Freedom of Speech - computer network
Privacy relates to individuals wanting to restrict what other people can see about them. A second key social issue is freedom of speech, and its opposite, censorship, which is about governments wanting to restrict what individuals can read and publish. With the Web containing millions and millions of pages, it has become a censor’s paradise. Depending on the nature and ideology of the regime, banned material may include Web sites containing any of the following:
1. Material inappropriate for children or teenagers.
2. Hate aimed at various ethnic, religious, sexual or other groups.
3. Information about democracy and democratic values.
4. Accounts of historical events contradicting the government’s version.
5. Manuals for picking locks, building weapons, encrypting messages, etc.
The usual response is to ban the ‘‘bad’’ sites.
Sometimes the results are unexpected. For example, some public libraries have installed Web filters on their computers to make them child friendly by blocking pornography sites. The filters veto sites on their blacklists but also check pages for dirty words before displaying them. In one case in Loudoun County, Virginia, the filter blocked a patron’s search for information on breast cancer because the filter saw the word ‘‘breast.’’ The library patron sued Loudoun County. However, in Livermore, California, a parent sued the public library for not installing a filter after her 12-year-old son was caught viewing pornography there. What’s a library to do?
It has escaped many people that the World Wide Web is a worldwide Web. It covers the whole world. Not all countries agree on what should be allowed on the Web. For example, in November 2000, a French court ordered Yahoo!, a California Corporation, to block French users from viewing auctions of Nazi memorabilia on Yahoo!’s Web site because owning such material violates French law. Yahoo! appealed to a U.S. court, which sided with it, but the issue of whose laws apply where is far from settled.
Just imagine. What would happen if some court in Utah instructed France to block Web sites dealing with wine because they do not comply with Utah’s much stricter laws about alcohol? Suppose that China demanded that all Web sites dealing with democracy be banned as not in the interest of the State. Do Iranian laws on religion apply to more liberal Sweden? Can Saudi Arabia block Web sites dealing with women’s rights? The whole issue is a veritable Pandora’s box.
A relevant comment from John Gilmore is: ‘‘The net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.’’ For a concrete implementation, consider the eternity service (Anderson, 1996). Its goal is to make sure published information cannot be depublished or rewritten, as was common in the Soviet Union during Josef Stalin’s reign. To use the eternity service, the user specifies how long the material is to be preserved, pays a fee proportional to its duration and size, and uploads it. Thereafter, no one can remove or edit it, not even the uploader.
How could such a service be implemented? The simplest model is to use a peer-to-peer system in which stored documents would be placed on dozens of participating servers, each of which gets a fraction of the fee, and thus an incentive to join the system. The servers should be spread over many legal jurisdictions for maximum resilience. Lists of 10 randomly selected servers would be stored securely in multiple places, so that if some were compromised, others would still exist. An authority bent on destroying the document could never be sure it had found all copies. The system could also be made self-repairing in the sense that if it became known that some copies had been destroyed, the remaining sites would attempt to find new repositories to replace them.
The eternity service was the first proposal for a censorship-resistant system. Since then, others have been proposed and, in some cases, implemented. Various new features have been added, such as encryption, anonymity, and fault tolerance. Often the files to be stored are broken up into multiple fragments, with each fragment stored on many servers. Some of these systems are Freenet (Clarke et al., 2002), PASIS (Wylie et al., 2000), and Publius (Waldman et al., 2000). Other work is reported by Serjantov (2002).
Increasingly, many countries are trying to regulate the export of intangibles, which often include Web sites, software, scientific papers, email, telephone helpdesks, and more. Even the U.K., which has a centuries-long tradition of freedom of speech, is now seriously considering highly restrictive laws, that would, for example, define technical discussions between a British professor and his foreign Ph.D. student, both located at the University of Cambridge, as regulated export needing a government license (Anderson, 2002). Needless to say, many people consider such a policy to be outrageous.
In countries where censorship abounds, dissidents often try to use technology to evade it. Cryptography allows secret messages to be sent (although possibly not lawfully), but if the government thinks that Alice is a Bad Person, the mere fact that she is communicating with Bob may get him put in this category, too, as repressive governments understand the concept of transitive closure, even if they are short on mathematicians. Anonymous remailers can help, but if they are banned domestically and messages to foreign ones require a government export license, they cannot help much. But the Web can.
