Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wikileaks 2010, CRU 2009, Napster 2000

I remember the day ten years ago a neighbor's daughter whispered to me about this new piece of software called Napster that would let you download music files for free. I tried it, and in late 2000 shifted to high-speed cable, along with hundreds of thousands of other Internet users. Around that same time, the American recording industry declared war on these Peer-to-Peer services, and users were compared to everything from criminals to communists, not always inaccurately.

These days, P2P is all a bit old hat; while many of the 1st and 2nd generation services disappeared under the entertainment industry's legal onslaught, they were immediately replaced by nimbler successors. Now everyone under 50 uses them, and nobody I know personally has bought a CD in the last 5 years.

Of course, the technology involved is very different, but the story of Napster 2001 has many parallels to the story of Wikileaks 2010, and the lessons gleaned from that earlier episode apply today.

And the first and most obvious lesson is: morality of the thing aside, you can't kill it. For the last several days, the world has watched our leaders play whack-a-mole with the wikileaks website; the only result has been hundreds of mirror-sites set up to host the leaked diplomatic cables should the main site be pushed off-line. In addition, word of wikileaks competitors has begun to emerge. Furthermore, if all of these were successfully driven from the Net, a simple zipped file stuffed with secrets could be released onto the various interlocking P2P networks noted above. And beneath all of these, in the very depths of the cyberspace, Ian Clarke's FreeNet--which was originally designed to facilitate exactly this kind of whistle-blowing--lies in wait as teh host of last resort.

The second important lesson is: if you can't kill it, you shouldn't bother trying. Most of those who have criticized the various calls for Julian Assange's death have done so on the grounds that these incitements are criminal/immoral. Less note has been made of the fact that creating a martyr for the hacker community--either in the form of Mr. Assange or his organization--would be profoundly stupid. The death (shutdown) of Napster did nothing but unleash a storm of technical innovation all bent on thwarting the authority that ordered this very same shutdown--bent on thwarting the record companies, in other words. And here we are ten years later with file-trading still flourishing and the music industry, by its own admission, in terminal decline.

And here's the thing: during its last days of existence, Napster executives were in furious negotiations with the major labels, and their business case could be summed up as: Après moi, le déluge. With us, you will get something; after us, the file-sharing world will fragment, and you will be unable to negotiate with the pieces. I believe that the international community is facing exactly the same situation with regards to wikileaks. It would be a much wiser course to deal--as in negotiate with--wikileaks, or perhaps one of its emergent rivals, towards an ethical protocol for the leaking of future documents. Otherwise, instead of files appearing with names redacted, we will have pure document dumps onto obscure Mongolian servers with no concern at all for whose interests might be damaged.

The international community ought to negotiate its own surrender, in other words, rather than face a rout.

Finally, the ongoing wiki-leaks saga bears a number of resemblances to the CRU Hack of 2009, in which private emails written by U.K. and American climate scientists were stolen from the University of East Anglia, and uploaded onto a server in Russia. The content of these emails proved embarrassing for the scientists responsible, but ultimately trivial. More importantly, in the aftermath of the event a number of arguments against this kind of disclosure were made that prefigured the kind we are hearing today. Scientists, it was argued then, will literally produce less science if their every utterance is held up for scrutiny. Diplomats, it is argued now, will be unable to do their jobs if some of the advise they give is not allowed to remain secret. Today, as in 2009, the public response to such arguments has been the equivalent of a disinterested shrug. Millions of people read the stolen emails; millions more are even now reading the leaked cables. We are headed, it appears, towards an age of "enforced transparency", wherein anyone that knows anything will be forced to disclose what they know.

The Internet has already made it clear that humans have an insatiable desire for music and pornography. Now add to these a third thing: secrets.

27 comments:

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

bigcitylib, not so fast. There's still the stuff that's Top Secret and whatever classifications there are above it, and as far as I know, none of that will be leaked to the general public any time soon. Given Obama's willingness to engage in extra-judicial killings (think Anwar al-Awlaki), it's safe to say that anyone who leaks this stuff is looking at way more than just a rape charge.

And I think the CRU crack was a one-off screw-up: the sysadmin was probably too overworked to follow the best security practices, and servers' Internet software weren't updated for eons.

-- frank

WesternGrit said...

Unbiased (not taking any sides) leaks are one thing, but suppose the main targets of these current leaks do succeed in somehow (we don't know how) stopping them (or more realistically slowing them a bit)? What's to stop enemy states from utilizing the thousands of mirror sites and copy-cats from using the data? Absolutely nothing.

We're in a new info age, and most governments and corporations still operate in the "fax me in the morning" age. We will continue to see more and more secrets coming out.

