October 27, 2006

COPA - Civil-Liberties Witnesses Say Internet Censorship Effective And Easy

[Very interesting testimony on this topic in the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial. As I say about censorware, if it works on minors in America, it'll work on citizens in China. And if it doesn't work on citizens in China, it won't work on minors in America. It's irrelevant here that someone may hold the social values that it's OK regarding minors in America, and not OK regarding citizens in China. The technical issue is the same. Pick one, but you can't have it both ways.]

[Lorrie Faith Cranor, 10/24]

Q. What steps did filtering companies take to make sure that their products can't be circumvented? Can you give us a few examples?

A. Well, so they monitor the various websites where children talk about how to circumvent the products and they -- when they hear about techniques they make sure that their software is not susceptible to those techniques and they use -- they password protect all aspects of the software, such as changing the settings and removing it.

[Note that while the answer uses the term "children", it works equally well with "political dissents" - indeed, those are not mutually exclusive categories, given student protest!]

[Ed Felten testimony, 10/25]

Q. ... I want to discuss with you the ease which filters can be circumvented. Do you have an opinion regarding the ease with which minors can circumvent Internet filtering technology?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. What is your opinion?

A. My opinion is that it's quite difficult for minors to circumvent filters.


Q. You mentioned a second approach to circumvention. What was that approach?

A. Second approach is to try to somehow route the Internet traffic through some kind of intermediary on the net in the hope of obscuring what is going on so the filter would not block it.

Q. What are the difficulties of that approach?

A. Well, there are a number of -- there are a number of different ways this approach can be tried.

One method is to try to find -- is to use one of a well-known set of sites on the net that will act as an intermediary for your web traffic. And the difficulty with using that method is that the filtering companies know about these sites as well. And so if they see traffic that tries to go to one of these well-known proxy or intermediary sites, the filter can just block that traffic. The filter will notice that this looks like an attempt to circumvent the filter and it can just block that traffic.

There are some other methods in which the user could try to set up their own intermediary site on some other computer, and that turns out to be fraught with all kinds of technical difficulties. You really have to have a lot of facility with installing and configuring networking software in order to have any hope of getting that to work in practice.

[I should note I actually agree with him, but don't want the arguments it usually gets me, or accusations of defeatism or "sour grapes", with those who believe censorware circumvention is substantially workable - take it up with him, not me!]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , copa | on October 27, 2006 07:49 PM (Infothought permalink)
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This is too bizarre to pass up....equating minors and political dissidents...OK...I will run with it...

first of all you make no differentiation between a six year old girl and a 15 year old boy.
Parents would make a differentiation. You can bet on that.


“Darling red means stop. Green means go”. (Note... child may circumnavigate the red light by ignoring it. Likely a bad idea. We teach children to pay attention to these things for their well being. Teaching them to circumnavigate these rules would be negligent parenting.

Contrast this with a 15 year old boy who is probably more interested in jerking off than anything else. Likely he has insane parents who don't want him to do this. They have filtered his computer and are in league with the schools and libraries. He is in fact a “political dissident” or he ought to be . Apart from jerking off there are a lot of other obstacles in his path that are designed to keep him in the likely insane box of his parents who are trying to raise him in their own deceptive self image of their professed values.

The child s job is to get out of this box.

This is why we all ought to love Bennet Haselton. .

Other than that the rest of it is more “hearts and mind crap hat I shall ignore for the purpose of this comment but I will add my personal synthesis of the situation.

To date filters have prevented the government from exercising legislation against
currently legal content on the Internet.


To attack filtering if successful will give the government the power to legislate content....

It is not whether you are pro filtering or not...it is whether you want the government to take controll....you can be scientifically descriptive of filtering but the “hearts and mind”
issue...actively anti filtering activism = probable government agent. (Not a slur on you Seth your anti- filtering activities ceased before we got this far...I do not suspect you of being a secret gov agent)

Current reality.

You have a right to filter your computer if you want.
You have a right to not filter if you do not want.

If you are a Dependant on someone else's computer you become subject to the “inclinations” of the host. Employees, libraries, schools 15 year old boys/girls for example. You might be stuck. You might be in exactly the same position as a political dissident in China. In the current North American culture dependence is a problem by definition...your rights are easily trampled.

see IQ test question ...comment 3 ....in previous post.

