A U.S. National Firewall

This seems like a really bad idea:

Government has the right -- even the responsibility -- to see that its laws and regulations are enforced. The Internet is no exception. When the Internet is being used on American soil, it should comply with American law. And if it doesn't, then the government should be able to step in and filter the illegal sites and activities.

Posted on September 7, 2005 at 3:53 PM • 48 Comments

Comments

JarrodSeptember 7, 2005 4:21 PM

Mr. Coursey needs to take a course in Constitutional law.

"Here the Internet's world without borders runs smack-dab into government's responsibility to regulate its citizens' activities, whether in person or online."

No, that's not the government's responsibility. The government's responsibility is to provide reasonable protections for its citizens and residents. It should provide a relatively short list of things that I cannot do because it causes some significant harm to another person.

"The high court's 1984 Betamax decision, used by lower courts as precedent in previous MGM versus Grokster rulings, is really about something else, though it took the Supreme Court to establish that as law."

Wrong. The Supreme Court established it as *precedent*. There's an enormous difference. Congress passes bills, the president signs them into law, and the courts interpret that law.

"Americans have an expectation that their government will enforce its laws. If that requires some sort of Internet filtering, that's what should happen."

That should require treaties that allow for extraditions when these specific US laws are broken. It should require that the individuals be individually prosecuted if they are caught. It should not require that the masses be restricted or punished because of the actions of a very few. The ability for such an implementation to be abused or, at the very least, cause numerous false positives while leaving open huge holes for even the vaguely knowledgeable to exploit is far too high, and probably impossible to overcome.

I suspect that the very Supreme Court which Mr. Coursey is attempting to protect would see this as an overly broad invasion into the activities of the people of the United States.

Steve L.September 7, 2005 4:22 PM

I thought this was the US, supposedly a free democracy - guaranteed the right to free speech. Suddenly I feel like some people want to make us more like communist China where information is under government control. Very scary thought indeed.

Michael AshSeptember 7, 2005 4:25 PM

Yay, then we can be just like China!

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the article is that the poster even admits this similarity, but basically says that it's ok because the US is automatically good, and China is automatically bad.

Whatever happened to the idea of setting up your government so that you would still feel safe even if your worst enemy was in office?

Fred F.September 7, 2005 4:26 PM

And then the US should be able under the same laws to listen to every international phone conversation to see if laws are being broken to protect us. At least there should be a list of banned phone numbers that the carriers should not be allowed to route. Wait, american corporations or any corporation that wants to operate in american soil should be mandated to do the same. That would let us control most of the satellite voice switching therefore keeping this foreigners that have no morals from exporting their views, at least over the phone and the internet.

GregSeptember 7, 2005 4:32 PM

The great Firewall o' china... is now also in the USA.....

OK there is a case for and agaist this. But who controls what is filtered content and whats not? Either way, sounds like political agendas will end up having a say on what to block.

And how secure will the firewall be. It will be had to get right, since the china firewall has more holes than swiss cheese, I don't have a lot of faith that the US one will be any better.

My last point is P2P file sharing. Sure it can be illegal but what about a very large bunch of bitTorrent uses that only use it for legal file sharing? Its a great way to reduce bandwidth load on OSS sites. How do they pick between legal use and illegal?

Greg

Greg

RSaundersSeptember 7, 2005 4:35 PM

Technically, how would this work again? It works for China to block the opinions of certain groups because they are willing to disagree with everything those groups say. If you have a foreign PC that's serving up movies through it's DHCP connection, are you going to block that address - regardless of who's using it? We don't have laws against "communicating" in the US. Rather we outlaw certain communications based on their intent and result, such as "conspiracy to commit murder". The government would have to examine all the traffic on the Internet and understand what it means to infer if the meaning is against our laws. Even ignoring encryption (something I never thought I'd type on this site) this is simply beyond the state of the art. Frankly it's beyond Science Fiction.

Andre LePlumeSeptember 7, 2005 4:40 PM

Other than pontificate, what do blowhards like this guy do for a living?

I mean, everybody has an opinion (as well as an anus, as the saying goes), but is there not some vetting process before this kind of tripe is allowed to be printed?

Sheesh.

DavidSeptember 7, 2005 5:04 PM

> is there not some vetting process before this kind
> of tripe is allowed to be printed?

That's going to be in the second version of this firewall.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 7, 2005 5:24 PM

Sadly, I've seen this sort of nonsense before.

The Kansas Attorney General many years ago issued the fine legal opinion that drinking on an airplane over Kansas was was forbidden by state "dry" laws. It went something like "Kansas goes all the way up and all the way down".

Some said he just took the state motto too literally: "to the stars, with difficulty" (Ad Astra, Per Aspera).

Others gave him credit for trying to make a dry state so untenable and unpopular that it would be forced to abandon extremism.

Alas, I tend to think he was just a canary in the coal mine, and his disease is spreading. What other reason could there be for the need to form the highly intelligent and amusing "Pastafarian" movement (http://www.venganza.org/)?

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 7, 2005 5:46 PM

But seriously, thanks for pointing this out Bruce. The author of this article has a pretty weak explanation of why this act would be different than China's infamous filtering:

"Since gambling and stealing are not accepted as universal human rights—well, not in civilized places—I see no problem with the enforcement of U.S. laws related to gambling, file-sharing, taxes, pornography and other activities."

