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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Many people have said that the internet is like the wild west in the gold rush and that sooner or later it will be regulated. What we need is for it to be regulated sooner rather than later

- Barbara Follett, Minister of Kulture.

45 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Because free speech is overrated anyway…

    *eyeroll*

    They will never learn. Try and regulate … please do, I can’t wait for some enterprising hackers to bring government networks to their knees.

  • Barbara Follett is a vile fascist shit.

    Might as well say it while I still can

  • James

    What a stupid stupid cow.

  • guy herbert

    If you strive to ensure nothing can move without an official permit, then one day you will wake up to find nothing is moving at all.

  • nostalgic

    These people seek to control our lives totally from cradle to grave – the internet is the last place in which you can do more or less as you please.

  • Nick Timms

    Moan, moan, moan. Fascist shits like this person have and always will exist. The thing we need to to do is ensure that they have no power over us.

    The usual libertarian (small l) approach is to say that politics is grubby so we will form think tanks and try to influence from the sidelines.

    This approach is bollocks. By doing this you are engaged in politics but just kidding yourself that you are still clean.

    Join the UKLP and get some power to combat these fascists, totalitarians and statists. The battle is for the minds of the majority of the electorate who make no effort to question what they are told. That is reality. For too long they have been force fed all the crap thrown at them by MSM and esp the Beeb.

    Nothing will change without concerted action.

  • guy herbert

    … Which doesn’t necessarily bother officialdom. Recall the elaborate procedures evolved during the Cold War, billed as civil defence, to rule the scattered surface population from bunkers in than aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. (And finding their faithful echo in the Civil Contingencies Act.)

    In the 1960s a friend my father’s was a senior DTI official. (His normal occupation being to assist the development of manufacture and trade with particular reference to the West Yorkshire wool industry, a fabulously productive use of an Oxford first, as anyone visiting Bradford today will attest.) Mr Dunn, as I shall call him, because that is his name, had a place in a deep shelter in Leeds. In the event of the then 20-minute warning, I was told, it was his duty to get there as quickly as possible, bringing, not his family, but all available paper of any kind or quality. The paper would form an emergency reserve for printing proclamations and regulations after the destriction of the world.

    Knowing my father and his friends, I always had the strong suspicion this story was a joke. But as I grow older, and have more first-hand experience of bureaucratic fundamentalism, that suspicion is fading. It might well be true.

  • guy herbert

    I do somewhat agree with Nick Timms in his diagnosis, but not his solution. The UKLP is a lost cause, however much I may like some of the people involved. Libertarian ideas do need to be promulgated through real-world politics, but a purist party is no more, and in some ways less, effective than moaning.

    The original post illustrates something else, however. I met Barbara Follett once upon a time through a mutual friend, way before she was an MP. She was a completely ordinary member of the media elite (as it were), a not-at-all-unpleasant literary lefty.

    The Folletts were supporters of outfits such as Pen and Article XIX, and the great redeeming feature of literary lefties always has been their instinctive repudiation of censorship. I don’t think the Barbara Follet I met would have countenanced ‘regulating’ speech. But she has been nearly 15 years in the political bubble, more than 10 an MP in the party of government. That is profoundly corrupting.

    Ministers and government MPs – and MPs of all parties – are ever less able to exercise independent judgment or see the world beyond the distorting glass of party policy briefings and departmental memos. That’s a solipsistic fearful world in which ‘We, the Good’ struggle to gather the meaning of a chaotic external world that stubbornly doesn’t behave in the way memos say it should, and are constantly prey to the belief that it can be forced to comply.

    Those commentators who go on (often rightly) about New Labour’s Gramscian strategy for exerting control over the political process via control of narrative and meaning in public discourse, often neglect that the political actors are themselves not in control, and their own meanings and narratives are also subject to structural transformations, both by the exigencies of power, by the solipsistic assumptions of the Poitical Class itself, and by total immersion in bureaucracy.

  • Brian

    Sooner or later Barbara Follett will die.

    What we need is for it to be sooner rather than later.

  • Ian B

    Try and regulate … please do, I can’t wait for some enterprising hackers to bring government networks to their knees.

    Oh yes. That’ll work. Really, that’s our problem solved.

