Tech executives from several of the largest internet companies are meeting with G8 leaders this week in France ahead of the G8 Summit. The stated purpose of this “e-G8” forum is to come up with a plan for a “civilized” internet. It appears that the real plan is to decide how to control and censor it.
Western countries praise the openness that the internet provides when it relates to freedom movements in Arab countries, yet they are actively looking for ways to curtail access to portions of the internet back at home. Governments, including the US, are still trying to decide what to do about copyright issues, sites like Wikileaks, how this all relates to Free Speech, and countless other issues. France, by the way, is leading the way with very draconian penalties for file-sharers.
There are a three reasons that I believe any attempt to censor or curtail the internet will ultimately fail. The first reason is that the internet is simply too big and ubiquitous to be controlled. There are over 2 billion internet connected people in the world now. That large number of people has a significant voice in any country and can exercise their power in elections should any country enact laws that they find overbearing.
The biggest reason that I believe any censorship will fail is the general ingenuity of geeks and internet users at large. If a government was to block a site or a social network, for example, a new one would pop up very quickly. The same thing happens already with torrent sites. Just as soon as one gets taken down a new one pops right back up in its place. It can also happen just as easily for communication platforms. It has always been fairly easy to put information on the web, whether it be in the form of a new website, blog, or even a stream of instant messages. This is the single biggest reason that censorship won’t work.
Online anonymity is the third reason that censorship will be difficult. There are so many ways that an internet user can mask or hide their identity – from VPN’s to IP-spoofing. A VPN essentially hides all of your information, from your IP address to what data you’re accessing.
I’ve always thought that the greatest benefit the internet provided is freedom. It has the ability to tear down borders and open up opportunities better than anything ever created. The e-G8 would be better served coming up with proposals that guarantee the continued openness and freedom that we need.