In the 60s protest amounted to camping out in front of government buildings, standing up to authority physically (but non-violently), and having "love-ins". In the 00s and beyond, we're seeing a new wave of protest... If laws and paranoia today have created a society where protesting is dangerous, and freedoms have been so stomped on that gathering in public is considered a crime in some cases, then the only alternative is to head "underground". The net lets you do this amazingly well.

"Leaks" against corporations and governments are the new form of social protest. As more social activists learn these tools, we are only going to see a rise in such action...

Paul S said...

The WikiLeaks have to go down as the most yawn-inducing release of "secrets" ever.

The message that will come out from this is that if you are going to spend many years in jail for your crime, at least release something interesting!

And the first and most obvious lesson is: morality of the thing aside, you can't kill it.

So what?

The second important lesson is: if you can't kill it, you shouldn't bother trying.

What's with these preachy "lessons"?

You are making assumptions, and not very good ones at that. Does not Assange face life in prison? That would put off most people right there from trying to do what he has done.

And the message to Napster is the same to all illegal file sharing services operating today: You are on borrowed time.

"Leaks" against corporations and governments are the new form of social protest. As more social activists learn these tools, we are only going to see a rise in such action... - Western Grit

Yeah, sure. The CRU leaks are a "crime" but others are social protest?

Activists are too lazy to risk hard jail time so crimes as what Assange has committed are likely to remain rare.

Gene Rayburn said...

Sure Freeper S, blah blah blah...a message to someone I guess.

So how do you propose tracking down people who download torrents using tools such as Peerblock or maybe a router such as TOR? Or utilizing p2p tools like Dropbox which are also incredibly helpful for a lot of businesses?

What about magnet links? How do you do it? Do you have the ISPs monitor all their client's activity to give to the police to sort through? That's a lot of work and time there not to mention the personal freedoms.

But then again being a freeper was never about freedom.

Paul S said...

So how do you propose tracking down people who download torrents using tools such as Peerblock or maybe a router such as TOR? Or utilizing p2p tools like Dropbox which are also incredibly helpful for a lot of businesses?

Dropbox is a great tool but I know of no business that would dare use it for illegal purposes.

Eventually technology and/or public condemnation of illegal downloaders will marginalize the miscreants to the fringe, just like we have done with smokers, even though no one can stop them either.

Lenny said...

"The WikiLeaks have to go down as the most yawn-inducing release of "secrets" ever."

That certainly says a lot more about you than it does about the released material.
The thousands of stories that have been written about the only 0.116% of the leaked material that has been released, say otherwise.

"Does not Assange face life in prison? "

Ahh...no, he doesn't.

Paul S said...

How long does Assange possibly face in prison?

WesternGrit said...

I guess the Freep's never made a mixtape in the 80s? Lol. The mushrooms never realize when their rights are slowly being devolved...

Lenny said...

"How long does Assange possibly face in prison?"

For his work with Wikileaks?
Presently, about the same amount of time as has transpired since you stopped beating your wife.

"Eventually technology and/or public condemnation of illegal downloaders will marginalize the miscreants to the fringe..."

Yup, just as soon as they figure out how to control the intertubes and the kids realize how damaging file-sharing is to their health, it'll be all over.

bigcitylib said...

"Eventually technology and/or public condemnation of illegal downloaders will marginalize the miscreants to the fringe..."

They've been saying that for a decade. When's the last time anyone condemned you from downloading an MP3?

Gene Rayburn said...

" public condemnation of illegal downloaders will marginalize the miscreants to the fringe"

ha ha that's never going to happen. Dropbox gets used for all sorts of things and most likely the occasional TV show or movie.

Then there's cloud computing, where you can set up private networks to share files, applications etc. Walled gardens are great because they keep people out, like the authorities.

Nice we agree on Dropbox, Paul. Its a handy tool. Who knows, we probably have a lot more in common when it comes to technology.

Paul S said...

I guess the Freep's never made a mixtape in the 80s? Lol. -WG

You're talking apples and bananas. Downloading tens of thousands of exact digital copies is in a whole different league.

For his work with Wikileaks?
Presently, about the same amount of time as has transpired since you stopped beating your wife. - Lenny


Now there's a fresh joke.

They've been saying that for a decade. When's the last time anyone condemned you from downloading an MP3? - BCL

The law will grind them down eventually. It's not like copyright law is going to be changed to in favor of the downloaders.

Besides, are you guys so cheap you can't cough up 99 cents for a song?
I swear, progressives are the biggest scrooges around.

Reality Bites said...

What utter horseshit. I've read FreeDominion and they download just as much as anyone.

Gene Rayburn said...

part of being a freeper is freely digressing from reality. That and he resorts to "apples and oranges' responses when beaten: quite handily most days.

I do think Paul S' neighbours in Rosetown must shake there head when he's out in front of his trailer, in his long johns, yelling at the moon for illegally downloading MP3s.

A strange sight indeed.

Lenny said...

It wasn't a "joke", Dumstrum.