    The internet is the most censorable, regulatable form of communication that has ever existed. Government can control the businesses and the gateways. ISPs and website owners can be intimidated easily into absolute compliance. Yes, you might still be able to send some secret communication with 2000 bit encryption via 50 proxy servers- though even then it’s still traceable to your DSL connection- but that makes no difference, any more than one can get around traditional government observation with code books and carrier pigeons. Businesses have to stay legal. They have to do as the government tells them. Individuals can be harrassed and hauled into court. Anyone who believes the internet’s technology somehow makes it censorship-proof is being naive.

  • Ian B

    Those commentators who go on (often rightly) about New Labour’s Gramscian strategy for exerting control over the political process via control of narrative and meaning in public discourse, often neglect that the political actors are themselves not in control, and their own meanings and narratives are also subject to structural transformations, both by the exigencies of power, by the solipsistic assumptions of the Poitical Class itself, and by total immersion in bureaucracy.

    Quite so. Really the pols have very little power. They merely articulate and implement the views of the general political class. They bring in a smoking ban because that is what their class wants; they censor the internet because that is what their class wants. And the hegemonic domination of their historic bloc** ensures that the people agree and obey.

    What’s interesting to me is that in general, even when there is widespread disapproval of ruling class policy, “The People” will only organise and protest when they have ruling class support; they require the ruling class to organise their protest for them, in effect. Thus significant opposition only occurs when there is a split of opinion in the ruling class, or the politicians are not obeying its view correctly or sufficiently- e.g. Poll Tax, Iraq War, Green protests. For instance the Council Tax is just as heinous as the Poll Tax, but there is no centrally organised opposition to it, so no significant protests occur. Just about the only reasonably significant exception I can think of to that is the Countryside Alliance.

    I think it’s also fair to say that if, for instance, we were to organise some kind of Keep The Internet Free campaign, we wouldn’t find any support from a single major (or even minor, probably) ISP or web content business. In our corporate state, they are happy to implement the government’s plans “in partnership”, rather than face the ruling class’s ire.

    Oh, and needless to say perhaps, they’ll get away with this because of the usual support by the conservative patsies, clutching at their Daily Mails and proclaiming “Something Must Be Done!”. The “right” are every bit as much of a problem as “the left”. And so can that can be “libertarians”. It’s interesting to watch the libertarian swearblogosphere going loopy over Baby P. I had a look in at the Devil’s Kitchen yesterday and thought I’d stumbled into the Daily Mail comments section.

    **terminologytastic marxism here!

  • Hugo

    “She admitted there was growing chaos out there on the internet, and order needed to be brought.”

    “Admitted”? Who was pressuring her? Claimed, more like. These people have never heard of spontaneous order.

    Why doesn’t the Guardian article allow comments?

  • Ian B

    To the authoritarian mind, freedom and chaos are synonymous. They literally find the idea of people doing their own thing terrifying. The idea of everybody doing their own thing is a nightmare. The only response of which they are capable is to attempt to impose order, and they are absolutely driven to do this because until they do so they are in a constant state of terrified panic.

    They look at any free situation through a filter of “ANYTHING could happen!”, never pausing to consider that “anything” also includes good things or nothing much to worry about.

    That’s why it’s pointless us arguing with them. We cannot win, because they live in a completely different universe to us, which just happens to share the same physical space. Imagine trying to have a rational discussion with somebody delusional who sees monsters and demons where you or I see ordinary people. It couldn’t be done. We cannot discuss what should be done about A Thing, because we do not share a consensus about what The Thing is.

  • Mart

    If you really want libertarian ideas to start percolating through the populace, you need to get them into the schools. I’d have thought a good dose of the various discussion points present in virtually every Heinlein book would greatly help the ability of kids to think and act for themselves, and do more to foster confidence and healthy minds than an education system which appears to view success as something to feel guilty about. Whether you agree with all of Heinlein or not, his books are certainly good at asking questions that many don’t like to answer.
    Of course, the teachers would hate it. I don’t necessarily view this as a bad thing; like most in government positions, they need shaking out of their ideological complacency.

    In short, get libertarian sci-fi into schools.

