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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

The spooks are not stupid. There are two ways they can respond to this in a manner consistent with their current objectives. They can try to shut down the press — a distinct possibility within the UK, but still incredibly dangerous — or they can shut down the open internet, in order to stop the information leakage over that channel and, more ambitiously, to stop the public reading undesirable news.

I think they’re going for the latter option, although I doubt they can make it stick. Let me walk you through the early stages of what I think is going to happen.

In the UK it’s fairly obvious what the mechanism will be. Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown his weight behind mandatory opt-out porn filtering at an ISP level, to protect our children from a torrent of filth on the internet. (He’s turned to Chinese corporation Huawei for the tool in question.) All new domestic ISP customer accounts in the UK will be filtered by default, unless the owner opts out. There’s also the already-extant UK-wide child pornography filter operated by the Internet Watch Foundation, although its remit is limited to items that are probably illegal to possess (“probably” because that’s a determination for a court of law to make). And an existing mechanism — the Official Secrets Act — makes it an offense to possess, distribute, or publish state secrets. Traditionally newspapers were warned off certain state secrets by a process known as a Defense Advisory Notice, warning that publication would result in prosecution. It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to foresee the creation of a law allowing for items subject to a DA-Notice to be filtered out of the internet via a national-level porn filter to protect the precious eyeballs of the citizenry from secrets that might trouble their little heads.

On the other hand, the UK may not have a First Amendment but it does have a strong tradition of press freedom, and there are signs that the government has already overreached itself. We’ll know things are really going to hell in a handbasket when The Guardian moves its editorial offices to Brazil …

Charlie Stross

12 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Sam Duncan

    Sonds about right. The interesting thing is Huawei. Partly because this is what Britain has come to in 2013: Her Majesty’s Government taking advice on censorship from the People’s Republic, but mainly because Huawei should be able to tell them that it won’t bloody work.

    Then again, as in China itself, it might work enough to keep them happy. And that’s almost more depressing. Total failure would at least kill the thing stone dead, but a Britain of two distinct classes in which the – literally – well-connected have access to the whole world and the unwashed masses are kept in blissful ignorance, not knowing what they don’t know, could last for years. As it did before.

    A campaign to encourage people to opt out of Cameron’s scheme regardless of whether they actually want to watch porn or not (explaining, in the process, what’s at stake) would definitely get a donation from my direction.

    As an aside, he’s spot on with “Facebook is AOL for the Web 2.0 era”. I thought it was just me.

  • Laird

    The UK may not have a First Amendment, but the Guardian is partnering with the New York Times with regard to the Snowden papers in order to avail itself of that protection anyway. Well played, gentlemen.

  • Mr Ed

    Frankly, I would think that the government could shut down individual newspapers with scarcely a boo from the public, most of whom are bovine consumers of celebrity tittle-tattle.

  • Some hacker needs to get at the UK-wide filter and hack it so that every single one of the 600+ MPs web-sites return a page stating that the site is blocked by the filter for possibly containig child pornography.

  • RAB

    Huewei eh? Guess who makes my rotten Vodaphone Dongle that ALREADY filters?

  • Wasn’t there some big furore in the states about huewei? Something about them being a security risk?

  • Since we are entering the Web 3.0 era (faster please) I am not tremendously concerned with the fallout of the Web 2.0 era so much. I expect that the whole scheme to censor will run afoul of the Semantic Web, mostly because the elites will not figure out how to get around it in time. Independent sensors that are on the public net and reporting the truth in a flood of information that can be picked up by BI applications and give actionable intelligence? That’s deadly to the overreaching state.

  • I can’t wait to see this play out. The Guardian moves to Brazil to avoid censorship and is in turn completely blocked in the U.K. as a security risk.

  • Regional

    If you need some one to tell you what’s wrong or right you don’t deserve freedom.

  • Richard Thomas

    Meh, the US has pretty much eviscerated the first amendment (the free speech parts of it) with the recent rash of gag orders and secret courts. “You can say what you want as long as there’s not an overriding security concern” must be cast in the light of what was considered worthy of classification in the Wikileaks scandal.

  • Laird

    I don’t agree, Richard. The Pentagon Papers case is still the law of the land, and is still being pretty rigorously enforced. The government has eviscerated the 4th Amendment, but the 1st is still pretty much intact. The Obama administration is going after leakers (except for leaks it sanctions, of course) rather harshly, and have logged the phone calls of certain journalists (for which they were roundly criticized and have promised to stop), but so far they haven’t gone after newspapers.

  • Laird, maybe they haven’t gone after newspapers because those are on their side anyway? I do agree with you that freedom of speech is still in better shape in the US than anywhere else.