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When a cloud of myopic myths envelop an issue like a purple haze, such that the conventional wisdom seems somehow contrived, carefully crafted, and conspicuously crapulous to the sober-minded, the conspiratorialy minded are apt to wonder if perhaps some sort of organized mind manipulation is at play. That said, in retrospect, the prevelant fantasies about the Internet as the last frontier of freedom seem suspiciously sanquine. Consider, for example, the widespread misconception that the Internet, which was designed by DARPA, a super spy agency, and is still controled by DARPA, a super spy aqency, was designed with our personal privacy and anonymity as part of its irrevocable architecture. Let's consider that idea.

John Markoff, the NYT technology writer, in an article about Sealand, an offshore server farm, entitled "Computer Rebels Plan Data Haven", July 8, 2000, quoted a computer guru who said that in the not too distant future, due to Internet and related technologies "it will be impossible to trace where money is and who has money and that will eventually force governments to move away from the income tax." Oh, goody! So much for death and taxes, or at least the income tax part. Trouble is, although this article and others like it might give us the impression that Sealand's server farm might concievably escape the Eye of Big Brother, or at least the All-Reaching Arm of the IRS, there was, as it turned out, no good reason to think so. True, Sealand was over 10 miles offshore from the U.K., and so, theoretically, it wasn't subject to English jurisdiction or law, but there are so many ways to reach out and crush someone, especially if that person happens to be connected to the Internet. But how, short of declaring war on Sealand, could Merry Old England keep Sealand under its thumb?

1) Go after their telephone service provider; 2) go after their credit-card service provider, e.g., Paypal; they can't do on-line business using cash, so without any credit-card processing service, they're stuck in the mud. 3) go after their ISP, e.g., AOL, or whoever provided them with internet service; customers can't drive to your shop and buy product if you're an on-line business only, so without the information highway's on-ramps, you're off the ranch. 4) go after the search engine portal, e.g., Yahoo or Google; doesn't do much good to have an internet-based business with no on-line exposure, no way for customers to find out that your out there, no billboard on the info highway; 5) go after the domain-name provider; any web site needs a domain name; no domain name, no website and no business. In other words, the Internet doesn't eliminate intermediaries but changes who they are: ISPs, search engines, browsers, physical networks, financial intermediaries, communication protocols, domain name providers, etc. To truly act without intermediaries means one must either act alone, else in a community that can act alone--the closest thing to that would not be an internet community of any kind, because any such community depends upon all of the aforementioned contingencies, but rather, say, an Amish community that can, to a large degree, manufacture what it needs without relying on the system. Even the very life blood of the internet, information, cannot be accessed without intermediaries that were previously unecessary; an on-line e-book requires a computer, electric power, and software to simply read a book, not to mention the infrastructure that may be necessary to download the book. This makes the individual more dependent, not less so, upon intermediaries, incl. the power grid, so far from making people more autonomous, the Internet makes them less so. So much for Markoff's hype about computer rebels working outside the system, so let's consider now the idea that the internet user is, if not independent or autonomous, at least anonymous.

In 1989, as recored in his book "The Cuckoo's Egg", Clifford Stoll, an astronomer at Lawrence Berkley Lab, managed to trace the location of a computer hacker located in Hannover Germany who had been breaking into computer systems in the United States. Despite the hacker's method of using mediate computers to cover his tracks, Stoll managed to trace the hacker's location at the University of Bremen. This would seem to suggest that any locational anonymity that's said to exist on the Internet is suspect, perhaps a temporary thing, and in any case, fail safe it evidently ain't--a fact Mr. Markoff might be thought to know, given that he helped track down the supposed uber-hacker Kevin Mitnick, not without the help of some friends in the intel community, after he'd made Mitnick into a front-page story. As it turned out, Mitnick wasn't much of a threat, not hard to find, not at all the imposing threat he'd been made out to be, and his location was triangulated without much ado or difficulty using cell phone technology that's now applicable to most of the wireless internet world. As these facts seem to suggest, the myth seems not to match the man, yet how many were ensared by the myth? Mitnick was tracked like a bug on a rug and blown up on the press like a hot-air baloon.

In the late 1990s, Marc Knobel, a French Jew, found Nazi hate sites on AOL and threatened a public relations war unless the offending sites were blocked. AOL closed the sites. As everybody should know by now, AOL is not your typical ISP. Located in Washington D.C. suburbia, AOL has it's finger on political realities that Silicon Valley Internet companies like Yahoo might much like to ignore, and evidently, judging by the ubiquity of AOL's distribution software CDs, which are pushed at FedEx Kinkos, CompUSA, and seemingly inumerable other retailers, not to mention the U.S. Post Office, a federal agency of all places--AOL is well-connected and well-liked by the powers that supposedly see all and be all. In any case, AOL eargerly complied with Knobel's complaint.

In 2000, Knobel hoped that a similar threat against Yahoo would yeild like results. His hopes were dashed, however. Yahoo, the brain child of two Stanford graduate students, Jerry Yan and David Filo, evidently adopted the politically incorrect view that only an un-American Net Nazi would seek to stiffle free speach on the Internet by appealing to restrictive French hate-crime laws. In any case, Yahoo did nothing to remmove the offensive content, perhaps giving Knobel and company the sense that they were being told to take a long hike on a short peer. It's hard to know how Knobel's Gestapo-Stopers might view Yahoo's unwillingness to jump at the opportunity to remmove offensive speach from cyberspace.