  • Paul Marks

    “get libertarian sci-fi into schools” – then set up a school and put it in the library.

    But as for libertarian ideas getting respect in the government schools – errrr what is it about the term “government schools” that people find so hard to grasp?

    True the government school people may despise the elected government of the day – but oppose the PRINCIPLE of statism? To do that would be to undermine the existance of a government school system. A few libertarian teachers in a the “public school” system are not going to make much difference.

    As for the “Minister of Culture” – a decent country would not have one.

  • Mart

    I care not whether the teachers are libertarian or not – i am well aware that teachers are predominantly against such things. But there appears to be nothing in the school curriculum now (there certainly wasn’t when i went through the state system a couple of decades ago) that is remotely pro-business, pro-liberty or anti-regulation. I view this as a significant problem. The teachers themselves have little say – the curriculum is increasingly leaving little room for individual expression.

  • Ian B

    The point when we can get our ideas into the schools would be the point at which we’d have already won.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Ian B, yes indeed. And the fact that they have their ideas totally built into the foundation of the whole state education system with no counterbalance or dissent whatever, proves that they have already won.

    It isn’t going to be easy to reverse that.

  • el windy

    The biggest problem on the internet is Microsoft.
    The best way to kill libertarian ideas stone dead is to introduce them into schools. Most teachers (with very rare exceptions) shouldn’t be allowed near children. Also calls to put idea x into the education process is yet another example of expecting someone else to implement what you approve of – very libertarian!

  • John K

    In the event of the then 20-minute warning, I was told, it was his duty to get there as quickly as possible, bringing, not his family, but all available paper of any kind or quality. The paper would form an emergency reserve for printing proclamations and regulations after the destriction of the world.

    A friend who was a copper in Merseyside in the 80′s told me a similar story. Once a month they had to check the regional command bunker, making sure the stores were in order, the armoury was secure, etc etc. In the event of war, their job was to open up the bunker to let the bureaucrats, no doubt clutching their reams of A4, inside. They then had to leave, as there was no place in the bunker for them. To the tidy bureaucratic mind this no doubt made perfect sense. In fact, if the balloon had ever gone up, the bureaucracy of north west England would have found the bunker doors closed, with a large number of well armed policemen and their families inside waiting for the big one. I expect the bureaucrats could have used all that paper to write some very stiff memos to the chief constable.

  • Paul Marks

    Mart:

    It is true that some government school systems are less leftists than others (for example I have heard nice things about Bavaria), but trying to get “pro business” ideas and other such into government schools shows a lack of understanding of the nature of the beast.

    You are asking for a barking cat.

  • Her analogy is a poor one. Regulating behavior in her conception of the “Wild West” would have been a matter of regulating actions- murder, robbery, violent disputes between cowboys and farmers, (etc.). The Internet, by contrast, is mainly a place of speech… and if she seeks to regulate speech on the misguided premise that unregulated speech is equivalent to unregulated behavior, then she’s either making a huge logical blunder, or she’s quite aware of the equivocation, in which case her words are very sinister.

  • Conrad

    One word: Proxy Servers

  • Laird

    Um, that’s two words.

    Have you been taking Joe Biden lessons?

  • J

    Anyone who believes the internet’s technology somehow makes it censorship-proof is being naive.

    Indeed. Proxy servers are worthless unless they encrypt requests, and don’t log, in which case they merely increase the effort required to find out what you have been looking at. But it would be straightforward to forbid ISPs from routing traffic through encrypting proxies that were not on a Government approved list.

    Almost all of the UK internet’s traffic goes via a handful of major telco’s, who in turn route it through a handful for large interconnects. Control would not be hard to establish.

    Bypassing would be possible via satellite connect or international analogue calls to a modem situated outside of the country. Such options would be workable for a tiny and well funded minority.

  • Pa Annoyed

    J,

    Proxy servers that functioned like that would indeed be worthless, which is why they don’t. Why mention it?

    It would indeed be straightforward to forbid ISPs routing traffic to proxies – just as easy as forbidding them to route it to the undesirable sites you’re banning the proxies over. Not so easy to implement, though.

