Ah, the UN. As highlighted by Declan McCullagh
, a new report from the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, clocking in at an unwieldy 158 pages
(pdf) warns that this old internet of ours is just too damn open, and that means terrorists can use it. Thus, it has to stop the openness. The report really is just about that bad: if terrorists might misuse it, it's bad and must be stopped. The costs of locking up all this openness are brushed aside, if they're even considered at all. Among the problems? How about open WiFi?
ISPs may require users to provide identifying information prior to
accessing Internet content and services. The collection and preservation of identifying
information associated with Internet data, and the disclosure of such information, subject
to the appropriate safeguards, could significantly assist investigative and prosecutorial
proceedings. In particular, requiring registration for the use of Wi-Fi networks or
cybercafes could provide an important data source for criminal investigations. While
some countries, such as Egypt, have implemented legislation requiring ISPs to identify
users before allowing them Internet access, similar measures may be undertaken by
ISPs on a voluntary basis.
It seems like it should be a general rule that, if you're supporting something that includes better surveillance tools by saying, "Hey, Egypt -- the same country that recently had the people rise up to force out a dictator, who tried to shut down the internet
-- does it!" perhaps you don't have a very good argument.
The report is basically one big "OMG! But... but... terrorists! Kill it!" It talks about things like "standardizing" data retention rules for ISPs, while we here in the US don't currently have data retention rules -- nor is everyone in agreement that such things are good. Nevermind all that... terrorists!
The development of a universally agreed regulatory framework imposing consistent
obligations on all ISPs regarding the type and duration of customer usage data to
be retained would be of considerable benefit to law enforcement and intelligence agencies
investigating terrorism cases.
Also... all that social media stuff going on out there? Scary, scary stuff because terrorists might use it as well. They might publish propaganda on it, and we can't have that:
The promotion of extremist rhetoric encouraging violent acts is also a common
trend across the growing range of Internet-based platforms that host user-generated
content. Content that might formerly have been distributed to a relatively limited audience,
in person or via physical media such as compact discs (CDs) and digital video
discs (DVDs), has increasingly migrated to the Internet. Such content may be distributed
using a broad range of tools, such as dedicated websites, targeted virtual chat
rooms and forums, online magazines, social networking platforms such as Twitter and
Facebook, and popular video and file-sharing websites, such as YouTube and Rapidshare,
respectively. The use of indexing services such as Internet search engines also makes it
easier to identify and retrieve terrorism-related content.
You hear that? All those internet companies, enabling terrorists. Oh, and they're not just handy for terrorists to promote their propaganda... but to sneak up on the dumb users who reveal important info for terrorists as well:
Particularly in the age of popular social networking media, such as Facebook,
Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and blogging platforms, individuals also publish, voluntarily
or inadvertently, an unprecedented amount of sensitive information on the Internet.
While the intent of those distributing the information may be to provide news or other
updates to their audience for informational or social purposes, some of this information
may be misappropriated and used for the benefit of criminal activity.
Loose fingers on Twitter sink ships, as the saying goes.
Now, of course, some of this is just describing what's going on out there for those who haven't realized that any
communications technology can be used by both people with good intentions and bad intentions (and no intentions at all). And we shouldn't freak out about that kind of thing. But, the report does also make some "legislative and policy recommendations," where it gets worrisome:
In order to provide effective criminal justice responses to threats presented by
terrorists using the Internet, States require clear national policies and legislative frameworks.
Broadly speaking, such policies and laws will focus on:
(a) Criminalization of unlawful acts carried out by terrorists over the Internet or
(b) Provision of investigative powers for law enforcement agencies engaged in
(c) Regulation of Internet-related services (e.g. ISPs) and content control;
(d) Facilitation of international cooperation;
(e) Development of specialized judicial or evidential procedures;
(f) Maintenance of international human rights standards.
Nice of them to throw in that last one about human rights... because all of those other ones are really about ways to chip away (often with a pretty big digital bulldozer) at human rights and civil liberties. In providing examples of countries that have put in place good anti-cyber-terrorism laws... they list a who's who of countries with dubious human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Oh, and China:
In the terrorism context, in China there are provisions criminalizing different forms
of terrorist activities, including article 120 of the Criminal Law, which criminalizes
activities related to organizing, leading and participating in terrorist organizations. This
broad criminalization provision covers a wide range of terrorism-related activities,
including those carried out over the Internet.
Of course, if you also get to define what counts as "terrorism," I imagine such laws can be quite handy in making opposition parties and activists disappear (or at least get them to shut up).
There's a lot more in the report like that. While the report pays lip service to "human rights" throughout, it really seems to focus on a whole bunch of ways to chip away at those human rights all because terrorists might be out there, using your internets.