Internet Crackdown in Oceania and Eurasia

In the news in Oceania:

“The investigation and prosecution of child predators depends critically on the availability of evidence that is often in the hands of Internet service providers,” he said. “This evidence will be available for us to use only if the providers retain the records for a reasonable amount of time.

“Unfortunately, the failure of some Internet service providers to keep records has hampered our ability to conduct investigations in this area,” he added.

ISPs Urged to Fight Child Porn, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says Internet service providers are being too lax. Red Herring, April 21, 2006

He also proposed mandatory government-issued labels on any "obscene" web pages. We’ve been through this argument before, several times.

The Clinton administration proposed similar labels, and the Internet industry successfully argued for self-policing. The FBI and others have all along treated wiretaps as a natural right, just because they have them for telephones, and they got wiretaps for the Internet written into law way back in 1994: Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA), Pub. L. No. 103-414, 108 Stat. 4279. Yet the purpose of the Internet is not to make the job of law enforcement easy at the expense of civil liberties and business profits. If the government can’t catch child pornographers when they already have CALEA and the Patriot Act to assist them, why is that the ISPs’ fault?

Meanwhile, in Eurasia:

Russian human rights groups certainly do not object to the closure of ultranationalist websites. But the parliament’s drive to create a new law covering Internet content has many activists worried that this legislation could be used to clamp down on opposition websites.

Aleksandr Cherkasov, a senior member of the Russian human rights organization Memorial, shares these concerns: "Printed Nazi publications were not prosecuted for many years. Of course, one can regulate the whole Internet under the pretext that Koptsev read things on the Internet, but one has to understand that this regulation will not aim to achieve the stated goal, but to apply legislation where, according to current political standards, there is a need to look for extremism."

The Internet has already landed Memorial, a vocal critic of the Kremlin’s policies, in trouble with the authorities.

On February 26, Moscow prosecutors ordered Memorial to withdraw from its website a text in which a top Russian mufti discusses a series of trials against people accused of ties with the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

This group, which seeks to establish a caliphate in Central Asia but formally rejects violence, was banned in Russia as a terrorist organization in 2003.

Memorial pulled the text from its website, but Cherkasov says the organization intends to challenge the prosecutors’ order in court.

Russia: Authorities Warn Of Cybercrime Epidemic Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev on April 19 called on the world to join forces against criminal groups and international scammers operating via the Internet. Speaking at a two-day conference on cybercrime and cyberterrorism, Nurgaliyev also voiced concern over the unimpeded circulation of extremist, racist, and pornographic material on the Internet. His remarks come amid renewed efforts by Russia’s parliament to draft legislation aimed at tightening control over the Internet. By Claire Bigg RFE/RL, MOSCOW, April 20, 2006

Miniluv will soon have the Internet merged with the controled telescreen in both Oceania and Eurasia. George Orwell just got the date slightly wrong.

Taking my Orwell hat off, I have to say I’m in favor of collective action to counter aggregate damage from criminals and other miscreants on the Internet, and government has many roles to play in that. But I don’t see that putting the Internet under direct state control is the answer, neither in the U.S. nor in Russia. Governments have a very bad track record in mandating technology, and this time would be no better. State control of the Internet is not a way to make the U.S. or Russia more competitive or safer; it’s a way backwards while the rest of the world forges ahead. That’s not good risk management.