People who want to communicate secretly often try to hide the fact that any communication at all is taking place. The science of hiding messages is called steganography, from the Greek words for ‘‘covered writing.’’ In fact, the ancient Greeks used it themselves. Herodotus wrote of a general who shaved the head of a messenger, tattooed a message on his scalp, and let the hair grow back before sending him off. Modern techniques are conceptually the same, only they have a higher bandwidth, lower latency, and do not require the services of a barber.
As a case in point, consider Fig. 8-54(a). This photograph, taken by one of the authors (AST) in Kenya, contains three zebras contemplating an acacia tree. Fig. 8-54(b) appears to be the same three zebras and acacia tree, but it has an extra added attraction. It contains the complete, unabridged text of five of Shakespeare’s plays embedded in it: Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, and Julius Caesar. Together, these plays total over 700 KB of text.
How does this steganographic channel work? The original color image is 1024 × 768 pixels. Each pixel consists of three 8-bit numbers, one each for the red, green, and blue intensity of that pixel. The pixel’s color is formed by the linear superposition of the three colors. The steganographic encoding method uses the low-order bit of each RGB color value as a covert channel. Thus, each pixel has room for 3 bits of secret information, 1 in the red value, 1 in the green value, and 1 in the blue value. With an image of this size, up to 1024 × 768 × 3 bits or 294,912 bytes of secret information can be stored in it.
The full text of the five plays and a short notice add up to 734,891 bytes. This text was first compressed to about 274 KB using a standard compression algorithm. The compressed output was then encrypted using IDEA and inserted into the low-order bits of each color value. As can be seen (or actually, cannot be seen), the existence of the information is completely invisible. It is equally invisible in the large, full-color version of the photo. The eye cannot easily distinguish 21-bit color from 24-bit color
Viewing the two images in black and white with low resolution does not do justice to how powerful the technique is. To get a better feel for how steganography works, we have prepared a demonstration, including the full-color highresolution image of Fig. 8-54(b) with the five plays embedded in it. The demonstration, including tools for inserting and extracting text into images, can be found at the book’s Web site.
To use steganography for undetected communication, dissidents could create a Web site bursting with politically correct pictures, such as photographs of the Great Leader, local sports, movie, and television stars, etc. Of course, the pictures would be riddled with steganographic messages. If the messages were first compressed and then encrypted, even someone who suspected their presence would have immense difficulty in distinguishing the messages from white noise. Of course, the images should be fresh scans; copying a picture from the Internet and changing some of the bits is a dead giveaway.
Images are by no means the only carrier for steganographic messages. Audio files also work fine. Hidden information can be carried in a voice-over-IP call by manipulating the packet delays, distorting the audio, or even in the header fields of packets (Lubacz et al., 2010). Even the layout and ordering of tags in an HTML file can carry information.
Although we have examined steganography in the context of free speech, it has numerous other uses. One common use is for the owners of images to encode secret messages in them stating their ownership rights. If such an image is stolen and placed on a Web site, the lawful owner can reveal the steganographic message in court to prove whose image it is. This technique is called watermarking. It is discussed in Piva et al. (2002).
For more on steganography, see Wayner (2008).
Privacy and censorship are just two areas where technology meets public policy. A third one is the copyright law. Copyright is granting to the creators of IP (Intellectual Property), including writers, poets, artists, composers, musicians, photographers, cinematographers, choreographers, and others, the exclusive right to exploit their IP for some period of time, typically the life of the author plus 50 years or 75 years in the case of corporate ownership. After the copyright of a work expires, it passes into the public domain and anyone can use or sell it as they wish. The Gutenberg Project (www.promo.net/pg), for example, has placed thousands of public-domain works (e.g., by Shakespeare, Twain, and Dickens) on the Web. In 1998, the U.S. Congress extended copyright in the U.S. by another 20 years at the request of Hollywood, which claimed that without an extension nobody would create anything any more. By way of contrast, patents last for only 20 years and people still invent things.
Copyright came to the forefront when Napster, a music-swapping service, had 50 million members. Although Napster did not actually copy any music, the courts held that its holding a central database of who had which song was contributory infringement, that is, it was helping other people infringe. While nobody seriously claims copyright is a bad idea (although many claim that the term is far too long, favoring big corporations over the public), the next generation of music sharing is already raising major ethical issues.
For example, consider a peer-to-peer network in which people share legal files (public-domain music, home videos, religious tracts that are not trade secrets, etc.) and perhaps a few that are copyrighted. Assume that everyone is online all the time via ADSL or cable. Each machine has an index of what is on the hard disk, plus a list of other members. Someone looking for a specific item can pick a random member and see if he has it. If not, he can check out all the members in that person’s list, and all the members in their lists, and so on. Computers are very good at this kind of work. Having found the item, the requester just copies it.