Posted by: Bob Turner at October 27, 2006 10:53 PM

Bob, given that the whole phrase is "children talk about how to circumvent the products", I assume that's being used in the sense of "minors", not "elementary schoolers". It's not that I make no differentiation, but rather that the context is circumvention, which implies 15 year olds much more strongly than 6 year olds.

"actively anti filtering activism = probable government agent"

Sigh ... the politics of "censorware is our saviour" all over again :-( :-( :-(.
I know this argument. Wow, do I know it ...

This post IS NOT ABOUT RIGHTS. It's not about "hearts and minds". The whole point is that rights are not correlated with the technical issue of whether the Internet can be censored or not.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 27, 2006 11:10 PM

E motives aside....I'l go with you

I wasn't writing about the article ...I was writing about your intro to the article.

I'll take your point that you were not referring to children but rather adolescents..

That being said. Technically speaking.

The Internet technically can be censored and is ! ....for some.

The Internet censorship can be circumnavigated ! ....and it is for some.

Can the Internet be censored absolutely ? Unlikely.

It is not an “argument” that filtering was the reason the first COPA and subsequent COPA's were defeated. It is a historical fact. I have no real sense what you mean by savior with “sighs and e motives”.

Unless you have been acused of bein a undercover gov agent. I know nothing about this. Sorry if it brought up something unpleasant.

Filtering and its secondary features such as logging, e-mail forward for access violations, are a means of “controlling” someones access to information. This someone(s) are dependent on someone who has the power to implement the control. . It works best when “taylor made” for specific applications.

Contollware would have been a much better term than censorware. In my view.

But the question remains...who is going to take responsibility for the controllware (aka censoreware) ...the end user (computer owner(s)) or someone (something) else ..likely the something else is the government by content legislation What other alternatives are on the horizon.

What am I missing here?

Posted by: Bob Turner at October 28, 2006 12:25 AM

I've actually tried to avoid posting about it all this time around. But the politics of "censorware is our saviour" was a big reason I couldn't get any support from civil-liberties groups back in 1995, and why a famous lawyer actually set out to *discredit* me (and pretty much succeeded then!). Plus the very issue of being a government agent has been raised against me - not in a straw-man way, that I'm secretly a double-agent, but that I'd be a government expert witness (something I found ludicrous from many angles).

As to the last part, in China, the goverment *is* the computer owner(s), remember?

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 28, 2006 12:44 AM

Thanks for the clarification. It is not surprising that you got hit with that. However, I did not know that. It's not my intention to dwell on that experience.
The point about “agents” was not directed towards you personally.

Yes, if the end user is the government (China) then public users are getting it from both ends. Actually they have all ready gotten it. There is no where to go. The gov vcould let them circumvent...log them...and then your busted.

America is not there
in that stark way. Yet they are likely there with there governmentcomputers...military for example.

However, there is a significant drift over the last 10 years. For example, libraries..."if you take our money here is what you have to do" (filter). If filtering is defined as NG because it is imperfect ...then what ?...there will be a “then what”....wouldn't you think?

That is the part that interests me at this time...the “then what” ?

This is what is new in "other than a theoretical sense"...or so it seems to me.

Posted by: Bob Turner at October 28, 2006 01:05 PM

OK, no offense taken.

Well, the problem with the "then what" argument is it's unprovable. This becomes a topic I call privatized censorship, where one can end up in an even worse place, all the power of government, but none of the Constitutional accountability. That's not a good outcome either.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 28, 2006 05:18 PM

" all the power of government, but none of the Constitutional accountability"

thats what I'm thinking is "then what"....
that is what has changed over the last 10 years...in other words ...thats what's new...
however, as you state..."unproveable".

Posted by: Bob Turner at October 28, 2006 09:36 PM

On the one hand we have the human being, a remarkable piece of neurophysiological engineering that has taken millions of years to evolve, and represents the pinnacle of intelligent information processing. You can put these things in any environment and they will actively seek out and absorb the maximum amount of information from their environment in order to maximise their survival and competitive edge.

And on the other hand, we have some entrenched humans keen to indoctrinate all upstarts in order to preserve the stability of their social engine.

Plainly, it is not the health and sanity of the upstarts that is being protected here, but that of the establishment.

Control the information and you control the individual?

So many ways that the instantaneous information diffusion device that is the Internet is threatening these architectures of control:


And no doubt, many more...

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at October 30, 2006 06:48 AM