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February 22, 2019
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open Internet

The most common forms of censorship the public doesn’t know about

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Amid all the discussion today about online threats, from censorship to surveillance to cyberwar, we often spend more time on the symptoms than on the underlying chronic conditions. If we want to make people around the world safer from an oppressive, weaponized Internet, we need to get a bit nerdy and talk about Internet standards.

Most Internet censorship today is only possible because the Internet wasn’t designed to protect the privacy of your connections. It wasn’t private by design, so when censors came along, they pushed on an open door. Making Internet connections truly private and secure means updating the fundamental technical standards that govern the global internet.

Fortunately, the first step toward making global internet standards safer and more censorship-resistant is neither controversial nor particularly complicated. Put simply, we should make Internet protocols—the who, what, where of internet addresses—more private. Everyone from regulators to users has been asking for more privacy protections, and improving Internet standards is one foundational way of providing that.

Privacy makes selective censorship harder because censors no longer know the blow-by-blow details of what everyone is doing, so they can’t micromanage a person’s access to the Internet. Improving standards doesn’t take magic — just prototyping, debating, consensus-building, and implementing. The standards that govern the Internet are driven through organizations like the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Since 2015, technologists, facilitated by the IETF, have been considering proposals to enhance privacy for a key element of the Internet: the Domain Name System (DNS). It’s often described as the “address book of the Internet” and it was not designed to use encryption.

Unfortunately, every time you visit a website, your computer first consults the DNS system without any encryption, allowing censors and snoopers to know the name of every website you visit. A new standard is emerging to encrypt DNS lookups.

The standardization of encrypted DNS is just one way Internet standards could be improved. Another example can be seen at CloudFlare, one of the largest content delivery networks in the world. They recently announced support for an evolving standard — “encrypted SNI” — that would close another subtle privacy hole that often occurs when users visit websites hosted on cloud providers.

As a final example, the W3C (another Internet standards body) has been establishing a draft standard for Network Error Logging. This potentially helps address one of the trickiest challenges in tackling network interference: figuring out when interference is even happening. After all, if someone attempts to load a website but cannot access it, any number of things could have gone wrong, from a network glitch to network interference. Because no connection was ever established, the website owner may never even know that someone tried and failed to reach their site. Network Error Logging allows the user’s device to report a failed lookup to a neutral third party that is not blocked. Think of it as enabling ombudsmen when sites are blocked.

The standards we define for the Internet today will determine how the next generation of technologists and technology companies build the tools of the future.

If we don’t approach internet standards with a strong set of values that promote user privacy and freedom of expression, the standards will be set by people who do not share those values, and the overall integrity of the global open internet will inevitably suffer.

The internet may not have been initially designed to prevent censorship by protecting user privacy, but the protection of individual privacy ought to be the North Star guiding how we navigate the challenges of an evolving, global internet. If we’re serious about addressing those challenges, we need to start with improving standards.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Internet Bill of Rights is just one piece of our moral obligations

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Congressman Ro Khanna’s proposed Internet Bill of Rights pushes individual rights on the Internet forward in a positive manner. It provides guidelines for critical elements where the United States’ and the world’s current legislation is lacking, and it packages it in a way that speaks to all parties. The devil, as always, is in the details—and Congressman Khanna’s Internet Bill of Rights still leaves quite a bit to subjective interpretation.

But what should not be neglected is that we as individuals have not just rights but also moral obligations to this public good—the Internet. The web positively impacts our lives in a meaningful fashion, and we have a collective responsibility to nurture and keep it that way.

Speaking to the specific rights listed in the Bill, we can likely all agree that citizens should have control over information collected about them, and that we should not be discriminated against based on that personal data. We probably all concur that Internet Service Providers should not be permitted to block, throttle, or engage in paid prioritization that would negatively impact our ability to access the world’s information. And I’m sure we all want access to numerous affordable internet providers with clear and transparent pricing.

These are all elements included in Congressman Khanna’s proposal; all things that I wholeheartedly support.

As we’ve seen of late with Facebook, Google, and other large corporations, there is an absolute need to bring proper legislation into the digital age. Technological advancements have progressed far faster than regulatory changes, and drastic improvements are needed to protect users.

What we must understand, however, is that corporations, governments, and individuals all rely on the same Internet to prosper. Each group should have its own set of rights as well as responsibilities. And it’s those responsibilities that need more focus.

Take, for example, littering. There may be regulations in place that prevent people from discarding their trash by the side of the road. But regardless of these laws, there’s also a moral obligation we have to protect our environment and the world in which we live. For the most part, people abide by these obligations because it’s the right thing to do and because of social pressure to keep the place they live beautiful—not because they have a fear of being fined for littering.

We should approach the protection of the Internet in the same way.

We should hold individuals, corporations, and governments to a higher standard and delineate their responsibilities to the Internet. All three groups should accept and fulfill those responsibilities, not because we create laws and fines, but because it is in their best interests.

For individuals, the Internet has given them powers beyond their wildest dreams and it continues to connect us in amazing ways. For corporations, it has granted access to massively lucrative markets far and wide that would never have been accessible before. For governments, it has allowed them to provide better services to their citizens and has created never before seen levels of tax revenue from the creation of businesses both between and outside their physical borders.

Everyone — and I mean everyone — has gained (and will continue to gain) from protecting an open Internet, and we as a society need to recognize that and start imposing strong pressure against those who do not live up to their responsibilities.

We as people of the world should feel tremendously grateful to all the parties that contributed to the Internet we have today. If a short-sighted government decides it wants to restrict the Internet within its physical borders, this should not be permitted. It will not only hurt us, but it will hurt that very government by decreasing international trade and thus tax revenue, as well as decreasing the trust that the citizens of that country place in their government. Governments often act against their long-term interests in pursuit of short-term thinking, thus we have 2 billion people living in places with heavy restrictions on access to online information.

When an Internet Service Provider seeks full control over what content it provides over its part of the Internet, this, again, should not be allowed. It will, in the end, hurt that very Internet Service Provider’s revenue; a weaker, less diverse Internet will inevitably create less demand for the very service they are providing along with a loss of trust and loyalty from their customers.

Without the Internet, our world would come grinding to a halt. Any limitations on the open Internet will simply slow our progress and prosperity as a human race. And, poignantly, the perpetrators of those limitations stand to lose just as much as any of us.

We have a moral responsibility, then, to ensure the Internet remains aligned with its original purpose. Sure, none of us could have predicted the vast impact the World Wide Web would have back in 1989—probably not even Sir Tim Berners-Lee himself—but in a nutshell, it exists to connect people, WHEREVER they may be, to a wealth of online information, to other people, and to empower individuals to make their lives better.

This is only possible with an open and free Internet.

Over the next five years, billions of devices—such as our garage door openers, refrigerators, thermostats, and mattresses—will be connected to the web via the Internet of Things. Further, five billion users living in developing markets will join the Internet for the first time, moving from feature phones to smartphones. These two major shifts will create incredible opportunities for good, but also for exploiting our data—making us increasingly vulnerable as Internet users.

Now is the time to adequately provide Americans and people around the world with basic online protections, and it is encouraging to see people like Congressman Khanna advancing the conversation. We can only hope this Internet Bill of Rights remains bipartisan and real change occurs.

Regardless of the outcome, we must not neglect our moral obligations—whether individual Internet users, large corporations, or governments. We all shoulder a responsibility to maintain an open Internet. After all, it is perhaps the most significant and impactful creation in modern society.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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