March 30, 2004

The Revolutionary Net

No doubt there will be an awful lot of outrage over this article at The New Republic and with good reason. There are two problems with the article, the first is in its misunderstanding the net. The second is its misunderstanding dictatorships. First the Internet. We're currently in a space crunch on the Internet, which is what is making it possible, temporarily, to keep track of sites that offer political subversion.

With the adoption of IPv6 by decade's end, the problem of political filtering can be solved by making redirection costs tax deductible for political site redirection. What this means is that if you run an appliance on your network (in your huge public address space that you're never going to fill anyway), the costs of that appliance in bandwidth and electricity and capital costs would be tax deductible.

At that point, any domain, with very innocuous dns entries, can serve as a conduit for political dissent. Sure, the same technology could be used for nefarious purposes to make the Internet safe for pedophiles, but nobody's going to make that tax deductible so the good is very likely to outweigh the bad. Huge address spaces make filtering efforts impractical for speech that is licit in many countries. It's only a temporary architectural artifact that the network can be tracked at all.

Beyond cheap and plentiful redirection, encryption is going to be standard for the network with IPv6. This makes things very uncomfortable for information controllers. They either mandate insecure communication and live with the e-commerce black hole they have created, losing out on millions in transactions, or they accept commercial encryption and thus, the political encryption that will inevitably piggyback onto it.

But the biggest problem in the article is that it downplays the importance of civic society. Falun Gong was completely ignored by the PRC's security forces as a low level threat until they tweaked the noses of Beijing's communist elite by assembling, essentially, the PRC's first flashmob. A certain percentage of civic organizations in a dictatorship will 'go rogue' from the dictatorship's point of view. It is inevitable and completely unpredictable what will set them off. Thus civic organizations have always been highly controlled and heavily penetrated. But in the Internet age, my wife partakes in a worldwide conspiracy of mothers. Most days they talk about breast milk v. formula but some days things get quite a bit more subversive. Romania's a democratic republic, not a dictatorship but the exact same thing can happen in the PRC, Singapore, or any other wired authoritarian state.

They are all growing their civic organizations and this very connectivity will both make their societies better and enable the connectivity that is necessary to create revolution. And it will always come from where we all least expect.

Posted by TMLutas at March 30, 2004 10:31 AM