    How do you recognise encrypted traffic? That’s a hard problem. What if the proxies are implemented as a bot-net? Do you shut down ten million entirely innocent users, because they’ve been infected? What if the proxy directories had innocent websites, or a few government ones just for fun, in the lists? Do you automatically shut off traffic to every site listed, and get sued to kingdom come by some internet business who’s just gone bust, or do you employ some poor slob to go through the millions of them manually to check?

    And what exactly would the point be in a government-approved “proxy” that logged everything you did? Why would anyone use it?

    Government regulation to ban stuff people want has never worked – all it does is push the price up. And waste piles of taxpayers money.

    It’s like the war on drugs. They can ban importers importing it, and shops selling it, and they can catch a few people and jail them, and they can make it all more difficult and expensive and risky. But you can go to any major city in the West and buy drugs.

    Same with Prohibition, immigration, porn, guns, cigarettes, junk food, or red diesel. People find a way round. The second most stupid thing about governments banning things, right after thinking they ought to, is thinking they can.

  • permanentexpat

    We are less free today than we were, say, 10 years ago…and then, we were less free than a decade before.
    Freedom is being whittled away & few seem to care.
    Only when it is gone & it’s too late will its value be recognized.
    Of course the Internet can be easily regulated…It’s already begun in the ‘free’ world…unbelievably in Australia which has thus plummeted in the admiration stakes. Whatever the brave talk about drugs, prohibition, guns, you name it….the outlook for the Net is not a happy one.
    “The price of Freedom is eternal Vigilance” Sorrily, vigilance is a lost virtue.

  • Unfortunately, vigilance has never been our national strength.

    Yep, state censorship in the form of mandatory ISP filtering is on our doorstep. If it works here, you can bet you will be seeing it elsewhere soon enough. Worse still, the media here have managed to keep this out of the papers, and almost completely off TV. Few people know, and even fewer care.

    There will be no oversight. Plenty of room for scope creep, especially when trying to push legislation through a hostile Senate. No transparency – the ‘blacklist’ of banned sites is immune to FOI requests.

    There are plenty of us working as hard as we can against this, but I think we are in deep trouble – the deepest of all because people here don’t seem to have a clue about freedom, and the ALP has finally gotten wise to this fact. And who do we rely on to save us? The Coalition and the Greens. Like I said, we are in deep trouble.

  • Mart

    @el windy : I’m not talking about forcing ideas down their throat, I am talking about getting stuff into the schools that will hopefully help people question the viewpoints they are already being told. From this I would expect an increase in those with libertarian views, or at the very least an increase in those with private initiative and a disbelief that the state can look after them cradle to grave. This is counteracting brainwashing, not adding our own.

    @Paul Marks : Perhaps I’m attacking a symptom rather than the cause, and I’m aware that the chances of it happening anyway are as likely as the Lincoln Memorial statue coming to life and scaling the Washington Monument. But when (if?) the dust settles from the current financial crisis and Mr Brown is just a bad memory, our education system will doom us anyway unless something happens.
    If the beast has many heads, I see no reason not to try and chop one off simply because I can’t find the heart yet.

    PS : (Link)

  • Ian B

    Pa Annoyed, you’ve missed the point IMHO. It’s no good how fabulously clever your proxy botnet geekery is, even if you can implement it, and even if people are prepared to risk using it. It’s not about whether people can get to the websites; it’s whether the websites are there to get to. Laws will control from that end. If it is illegal to run a website of type [X] then owners of websites of type [X] have no choice but to close them down, or end up in court and prison. It’s a matter of controlling publication not readership.

  • Ian B

    …and anyway, the strategy, as always, is to drown website owners in bureaucracy, red tape, compliance, obligations to the state, such that a state is reached in which only large companies can afford the money, time and effort of running a website. Once that stage is reached, anyone trying to publish on the web will have to do so on a big corporation’s site (i.e. it’ll be practicably impossible to just buy a domain and some hosting, install wordpress and start blogging, so you’ll need to have your blog on google or blogger or whatnot) and then content can be managed into acceptability by AUPs, enforced by the corporations at the behest of the state. Consolidation of the power into a small number of hands is key to their control strategy. And it works every time.

  • Michael Taylor

    There it is: the authentic voice of British fascim.

  • Michael Taylor

    There it is: the authentic voice of British fascim.

