Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Showdown on the wild wild web?

For a long time, the internet was a pretty lawless place.

Files containing all manner of copyrighted and sometimes illegal information was swapped with impunity -- simply because the Net operated beneath the radar of "the powers that be".

Those who used the internet were geeks or academics who were of little importance or interest to lawmakers and enforcers. Nobody much cared what a spotty-faced teen did in the small hours of the night while locked up in their dingy rooms, washing down pizzas with copious volumes of Coca Cola to the flickering light of a computer screen.

Of course that's all changed now.

Net-connected PCs are ubiquitous, most homes having several and very few businesses capable of surviving without such a tool.

As a result, the Net and those who use it are very much in the spotlight -- the target of much surveillance by police, intelligence and other agencies, quietly watching for signs of "offending".

This surveillance has been helped along by generous "lobbying" from the creative industries who see their copyrights being treated with contempt by armies of consumers who feel they have a right to trade music and movie files online.

Then there are the reactionary hackers who choose to engage in cyber-attacks against any individual, government or corporation that they feel is acting unjustly. Anonymous is perhaps the highest profile of these groups -- and "the powers that be" are now acting very swiftly to try and crush this movement.

According to recent media reports, Interpol has just arrested 25 alleged members of the Anonymous group in the wake of recent attacks against US Government agencies -- mainly in protest of the arrest of Kim Dotcom.

The majority of the suspects were from Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain -- where agents also seized phones, computers and cash.

It strikes me that we're rapidly reaching a point were full-blown war is about to break out.

A massive army of young people with plenty of time on their hands and who are intensely irritated at the authoritarian clamp-down on what they see are their "rights" while online may soon become a might adversary for law-enforcement agencies.

If they thought that Anonymous was a problem, wait until these clever, time-rich kids start organising themselves (using the net as a communications medium) to really create trouble.

Unless efforts are taken to defuse this looming conflict, I suspect that there's a good chance everyone will suffer the fallout.

As key systems and services are attacked by the youth forces I have no doubt that authorities will seek to clamp down even further on internet freedoms -- thus aggravating the situation. Eventually we (the regular Net users) may find that the speed and reliability of the Net is compromised by the fallout from this war.

Perhaps it will result in a global "internet licensing" scheme, whereby all those wishing to access the Net will have to authenticate their true identity before being allowed through the door to cyberspace.

Maybe it will simply be that the levels of surveillance and the number of DOS attacks brings the Net to a crawl -- ankle-tapping legitimate traffic in the process.

Of course it might be that I'm just in a pessimistic mood and looking at the worst possible outcome for a situation that could perhaps resolve itself without a drop of cyberblood being spilled.

But somehow, I don't think so.

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