Last year was was an interesting, if not alarming year concerning free speech and net neutrality. The big subject to watch of course is the ongoing controversy surrounding Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The mistake here is to assume that this doesn’t affect anyone but Mr. Assange and the folks at WikiLeaks other than providing an interesting good guys vs bad guys story. This could potentially affect us all.
Keep in mind that it is the US that is calling for his head and neither Julian himself nor the website servers are in the US. And considering what happened to the Pirate Bay guys, it’s a good guess either way whether he will be strong-armed into a US courtroom. (I know that they were prosecuted in Sweden, but it was backed completely by the RIAA and the MPAA and it was US law that they were prosecuted with). On the one hand, the Pirate Bay was actually breaking US law, although they were in a country where they were breaking no laws. Yet they still were brought up on US charges and sentenced to prison and ridiculous fines.
So how far can the US go? Will they be able to sentence Julian Assange in the same way even though he has not even broken a US law? Common sense would say no, but these are strange times. The alarmist side of me keeps saying "we are seeing another repeat in history: the Roman Empire is reborn!"
There are some cases where the US determines that they don’t even need to go to trial. They just do as they please! Consider the 80 or so banned domains that occurred in November: No proof that those sites were breaking any laws, no trial, just the outright theft of the domain names.
Enter the Rebel Alliance and the Dot-P2P DNS system! Fittingly, the idea sprung from a tweet by TPB founder Peter Sunde. For those not in the know, the idea is to create a decentralized DNS system using existing P2P technology, and thus avoid relying on the US government-usurped ICANN servers. If it catches on, seizing domains will be an impossibility for the US or any other government.
What’s interesting here is that the US is beginning to learn that their power, at least on the Internet’s battlefield, is being eroded. WikiLeaks is showing the world (and US citizens) the corruption of the US government, and soon the .p2p DNS will ensure that the information remains free in the wilds. The US is being backed into a corner that has only 2 options. Option number one is not an option that the US is famous for: surrender and change their ways. The second and more characteristic option is to choose an enemy and lash out. I think it will come to no surprise that the US will pick option number 2, but who will be the chosen enemy? Likely the first step will be to outlaw most of the information found on WikiLeaks and start prosecuting those hosting mirrors. Once .p2p DNS takes off (which I think it will) that will also be outlawed and individual users of the system will be witch-hunted ala the RIAA witch-hunts.
Another possibility here is a joint effort between Microsoft and the US government to keep the .p2p DNS system from running on Windows machines.
Does this seem far-fetched to you? Maybe, but so does the US deciding that they can seize property without a trial, and prosecute those in other countries using US law. At this point I think it is a mistake to believe that the US will even abide by its own laws to accomplish a goal.
The Internet will remain in the hands of the users this year, but in doing so a lion is being threatened with declawing. Make no mistake, it will attack. At first it will make use of the most convenient target, and right now that is Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The US will do everything in its power to prosecute Assange. Once that media-circus is finished however, it will focus on fresh prey.
I know that this post is alarmist to the point of being ridiculous, but with the lawless actions of the US government this year, I’m not convinced that an alarmist point of view is the incorrect point of view.