  • Terrapod

    Obviously a comment from an authoritairan mind. Can’t stand the concept of laissez faire markets, driven to CONTROL everything.

    Would love for the BEEB to go totally self financing and not be given the gov. teat. Wonder if they could adapt and compete given the mindset of management.

  • Pa Annoyed

    IanB,

    While my longer comment waits to be smited, I’ll add this.

    There are technological ways round the problems you mention too, but the critical question is whether people want to be able to publish.

    Red tape is just another obstruction, like censorship, which the technology can be used to get round. It will cost a lot to develop, but if people want it, it will be available. If enough people want it, it will be cheap, and some programmers will get very rich. (Which I’m personally in favour of.) The only question is whether they will, or whether they’ll acquiesce without a fight.

    Defeatism doesn’t help with that much.

  • Ian B

    I’m not being defeatist Pa. I’m saying that if something is prohibited by government, it is game over unless you fancy risking prison for indulging in illegality. This actually matters to me personally as I draw adult comics for a living and, if the government draws down the curtain of censorship that’s it. Game over.

    I have to be a legitimate business. I have to charge credit cards on the internet. If I can’t do this legally, my website if finished, closed, kaput, and it’s not the least use to be told I could surreptitiously circulate my comics by encrypted botnet carrier pigeons. The legal economy is all that matters to me. It is no use to tell a brewer that prohibition is fine because he can be a bootlegger instead.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Ah, I see what you mean now, Ian.

    It’s a matter of choice. If you choose to stay legal, because it’s not worth the fight, then they don’t need any technical measures, or a police force even. A lot of people do, for reasons I do understand, which is why dictators work – it’s not a dictatorship because they dictate, it’s a dictatorship because everybody else obeys them.

    But if that’s what you’re talking about, then I don’t see why the internet is the most censorable, regulatable form of communication that has ever existed. Any communication is censorable, simply by them declaring it illegal. And if they declared certain thoughts a crime, they’ve got you there too. It’s a serious problem, certainly, but I don’t see what it’s got to do with the internet.

  • Ian B

    If you choose to stay legal, because it’s not worth the fight,

    I’m not sure what other option there is, really. You really think becoming a criminal is some kind of option???

    A lot of people do, for reasons I do understand, which is why dictators work – it’s not a dictatorship because they dictate, it’s a dictatorship because everybody else obeys them.

    You seem to be giving an impression here that not wanting to go to jail is somehow weak. Even if it is weak, there’s no way to run an illegal internet business because it needs other legal companies to function, such as credit card processing. The legal sphere is all there is.

    then I don’t see why the internet is the most censorable, regulatable form of communication that has ever existed.

    Because everything on it is traceable. Because it only functions because the companies running it run it. It means that the entire thing, every last bit and byte, can be examined by the state, via those companies. If, for instance, I wanted to sell drugs in the real world, I can smuggle them in and sell them for untraceable public coin. On the internet, everything I do has to have the approval of the companies running it, such as hosting providers, domain registrars and payment processors. I can’t do anything hidden in the dark. There is no dark. Everything is visible in a way that can’t be circumvented as with the real world. Even if I wanted to. Which I don’t.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Is becoming a criminal an option? Always. But at the current state of affairs definitely not one I’d recommend. But if they simply declare a dictatorship tomorrow, and started rounding people up for the re-education camps, would that be it? No option but to board the cattle trucks, because it would be ‘illegal’ not to? What’s the point in talking about it, then?

    On your other points – that was what I was talking about earlier. Yes there is a way to run an illegal internet business (people do), and yes, there are huge dark parts of the internet. I’m not recommending it. I think that from a personal point of view you’d be safer switching to another line of business than going there. (It’s more like the real Wild West – you don’t get the protections of law.) But from a technical point of view, there’s nothing impossible about it, and it’s probably less physically dangerous than dealing with criminals and smugglers in the ‘real’ world. The internet is no more regulatable than meetings in dark alleys. (The authorities can monitor those too.)

    All I’m arguing about is the technical feasibility. If you go illegal, it’s no harder on the internet, and if you stay legal, it’s no more possible to continue to do business on the street or in pubs. The problem of legal censorship is independent of the arena in which business is conducted.

