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2012, the year of the cyber-rebel?

1 January 2012

Governments around the world are now ramping up their efforts to exert some form of control over this interweb thing.

Although few politicians really have a clue as to what the Net is and how it can really be harnessed for the betterment of economies, societies and individuals, the do know one thing -- it represents a challenge to their control, authority and power.

For that reason, it must be regulated, constrained, ruled over and restricted.

How sad it is that we live in a world controlled by such myopia.

In the USA, the SOPA bill still threatens to spell the end of the Net as we now know it, handing the ultimate power as to what can and can't be published online into the hands of a few -- who are pretty much in the pockets of commercial interests.

Do I sound like a teenage rebel?

Well I'm not -- I'm an almost 60-year-old conservative who is simply reading the writing on the wall and cringing at its implications.

The problem we face is that our politicians aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer -- if they were then they'd have a proper job and wouldn't depend on the grossly overpaid "job creation scheme" that is an MPs salary.

Politicians have seen how, in recent times, the internet has played a crucial role in empowering people who seek to rise up and overthrow what they see to be tyrannical governments -- with quite some success in many cases.

To date, Western politicians have been safe from such uprisings because they know that the only thing which can dethrone them between elections is the barrel of a gun -- and we have strict firearms laws to prevent an "armed uprising".

No such controls presently exist however, over the use of the internet -- and, as we've now seen, the byte is mightier than the bullet.

So I suspect these recent moves to crush the freedom of the internet and the peoples who use it is down two factors: greed (through handsome backhanders from corporations such as the recording and movie studios) and fear -- fear of losing the power to dictate their ideology to the masses without any real checks and balances.

Now it may be considered a ridiculous thing to compare our Western governments with those in riot-torn places such as Egypt, Syria and the like -- but, when it comes to their greed, ignorance and self-interest, I fear that the differences between these governments is really only one of magnitude.

So what happens if the US government does pass SOPA and gives itself the power to shut down any website it chooses, for whatever reason it chooses -- albeit under the guise of "protecting" the public from copyright infringement and terrorism?

Well already there are some talking about launching their own satellites and creating an orbiting communications network to restore the freedom of communications that will have been stolen from them. I fear however, that they are dreaming.

For a start, the governments may not control space but they do control the airspace through which any rocket or balloon must pass in order to achieve a useful altitude. The launch of such a device therefore, could be considered a crime with stiff punishments. Indeed, any attempt to build or launch a rocket capable of achieving orbit would likely be classified as a "terrorist act" and life-long incarceration would probably be the punishment for those who were caught attempting such an audacious act.

Much better that we festoon our landscape with mesh-networks operating on license-free parts of the radio spectrum. Long-distance communications can be achieved with low-cost microwave links between designated hubs.

International connectivity might be an issue however. Ionospheric bounce has been used in the past, relying on the ionizing trails left by meteors etc, as they skip through the outer layers of the atmosphere. Latency however, would be horrendous!

The concept of using balloons is a bust -- there are strict controls over the maximum altitude you can use a balloon without the right permissions and those permissions are unlikely to be granted by a government so scared or greedy that it has anything to do with SOPA or similar regulation.

VPNs could be used to create "tunnels" through the regulated internet but eventually these would be tracked by authorities and those responsible would face penalty (again, probably under anti-terrorism legislation because it's easy and powerful).

Maybe we'll end up going back to protocols not too dissimilar to UUCP, where data is pooled until an international connection (by whatever means) becomes available, whereupon it is sent in a single high-speed burst.

Right now, even in the West, people are becoming decidedly uncomfortable at the incompetence of their governments and significant pressure is growing for change. Witness the scale and fervor of the "Occupy" movement that has sought to bring about the end to a widening gap between rich and poor.

Even here in NZ we've seen the ridiculous situation where blue-collar workers who can barely earn enough to keep a roof over their families' heads are forced (by way of the tax they pay) to bail out the investments of middle and upper-middle class investors that were greedy enough to accept the promises of "high returns" being made by rogue finance companies.

I wonder if the passage of laws that would effectively give governments the power to mute dissent and criticism might be the last straw and, instead of preventing an "uprising", actually precipitate it?

If I were the US (or any Western) government, I would think long and hard before, by way of internet regulation, I tried to tell the people that their freedom of speech was to be removed. The results might not be what they expected, nor pretty.

How would you respond if Western governments (including our own) decided to follow the USA and implement legislation aligned with the SOPA bill?

Given our ridiculous infatuation with getting an FTA with the USA, this it is highly likely that such parallel legislation would be passed here -- if SOPA makes it into law -- are you prepared for that?

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