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[infowar.de] Webzensur / J.Pike nimmt nichts vom Netz
Columbia Daily Spectator October 30, 2001
By Ben Wheeler,
Thomas Friedman calls it "Jihad Online." The Sept. 11
attackers used modern means: some used e-mail to
coordinate; they formed in decentralized networks,
thwarting attempts of counterintelligence to infiltrate
their structures; they chose recently built Boeing planes
as their weapons of destruction.
Yet at the same time, the attacks were shockingly
low-tech, practically involving kitchen utensils. And
though the network theory sounds fancy, in practice it
rests on old-fashioned secrecy and patience. Osama bin
Laden is perceived by the American public as a Luddite, a
kindred spirit of the Unabomber who envisions a society
lived out of caves. This image was constructed at least in
part by bin Laden himself, who chooses to pose in natural
settings as if in the field of battle, rather than in
comfortable dwellings indoors where he actually spends
most of his time.
But Islam's relationship toward modernity is far more
nuanced than commentators like the Times' Friedman would
have us believe. "What makes [the terrorists]
super-empowered, though," writes Friedman, "is their
genius at using the networked world, the Internet, and the
very high technology they hate to attack us."
Do members of al Qaeda hold opinions about technology
anywhere near as strongly as they do about United States
foreign policy? Not likely. But our government certainly
knows that they and other clandestine groups use
technology, as we all do, to further their aims. For this
reason, Congress has long worked to selectively block
their access to certain technologies.
A key technology that has aroused controversy is strong
cryptography, featured in applications like Pretty Good
Privacy (PGP, www.pgp.com/products/freeware) that allow
anyone to send encrypted messages readable only by the
intended recipient. The proliferation of PGP would mean an
FBI nightmare -- electronic communications that are
impossible to tap. Until recently, the government
classified PGP as an armament so potent that it was
illegal to export or post for downloading. In the name of
the surveillance powers of the FBI, the privacy of the
broader public was compromised.
Hacking also poses a complex problem in the eyes of the
government, though it is difficult to see how the
penalties introduced in last week's USA PATRIOT Act will
hinder terrorism. The list of "federal terrorism offenses"
now includes practically any low-level computer intrusion
-- even though such hacking was already a crime under
other laws. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil
liberties organization that focuses on computer-related
rights, warns that in addition to possible life-sentences,
the act means "adding broad pre-conviction asset seizure
powers and serious criminal threats to those who
'materially assist' or 'harbor' individuals suspected of
causing minimal damage to networked computers."
Other targets are Web sites, which face censorship both by
governments and by hosting companies. Since Sept. 11, many
Web pages that feature military blueprints, maps of
government facilities, or other sensitive material have
been voluntarily removed by their owners. Other sites
considered pro-terrorist have been taken down in the
United States and Britain, including 55 sites in a
jihad-related web ring that Yahoo disabled at the request
of federal agents.
Completely removing information from the Internet,
however, is not easy. Sites are frequently mirrored by
other sites, cached by individual browsers, or stored by
search engines for later searching. Even when sites are
taken down, a copy usually remains at google.com, which
has the Web's most prominent cache of much of the Web.
Google.com has offered to remove its cached copies, but
not all censors know it exists. As a spokesman for
militant site azzam.com told The Wall Street Journal, "One
cannot shut down the Internet."
It often makes sense to censor sites that pose a clear
danger to the public good; consider sites that provide
home addresses of doctors who perform abortions. But cause
for censoring websites is frequently ambiguous. When the
company that hosts azzam.com received threats and requests
-- including one originating from the FBI -- that the site
be disabled, they complied. Of course, there is no way now
to evaluate the decision, since we don't know what the
offending content was.
Nor is censorship consistent. Some sites in the
Azzam-affiliated Qoqaz network have been shut down; others
have not. The Qoqaz France site remains, linking to bin
Laden videos and featuring the quote, "Only jihad and the
gun. NO negotiation, NO conferences, and NO dialogue."
Should it, too, be unequivocally censored? Because
censorship, once in place, is unequivocal.
Censorship can also be pointless. When John Pike of
globalsecurity.org was asked to pull old military data
from his sites, he looked at the information and decided
the request was mere paranoia. "Apart from demonstrating
the fact that these facilities exist," Pike said, "there
was nothing that would help a terrorist planning an
attack." He decided to keep the info on the site.
The current wave of censorship is nothing if not reckless,
and legislation is not far behind. The biggest problem
with the measures being passed during this period of
urgency is that they are as permanent as all laws are.
Later sessions of Congress may realize the dangers of such
draconian measures, but they will be loath to strike down
legislation so deeply associated with patriotism. After
all, restricting Internet rights may have nothing at all
to do with fighting terrorism. But protecting these rights
amid the fervor for security? That would be downright
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