Lenny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lenny said...

Just the other day I heard someone say, "Jeez man, I'm done with file-sharing. They're never going to change the law, and it's really grinding me down."

Paul S said...

Nice to see what petty thieves progressives are. Only honest when someone is watching you, eh?

It wasn't a "joke", Dumstrum. - Lenny

Neither witty nor funny, you're guilty of two offenses in my books Lenny.

Paul S said...

I do think Paul S' neighbours in Rosetown must shake there head when he's out in front of his trailer, in his long johns, yelling at the moon for illegally downloading MP3s. - Gene

Rosetown? I've never spent a night in my life there.

I don't preach to others how they should live their lives. I simply find it interesting how and why one type of theft is considered "acceptable" by so many.

As for myself, from a young age my mother said: "Don't steal or you'll end up in hell with the socialists." so you'll understand why I treat the issue a bit more seriously.

Gene Rayburn said...

"Don't steal or you'll end up in hell with the socialists."

Im pretty sure hell is a better place without you. And you revealed the source of your lunacy!!!

"I don't preach to others how they should live their lives."

No, you scold, patronize and act all self-righteous, but you've been shown up as the hypocrite windbag you are. When you try to take a moral stance like you are with downloading it comes off false and rather hypocritical. You criticize others for acting out against a law you disagree with yet you expect respect from all for your freeper beliefs.

Typical Freeper: bullshit hypocrisy wrapped in some crazy ass family philosophy based in delusion.

Gene Rayburn said...

and we havent even started talking about your tendency to be an assassination apologist when it comes to Julien Assange.

The problem with your stance Paul is, that its rights for you and punishment for others. You can't see the forest from the trees in your view and believe me, that forest is called Hypocrisy.

But good luck with that assassination apologism. I hear its the latest dinner conversation for a Conservative date.

Tof KW said...

"As for myself, from a young age my mother said: "Don't steal or you'll end up in hell with the socialists."

An interesting philosophical question. Is Robin Hood burning in Hell right now for his part in robbing from the rich to give to the poor? Collaterally were King John, the Sheriff of Nottingham or any of the aristocracy involved innocent of any wrong doing? After all serfdom was the system in place back in 12th century England, they were just following along.

To bring things closer to modern times, I'm not saying Karl Marx wasn't a kook who attempted to develop a Utopian society based upon disregarding one of the two biggest (and some argue the only two) motivators of humanity (those being fear and greed), but I do understand what lead to his manifesto just the same.

By the way Paul, with that incredibly simplistic, broad and naive line from your mom; I think it's pretty clear now that you've been raised on as stupid and unrealistic a philosophy as Marx's dream society. You really should re-examine your black & white worldview.

Gene Rayburn said...

I tend to agree with the Curtis Mayfield line "if there's a hell below, we're all gonna go"

Simplistic yes, but probably more realistic than Paul S' fantasyland.

Gene Rayburn said...

Paul S said...
Gruendig is a former Dipper MP from Saskatchewan. People still speak disapprovingly of him on the streets of Rosetown.

And you quote someone like that BCL??

http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/2010/11/testify-brother.html

So Paul S, if you arent from Rosetown, then why are you shitstirring on their behalf? Did they put out an ad in the town paper looking for a loudmouth douche?

Paul S said...

I've touched a raw nerve among the petty middle aged thieves. Ha.

No, you scold, patronize and act all self-righteous, but you've been shown up as the hypocrite windbag you are.

Yeah, paying for (most of) my music is hypocritical. Now that makes a whole lot of sense Gene. My bad.

You criticize others for acting out against a law you disagree with yet . . .

Theft is not "acting out". It is theft. Work to change the law, but obey laws you don't like until you do get them changed. That's what most Canadians do. Are you different?

. . . and we havent even started talking about your tendency to be an assassination apologist when it comes to Julien Assange.

Start talking then. Whatever you've made up to come to such a ridiculous conclusion should be interesting.

I think it's pretty clear now that you've been raised on as stupid and unrealistic a philosophy as Marx's dream society.

Yeah, I was taught that what isn't mine I shouldn't take. What the hell did your parents teach you?

(By the way, my mother never did say such a thing. It was a joke. Maybe you can explain what a joke is to Lenny also. He does seem a tad slow on the uptake.)

So Paul S, if you arent from Rosetown, then why are you shitstirring on their behalf?

Lighten up Gene. It was a joke (again). I'm very familiar with Rosetown, I've just never lived there.

Tof KW said...

"Yeah, I was taught that what isn't mine I shouldn't take. What the hell did your parents teach you?"

Certainly not the idea that harboring a particular political view will net you an eternity in the inferno.

Lenny said...

"Nice to see what petty thieves progressives are. "

Can your feeble mind really not distinguish the difference between a conversation about the reality that file-sharing is not going to be stopped, and advocacy of file-sharing?