has a very large potential for very broad negative impact on the rest of the economy.

    Letting Big Content get their way basically potentially harms every other profit making venture on the planet.

    It's simply bad business.

    It's high time those in power realized this.

     

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  42.  
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    jsf (profile), Mar 4th, 2011 @ 7:07am

    Re:

    Why do you have trackers instead of a central Napster style server if the information you are sharing is legal?

    Today this one really has more to do with the cost of running a centralized server then anything else. Why pay for a lot of beefy servers and tons of network bandwidth when you can have the end users pay for most of it?

    there is also the question of protecting yourself from the actions of third parties that use your service, that you do not condone.

    ...and signing up for VPNs if everything you are doing is legal?

    I use VPNs because of concerns about theft of both personal and employer secrets. Mainly financial and trade secret related. Does this automatically make me a criminal?

     

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


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