If the work is copyrighted, chances are the requester is infringing (although for international transfers, the question of whose law applies matters because in some countries uploading is illegal but downloading is not). But what about the supplier? Is it a crime to keep music you have paid for and legally downloaded on your hard disk where others might find it? If you have an unlocked cabin in the country and an IP thief sneaks in carrying a notebook computer and scanner, scans a copyrighted book to the notebook’s hard disk, and sneaks out, are you guilty of the crime of failing to protect someone else’s copyright?
But there is more trouble brewing on the copyright front. There is a huge battle going on now between Hollywood and the computer industry. The former wants stringent protection of all intellectual property but the latter does not want to be Hollywood’s policeman. In October 1998, Congress passed the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which makes it a crime to circumvent any protection mechanism present in a copyrighted work or to tell others how to circumvent it. Similar legislation has been enacted in the European Union. While virtually no one thinks that pirates in the Far East should be allowed to duplicate copyrighted works, many people think that the DMCA completely shifts the balance between the copyright owner’s interest and the public interest.
A case in point: in September 2000, a music industry consortium charged with building an unbreakable system for selling music online sponsored a contest inviting people to try to break the system (which is precisely the right thing to do with any new security system). A team of security researchers from several universities, led by Prof. Edward Felten of Princeton, took up the challenge and broke the system. They then wrote a paper about their findings and submitted it to a USENIX security conference, where it underwent peer review and was accepted. Before the paper was to be presented, Felten received a letter from the Recording Industry Association of America that threatened to sue the authors under the DMCA if they published the paper.
Their response was to file a lawsuit asking a federal court to rule on whether publishing scientific papers on security research was still legal. Fearing a definitive court ruling against it, the industry withdrew its threat and the court dismissed Felten’s suit. No doubt the industry was motivated by the weakness of its case: it had invited people to try to break its system and then threatened to sue some of them for accepting its own challenge. With the threat withdrawn, the paper was published (Craver et al., 2001). A new confrontation is virtually certain.
Meanwhile, pirated music and movies have fueled the massive growth of peer-to-peer networks. This has not pleased the copyright holders, who have used the DMCA to take action. There are now automated systems that search peer-topeer networks and then fire off warnings to network operators and users who are suspected of infringing copyright. In the United States, these warnings are known as DMCA takedown notices. This search is an arms’ race because it is hard to reliably catch copyright infringers. Even your printer might be mistaken for a culprit (Piatek et al., 2008).
A related issue is the extent of the fair use doctrine, which has been established by court rulings in various countries. This doctrine says that purchasers of a copyrighted work have certain limited rights to copy the work, including the right to quote parts of it for scientific purposes, use it as teaching material in schools or colleges, and in some cases make backup copies for personal use in case the original medium fails. The tests for what constitutes fair use include (1) whether the use is commercial, (2) what percentage of the whole is being copied, and (3) the effect of the copying on sales of the work. Since the DMCA and similar laws within the European Union prohibit circumvention of copy protection schemes, these laws also prohibit legal fair use. In effect, the DMCA takes away historical rights from users to give content sellers more power. A major showdown is inevitable.
Another development in the works that dwarfs even the DMCA in its shifting of the balance between copyright owners and users is trusted computing as advocated by industry bodies such as the TCG (Trusted Computing Group), led by companies like Intel and Microsoft. The idea is to provide support for carefully monitoring user behavior in various ways (e.g., playing pirated music) at a level below the operating system in order to prohibit unwanted behavior. This is accomplished with a small chip, called a TPM (Trusted Platform Module), which it is difficult to tamper with. Most PCs sold nowadays come equipped with a TPM. The system allows software written by content owners to manipulate PCs in ways that users cannot change. This raises the question of who is trusted in trusted computing. Certainly, it is not the user. Needless to say, the social consequences of this scheme are immense. It is nice that the industry is finally paying attention to security, but it is lamentable that the driver is enforcing copyright law rather than dealing with viruses, crackers, intruders, and other security issues that most people are concerned about.
In short, the lawmakers and lawyers will be busy balancing the economic interests of copyright owners with the public interest for years to come. Cyberspace is no different from meatspace: it constantly pits one group against another, resulting in power struggles, litigation, and (hopefully) eventually some kind of resolution, at least until some new disruptive technology comes along.
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