Most people here are probably aware of the takedown of Megaupload by the US Justice department. What you might not know is that not only was the domain name and their servers seized, but all user data - even the completely legal stuff - is currently unretrievable and may be wiped. The hosting service, Carpathia, said that they don't have access to the actual data and any requests for the data should be made to Megaupload - which of course no longer exists.
Well, f*&k the pirates you may say, they had it coming (although you could be wrong about that). But it's not just the pirates who are getting shut down. Last year the ICE shut down dajaz1.com, admitting a year later that they screwed up (pretty tough for a company to survive a year without revenues). A few days ago JotForm, a company that helps users create forms for use at their own websites, was also shut down. It appears this was done without a warrant. Also in 2010, the US seize the domain rojadirecta.com even though they hosted no infringing content. In that case a US District court judge ruled that domain seizures do not violate free speech claims, directly in opposition to US Supreme court rulings. In a large shutdown in late 2010, ICE shut down 82 sites including search engines - sites that don't host any infringing content. Over 100 sites were similarly seized in late 2011.
The SOPA and PIPA bills that have been discussed lately would turn these seizures into a normal occurrence, without due process or any requirement other than a complaint by a copyright holder - and the copyright holder faces no penalties if they identify a site incorrectly. It essentially turns the government into the enforcement arm of the copyright holders without any of the requirements that government usually has to provide before seizing property. It also removes the "safe harbor" provisions that many sites operate under - including this one. Under current law, if someone here was to post infringing content the site owner (me) would receive a request to remove it. Under SOPA, we may or may not receive a request, we may simply be seized with the onus on us to justify release of the domain name. The potential for abuse is simply ridiculous.
But there's more! ACTA is a multilateral trade agreement designed to enforce property rights, specifically counterfeit goods and copyright infringement on the internet. It was started by the US and Japan, and the EU jumped on board soon after. It was negotiated in secret until Wikileaks made public many of it's terms and conditions. It was signed on October 1, 2011 by the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. The EU signed in January 2012. It will go into effect after being ratified by 6 countries. ACTA is so big and so bad that it would require a series of diaries to fully address, but some main points
- it criminalizes generic medicines
- it virtually requires ISPs to collect information about their subscriber's internet usage by making them liable to prosecution if they don't
- it allows criminal investigations and seizures without probable cause
fortunately the Europeans are a bit more aware of the problems with ACTA and have been protesting against it. But it has the multinational corporations and business associations on its side, so it's difficult to see how it will be held off for long. Unfortunately the Australians, the Canadians and the Brits are all onboard with violating civil rights in the name of "safety". Remember, these are the countries that are supposed to value freedom more than the authoritarian dictatorships like China and North Korea that block the internet from their citizens and track what they do on their computers.
These aren't the only threats, of course, Congress is working on their own methods of tracking what every single person does on the internet. The trend is clear, between the greed of corporations and the fear of ... well, everything by politicians, the internet is under legal threat like never before.
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In addition to these self inflicted problems, there are several technical issues that are either causing or will shortly cause some serious issues in the way the internet operates
- IPv4, the system that uses the standard "dotted number" for IP addresses (like 126.96.36.199) is running out of addresses. There is a replacement, IPv6, but it's been adopted very slowly and many older devices on the internet don't yet fully support it.
- Spam. Up to 90% of all email traffic is now spam (and up to 5% of all internet traffic is Spam or DDOS, see below). The costs of spam, both direct and indirect, are estimate din the tens of billions of dollars.
- DDOS, or Distributed Denial of Service. Thsi is where a large numer of computers (usually under control of someone other than the owner) is used to flood a particular site with traffic, essentially making it unavailable. It can be used by groups like Anonymous to attack sites that they disagree with, or by organized crime through large collections of botnets for purposes such as blackmail. Whatever the cause, it is a large and growing problem.
- Proprietary vs. Open Standards. This is the big one. People who buy and use computer systems (intelligent ones, at least) love open standards. The main reason is that it commoditizes computer equipment and software, allowing competition on a level playing field between vendors and guaranteed interoperability. Businesses, on the other hand, hate it for those same reasons. That's why companies like Microsoft and Apple have constantly introduced their own standards and fought so hard to subvert as many open standards as they can. I've talked about this before and at greater length here. The simple fact is that open standards lead to a global, integrated internet and proprietary standards lead to a Balkanized, fragmented internet. The value of a network grows with each additional device connected to it, proprietary standards directly damage the value of the internet as a whole. Some of the protocols that the Internet is based on are showing their age and are due for upgrading or replacement, expect the largest and wealthiest vendors to work at subverting this process for their own benefit.
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Now obviously I don't think the internet is just going to disappear one day. But unless we
- Get rid of the insane intellectual property laws we have now
- Have judges start recognizing electronic data as personal effects as deserving of protection as paper documents
- Work with other countries to solve some sticky engineering problems
- Work on supporting open standards (by law if necessary)
we'll see the internet degrade and become something far short of what it could be. I don't want to look back in 20 or 30 years and see the 2000s or the 2010s described as "The Golden Age of the Internet".