In any case, Knobel was not disuaded or detered. On April 11, 2000, he sued Yahooo in a French court on behalf of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism and others, who claimed in court that Yahoo's actions violated the French laws banning the import or trafficing of Nazi regalia in France. In a surprise ruling on May 22, 2000, the French court ruled that Yahoo was indeed obligated to prevent French web surfers from accessing the France-Forbidden Yahoo-based Nazi auctions sites on Yahoo claimed such filtering was not feasible, a technological impossibility: "Asking us to filter access to our sites according to the nationality of surfers is very naive." Evidently, even genius is not immune to propaganda.

Yahoo's impossiblity argument was based on prevalant but erroneous assumptions about the architecture of the internet, not the least of which is that the Net's architecture was written in stone, a theory since disproved by, among other things, China's Golden Shield system. Uncle Sam it was, not God, who ordained that there be 13 root servers under the control of the U.S. government, and after the 9-1l terror attack, some of Uncle Sam's employees in the FBI were the first to suggest the unthinkable: namely, that the Internet architecture be changed fundamentally, thus suggesting that perhaps Uncle Sam knew what "We the People" were programmed to know not.

It had been commonly thought, based on the writings of various mass media Internet hypesters, some of whom are arguably NSA assets or British Intelligence, that "the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it", and also, that the location of the interent users could not be identified. After all, the Net was not built with physical geography in mind. Neither Internet Protocol Addresses (each computer's numeric ID), nor Interent domain names, nor email addresses, were designed to dependably indicate the georaphical location of the computers on the Internet. As the world was recently told in Friedman's book, "The World is Flat", a book evidently not written for flatheads, the Internet was destined to render borders virtually nugatory and thus open closed societies. Yet these predictions never materialized and seem somewhat groundless given the fact that the Internet is controlled by 13 root servers, that these root servers are controlled by the U.S. government, and what's more, that a simple DoS (Denial of Service) hack attack against these servers has been known to nearly shut the Internet down for a time. No doubt, if hackers can do it, Uncle Sam's hackers can do it also.

To use the words of Bill Clinton's Internet Czar, Ira Magaziner: "The United States paid for the Internet, the Net was created under its auspices, and most importantly everything Jon [Postel] and Network Solutions [independent contractors] did were pursuant to governement contracts." Simply stated, the U.S government, nobody else, possessed ultimate authority over the Internet, and they had no scruples about asserting that authority if necessary.

Judge Gomez gave Yahoo two months to find out how to block French surfers, during which time Cryil Houri, another French Jew, the founder of a new American firm called InfoSplit, contacted the plaintiff's lawyer, Stephane Lilti, and told him that he had created an allegedly new technology that could identify and screen Internet content on the basis of its geographical source. It's reported that Houri, a pioneer in Internet geo-location technology, concluded in 1999 that the conventional wisdom about the Internet and territory was erroneous. But the idea of locating internet surfers in real space was not new. Since the early 1990s, Internet firms tried to discover the geographical identity of their customers.

Although Internet IP addresses do not direcly divulge the user's physical location, the information packets that make up Internet communications travel via computers whose location in real space is easy to identify. A "tracing" packet can repeort the list of computers through which a communication travels, thus permiting computers to determine the path that the packet traveled and identifying the closest source node, the computer closest to the computer from which the packet originated--usually servers of certain organizations, such as universities, quite often commercial ISPs. When cross checked against other IP databases that offer different data about the geographical locations and analyzed by sophisiticated computer algorithms, the location of Internet users can be determined with over 99 percent accuracy at the country level, but with less accuracy at the state and county level. A web operator can use this system to automatically identify the location of computer users seeking access to a web page and can display content that's customized according to the location of the web surfer. The process is invisible to the internet visitor.

Further, with AAA (adaptive antenna array) technology, which greatly increases the bandwith of wireless communications systems, wireless internet activity will doubtless increase, thus making it possible to identify the exact location of an internet user in real time using the same triagulation techniques used to pinpoint cell phone users. Wi-Fi will make it easier to track people geographically through radio signals and satellites while making Internet activity on portable devices, such as web-enabled phones or wear-cams, much more pervasive, thus allowing easier geographical tracking of more web users through the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that are built into such devices, in which case all the hype about the anonimity of Internet access and the untrackability of web surfers (via their computers) in real space in real time seems a red herring.


* Cookoo's Egg, Clifford Stoll, 1989, Pocket Books
* Net Spies, Andrew Gauntlett, 1999, Vision Paperbacks
* The Fugitive Game, Jonathan Littman, Little Brown & Company
* Who Controls the Internet, 2006, Tim Wu, Oxford University Press
* Brave New Unwired World, 2002, Alex Lightman, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
* "Computer Rebels Seek Data Haven", John Markoff, New York Times, June 4, 2000
* "Surveillance Nation", Dan Farmer, Technology Review, 2003 

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