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Professor Says We Are Headed For Worldwide Internet Censorship Controlled By Corporations

A University of British Columbia Professor says censorship has become a worldwide norm and that new laws will control what you read or see on the internet.

Ron Deibert (PhD, University of British Columbia) is Associate Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.

The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary research and development hothouse working at the intersection of the Internet, global security, and human rights.

As a political scientist at U of T he is involved in several collaborative cyberspace R&D projects. He is also a co-founder and a principal investigator of the Information Warfare Monitor and  OpenNet Initiative projects. Mr Deibert will be speaking at SC Congress Canada in June.

OpenNet document patterns of Internet censorship and surveillance worldwide.

“We hold a mirror to state-based and other forms of Internet filtering, going back to 2002,” he said. “Every year we test in over 70 countries using field research and technical interrogation methods.”

Generally speaking in the early part of 2000s, governments either didn't care or were oblivious to what was happening on the Internet. Today censorship has become a worldwide norm. In addition countries are applying next generation controls.

“They’re engaging in offensive activities and surveillance implementing new laws that bring in a climate of censorship, and in some cases forcing ISPs to do the policing for them.”

The Information Warfare Monitor focuses on cyber warfare and espionage. Tracking Ghostnet and Shadows in the Cloud, published in 2010, both originated in the office of the Dalai Lama.

“Our aim was to investigate cyber espionage networks,” Mr Deibert said. “So we figured it would be at a targeted organization with lax security. We also had good relations with the Tibetan government in exile through our field researchers.”

What they didn’t realize is that the same attackers had simultaneously infiltrated hundreds of high-level targets, including many governments.

“We’re trying to understand how it’s being contested, and how governments and other authorities are exercising their power in this domain. Cyberspace is a new domain of geopolitical contestation. We want to outline several complimentary forces that are leading to a watershed moment in the history and character of cyberspace.”

The major forces are first a demographic shift, from the north and west to the south and east of the planet. The northern democratic countries where the knowledge economy was formed are being overtaken by the developing countries.

Asia for example has 40% of the Internet population, yet it ranks sixth in terms of penetration. There’s a huge growth potential that will dwarf the number of users that come from places like Toronto or Silicon Valley or Washington DC.

Most discussion occurs inside policy circles, within constituencies that assume things — such as inside the Beltway.

“In fact the center of gravity of cyberspace is shifting before our eyes, and that will affect the character of cyberspace in ways we can’t predict.”

The Internet is expanding into countries that have long histories of state intervention.   

“We need to get used to that and think about what it means.”

Communities want to communicate in their own languages. That pressures linguistic domains, which in turn could lead to increasing government intervention in cyberspace.

“When we started there were only a handful of countries that filtered Internet content. Now there are over 30. Many are imposing requirements on ISPs to filter access to content. Not only is it legitimate for governments to intervene, but also they’re becoming more aggressive.”

Which leads to another factor – the militarization of the Internet. There’s a lot of hype and exaggeration about the idea of cyberwar. Yet there’s a ripple effect. With the creation of the US military Cyber Command it is now overt.

“What’s different is that armed forces of governments are tasked with building doctrines to fight and win wars in this domain," said Mr Deibert. "Many of these governments are looking to the underworld of cybercrime to give them an advantage. Both the attacks on Estonia and Russian-Georgian conflict involved the exploitation of cybercrime that were directed by Russian authorities, and also piled on by well-known criminal botnets.”

There is an arms race in cyberspace, and criminals are caught up in it.

“Now we have huge cold war behemoths partaking. That alone is an important force. Not just in terms of how the market is organized by defense expenditures, but also by the technology – deep packet inspection or computer exploitation tools.”  


Reference Sources
June 15, 2011


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