Do We Really Want An Internet Run By Lynch Mobs?
from the i'm-just-asking dept
Sprint and Cogent were recently kind enough to remind us that the Internet is held together by rather tenuous peering deals to share traffic across providers. As such, some arcane disputes can aggravate to levels that disrupt normal consumers ability to use the Internet. If you weren’t convinced that the good will of sysadmins keeps the series of tubes clear, two recent examples will show just how informal they can all be, and it raises some questions about the ability of “mob rule” to force certain decisions.
In the past couple of months, two hosting companies who were known to be havens for spammers and cyber-criminals, have been brought offline through extralegal means. Following some pretty damning reports of the illegal uses of McColo and Intercage, the upstream ISPs servicing the hosting companies decided to pull the plug and disconnect them from the internet. Basically, a couple of ISP admins decided that they didn’t want to be responsible for providing service to those companies so they cut them off. At first blush, these seem like effective actions taken against criminals — some reports showed spam amounts dropping 66% following McColo’s deathblow. However, is this really the precedent we want? Lynch mob justice, even when well meaning, can inflict collateral damage and occasionally pick the wrong targets leading to significant damage with little recourse.
Some have equated these types of actions with a Neighborhood Watch program — good intentioned folks driving off negative influences. But the key difference is the lack of legal authority and due process. Neighborhood watches call the police when illegal activity is detected. While it is true that McColo and Intercage were neutered much more quickly through extralegal means than if police had tried to understand the system and work through the courts, there are still very good reasons why we should support traditional legal prosecution.
An internet where ISPs can cut off service without explanation may be a very unstable platform, indeed. The checks and balances (eroded as they may be) of the legal system do a pretty good job at finding the best course of action, and we shouldn’t rush to a future of lynch mobs. Lynch mobs (digital or not) have the unfortunate habit of negative side effects like choosing the wrong target or cutting off innocent users in the process. At least one ISP who cut off the criminal hosts claimed that they did so because the Terms of Service were being violated, but if they want to limit online crime, it would be best to utilize their leverage by working with law enforcement. After all, a phisher disconnected from the Internet can just move to another hosting provider where they will be less likely to be reached by America’s comparatively stronger cybercrime laws.