These last couple of months have seen no shortage of threats to the open internet. Most readers of this blog have probably heard about SOPA, the U.S. Congress's attempt to grant the government powers to censor websites. If it were not for the backlash that stopped the bill in its tracks, the U.S. government would have been able to force internet service providers to block domain names; essentially, ISP's would have needed to lie about the existence of any website that the government deemed blacklistable, all on the basis of questionable U.S. copyright policies.
The internet has been no safer on Canada's side of the border. Earlier this week, the government introduced "lawful access" legislation aimed at giving law enforcement wide surveillance powers, including authority to collect information on anyone using the internet -- without even so much as a warrant.
Such threats will continue next week. Tunisia's top court is set to rule on whether the Tunisian Internet agency can choose to censor websites they deem to be pornographic.
Now, fortunately, SOPA is dead. The Canadian government back-tracked is also back-tracking on their online spying proposals (though they have not promised to get rid of them). But the threats will keep coming.
Although these three aforementioned threats arise from different policy issues, they have roots in the same technology weaknesses: in each case, the proposed implementation relies on what I like to call "internet choke points".
Problematic state activities such as censoring and mass spying both rely on the state misappropriating points of the internet infrastructure in places where it can to exert power over a large number of internet users. In most cases, this point of power is an internet service provider, where the state can tap into the communications of all users and filter their traffic. In other cases, the power point could be the domain name system with its top-down architecture.
Like trying to fit a peg into a round hole, these internet choke points don't fit well with the internet's overall architecture and abilities. Like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, these choke points end up ramming a power pyramid onto a beautifully interconnected rhizome.
Getting rid of the choke points
It doesn't have to be this way. The high density of connections on the internet means that it's easy to distribute infrastructure -- and therefore distribute power and freedoms. Protocols such as bittorrent and tor are already leading the way in flattening out the internet to a state where equality can thrive. However, we need to work on removing the remaining internet choke points and making the internet as peer-to-peer as possible.
I have a few ideas on how to do this, which I'll be sharing over the next few blog posts; once I finally finish my bar exams next month, I might even have time to implement some of them!
Canada's first namecoin DNS server!
Right now, however, I want to share a new initiative that's paving the way to removing the internet's archaic DNS pyramid. Based on bitcoin technology, namecoin is an entirely peer-to-peer DNS system. It creates a new set of ".bit" domains which anyone can obtain for next-to-nothing (other than a bit of technical know-how in its infancy right now) and which involves no single choke point of failure. I encourage you to check out how you can get on-board to browse ".bit" domains.
I've also setup and currently host Canada's first namecoin DNS server at 18.104.22.168. Please feel free to use it! The easiest way to get started with namecoin is to simply point your network settings (or router settings) at this DNS server. You'll then be able to visit sites that have the “.bit” ending.