    You’re quite right that the legal implications are a major problem, which is something I missed in my enthusiasm to talk about the technical stuff. But it’s not an issue specific to the internet, except as motivation.

  • Ian B

    Pa, I think we’re slightly at crossed purposes, because we have different definitions of what people are trying to do on the internet regarding e.g. publishing. Consider something slightly different- making movies. What is the purpose of making a movie? Well, it might be to make a political point or the pleasure of realising one’s imagination, but the practical purpose of it is to sell movie tickets. To show it to as many people as possible- casual customers. Now suppose you want to make a movie of a type banned by the government (perhaps it is pornographic, or it lampoons El Presidente). Now you can still, yes, make your movie in secret. You may be able to distribute a few copies surreptitiously. But what you can’t do is sell movie tickets because the government controls the movie theatres, or at least monitors them.

    So the movie maker doesn’t make the movie, because his reason for making the movie- selling movie tickets- has been taken away. This is the scenario I’m trying to explain. Anything which requires a general audience, which on the internet is anything really, cannot function without government approval, because if the government find out about it, they will arrest you. You might be able to have a private secret website hidden behind all sorts of barriers for your closest trusted friends, but that’s not the point of having a website. Illegality forces you to shoot your own foot off, by not being able to do the one thing websites are for, which is to be generally available. There aren’t any technical workarounds around the law, and the myth that the internet is uncontrollable is simply wrong. Governments impose laws by threat and force, and always have, and the itnernet is no different.

    I can’t think of another way to put this so I hope I’ve explained what I mean.

  • watcher in the dark

    She said: “What we need”

    Who is the “we”? What is the “need”?

  • Paul Marks

    The “we” are the statists (sadly this is not just the Democrats in the United States and the Labour party here, there are many “pragmatic” Republicans of the “Mitt” Bailout Romney type).

    The “need” is need to prevent dissent because dissent is the enemy of collectivism. The collectivists are comming after the internet for the same reason American collectivists are comming after the conservative part of talk radio.

    They are not upset about “lack of balance”, if they were they would be campaigning against C.N.N., ABC, CBS and NBC in the United States (and all the broadcasters in Britain) all of whom have a bias in favour of the left.

    What they are upset about is that there are a few places where collectivism (for example the Welfare State) is attacked – this dissent is what they wish to destroy.

  • Paul Marks

    The “we” are the statists (sadly this is not just the Democrats in the United States and the Labour party here, there are many “pragmatic” Republicans of the “Mitt” Bailout Romney type).

    The “need” is need to prevent dissent because dissent is the enemy of collectivism. The collectivists are comming after the internet for the same reason American collectivists are comming after the conservative part of talk radio.

    They are not upset about “lack of balance”, if they were they would be campaigning against C.N.N., ABC, CBS and NBC in the United States (and all the broadcasters in Britain) all of whom have a bias in favour of the left.

    What they are upset about is that there are a few places where collectivism (for example the Welfare State) is attacked – this dissent is what they wish to destroy.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Ian B,

    Yes, I understand the scenario you’re trying to explain. But you’re making the same mistake as the politicians in thinking that the internet you know about, and the business models you know about, are the only ones that are feasible. That’s why they keep thinking they can ban stuff – because in the circle of firelight they see and can control, that’s how the world works.

    I’m not going to go into the details of how money laundering works. I did concoct a long and technical scheme for doing your selling-tickets-for-a-movie thing as an example, but I changed my mind regarding the wisdom of posting it. It doesn’t matter anyway.

    What you seem to be arguing for is the ability to operate openly in the full public view as a legitimate business. You’re perfectly correct that you can’t do that if the business has been made illegal, and you’re perfectly correct that it’s a problem that makes everything harder. Despite your confident assertions, it isn’t really all that hard to find another way to do all that you tell me is impossible, but it doesn’t matter because so long as operating outside the system is unthinkable to most people, most of them never will. So long as virtually all the people are so totally convinced that the state has them in a box, it won’t make any difference that they’re not. None of them can think their way out of it – they’re all trapped by their own lack of imagination.

    You’ve convinced me, albeit probably not for the reasons you intended. Depressing, isn’t it?