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[ NNSquad ] Internet Realities: Why There May Be Many More Wikileaks

            Internet Realities: Why There May Be Many More Wikileaks


Greetings.  Literally the entire world seems abuzz about the latest
Wikileaks mass dump of diplomatic cables and other data, and while
most of the material appears to be "merely" embarrassing (not
life-threatening as some officials insist), the analysis of such
content is way above my pay grade and I'm certainly willing to let
others make those detailed determinations in the long run.  Nor will I
concern myself here with the possible criminal culpability of those
individuals involved.

But this entire incident -- even more so than with previous Wikileaks
disclosures -- seems to point out at least one inescapable fact:
Governments really do not understand the realities of the Internet.

The current controversy can't even reasonably be called a technology
breakdown.  It appears rather to be very much a man-made policy and
human factors failure.

By placing so much sensitive material online en masse on SIPRNET 
[ http://bit.ly/iigtpD (dhra.mil) ] (even if all was below TS 
[Top Secret] classification) with so many users having access (I've seen
numbers ranging from 100's of 1000's to a couple of million!) the
stage was already set for this incident.  The fact that it was
apparently possible for relatively low-level individuals to bulk
download this data onto (for example) "Lady Gaga" CD-RW discs
only adds to the general sense of policy ineptness in this regard.

Well, the government wanted to widely share intelligence data
post-9/11, and it certainly ended up being widely shared, even though
way beyond the originally intended scope.  But given the systems and
policies apparently in place, it would have been something of a
miracle if such a disclosure did not eventually occur!

And in the age of the Internet, you don't usually get second chances.
Governments tend to love the Net when it serves their purposes -- like
the way the U.S. has begun using the centralized domain name system as
a global asset forfeiture mechanism in advance of (or even in the
absence of) prosecutions related to intellectual property disputes.

But the old "live by the sword, die by the sword" adage still applies.
Once "interesting" information has "leaked" in any digital form, it
will likely see global dissemination and will widely persist
essentially forever -- despite "Whack-a-Mole" attempts at after the
fact control.

Gone are the days when a few whispered entreaties (or threats) to a
limited number of newspaper publishers and radio/television networks
might serve to bottle up, or otherwise limit, the widespread public
distribution of associated information.

This truth makes the scenario surrounding the SIPRNET/Wikileaks
situation all the more bizarre.  Knowing that any single individual
could access so much highly sensitive data by themselves, and then
have the means to globally distribute it (even without the assistance
of Wikileaks), how could such an "intelligence" sharing structure have
been allowed to exist?  Is this real life or an unaired episode from
the old Maxwell Smart "Get Smart" spy spoof TV series?

There's yet another lesson here, too.  Governments around the world
are pushing for built-in wiretapping and encryption controls for the
Internet, so that authorities can monitor whatever communications they
please, whenever they wish.  Not only does this fundamentally weaken
the security of the Internet, but it also creates the specter (as has
already been learned the hard way by officials in Europe in relation
to telephone taps) of embarrassing mass information disclosures from
leaked data obtained through these mandated backdoor mechanisms.

Wikileaks may be only the beginning.  The Internet remains the
quintessential tool -- amoral in and of itself -- but reflecting the
morality and ethics of both its users and abusers.  Information can
never again be effectively controlled from "on high" as in "the good
old days."  Yes, attempts at censorship will persist -- people can be
harassed, arrested, jailed, and even executed.  But censorship itself
can never be very effective in an Internet context -- even
purpose-built censorship regimes as in China have learned this lesson.

The sooner that we all realize this -- individuals, commercial firms,
governments, and everyone else -- the sooner we can come to terms not
only with the realities of the present, but of the likely near future
as well.

Many will yearn for days of yore never to be seen again.  But the
Internet has changed the world -- both in positive and negative ways,
and the Wikileaks story is but one aspect of the resulting
complexities and possibilities.

This is a truth that must eventually be understood especially by those
persons who most detest (even for what they believe to be laudable
motives) the communications freedoms of the Internet.  The alternative
is their making the same sorts of mistakes again and again, often to
the detriment of society at large.

You don't have to like this reality.  But either accept it or be 
left behind.

As Maxwell Smart would say, "Sorry about that, Chief!"

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com)
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR (People For Internet Responsibility): http://www.pfir.org
Founder, NNSquad (Network Neutrality Squad): http://www.nnsquad.org
Founder, GCTIP (Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance): 
Founder, PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein
Google Buzz: http://bit.ly/lauren-buzz