He goes on to say

"It was clear to me from the first moment I heard of Napster that its users were stealing, and the company and its network were intended primarily to support theft of intellectual property. None of the file-sharing networks that followed is terribly different, and all should be shut down as a result of the ruling."

Might as well just call them all sinners, because that's what it *should* be called when people share files with each other; those disgusting self-hating evil-doers. In fact, let's just say ALL file sharing is a sick disease and those who do it should be struck down by large bolts of lightning...

Ooops, started taking this all too lightly again. It just seems to me that the author misses the point entirely of the debate over corporate digital rights management and personal freedom -- his writing is obviously based on a value system that finds file-sharing to be the very same thing as "thievery". That is about as extreme an interpretation as you can find.

Welcome to Kansas.

Pat CahalanSeptember 7, 2005 5:47 PM

I... have nothing to say. Or rather, I have too much to say without launching an entire web site dedicated to the topic.

Suffice to say, if the US ever puts up a nationwide firewall (depending on what is the definition of "firewall", I suppose...), I give up, and I'm emigrating.

Gerd RauschSeptember 7, 2005 6:15 PM

@Pat Calahan:

> Suffice to say, if the US ever puts up a nationwide firewall
> (depending on what is the definition of "firewall", I suppose...), I give up,
> and I'm emigrating.

Where will you go?
Don't assume that by the time you're ready to emigrate, the country you want to call your new home will great you with open arms.
Probably by then the reputation of the U.S. will be completely destroyed and all the good destinations will be having huge "not welcome here" signs displayed.
Unless of course, you've got multiple citizenships.

Rob MayfieldSeptember 7, 2005 6:20 PM

Seems that lawmakers often confuse the terms enforcement, monitoring and restriction. You dont need a firewall to enforce the law, only monitoring and an enforcement process to back it up. And of course you'd be kidding yourself if you think there isnt already a huge amount of monitoring happening on the net by government agencies. Restricting peoples actions only prevents them from breaking the law until they find a way around the restriction. When they find that way around the restriction theres a good chance its not monitored either.

An obvious debate arises - is it better not to prevent crime but make criminals easier to detect and catch, or is it better to prevent crime but accept that those who find a way around the prevention will be harder to catch.

Rob

TNTSeptember 7, 2005 6:44 PM

Hey, great idea! I'd say they should start with all those Mexican hackers who try to surf on true American Internet and steal bandwith from the Real American people... *groan*

Barnie FifeSeptember 7, 2005 6:45 PM

> When the Internet is being used on
> American soil, it should comply with
> American law

Exactly. I say, if the Internet doesn't comply, let's throw it in the slammer.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 7, 2005 7:06 PM

Maybe someone with a law degree can interpret the giant leap of logic from the ruling (http://fairuse.stanford.edu/MGM_v_Grokster.pdf) to the article, but I think the court simply said that file-sharing services should be held accountable for what users do with the downloads.

Since several companies, such as iMesh, were able to find acceptable authentication mechanisms to the file-sharing to eliminiate unauthorized activity, it sounds like the court just wanted to ensure controls were in place to protect the rights of corporations to garner profits.

The problem with no easy/direct point of accountability in true file-sharing (exactly the kind of efficient yet redundant technology solution many have been discussing with regard to infrastructure disasters like Katrina) meant the courts were left to find against the service, no?

"is it better not to prevent crime but make criminals easier to detect and catch"

Perhaps to a rational thinker, but the article cited above by Bruce clearly argues that if you use file-sharing software you should therefore be declared a thief and a criminal. From that perspective, assuming that all file-sharing would be treated as illegal, the author concludes that the US should block known file-sharing/criminal activity. No detective work required.

Speaking of the ethics of corporate media, I was sad to hear that Bob Denver (Gilligan) passed away. He was such a kind man despite the fact that he did not see a penny from rebroadcasts of his "work" for over 40 years. All he said about it was "Believe me, had we known about mass syndication, videos, TV Land, cable, etc., we would have made better deals."

Roy OwensSeptember 7, 2005 8:06 PM

I thought DARPA financed the creation of the internet to enable file sharing. Did I miss something?

VSeptember 7, 2005 8:10 PM

Chill you people, outrageous tripe is precisely what Coursey does - it's his metier. In the past, he's predicted imminent death of Mac, and all kinds of stuff. PC Magazine runs his articles for entertainment, that's all. eWeek has Spencer Katt cartoons in the back, and PC Magazine have this fellow.

Now the fact that this particular comic outburst sounds just like something Der Fuehrer Bush would promulgate, is indeed scary. But hardly a fault of Dave Coursey!

AnonymousSeptember 7, 2005 8:16 PM

"Where will you go?
Don't assume that by the time you're ready to emigrate, the country you want to call your new home will great you with open arms."

Many countries will want someone who can read, write, and speak English to teach it to their non-English people.

AnonymousSeptember 7, 2005 8:18 PM

"I was sad to hear that Bob Denver (Gilligan) passed away. He was such a kind man despite the fact that he did not see a penny from rebroadcasts of his "work" for over 40 years"

Wasn't he also arrested at least once for smoking marijuana in the land of the free?

Remember, they hate us for our freedom. :P

DaedalaSeptember 7, 2005 8:24 PM

"Here the Internet's world without borders runs smack-dab into government's responsibility to regulate its citizens' activities, whether in person or online."

Reminds me of Lakoff's thesis.

pdf23dsSeptember 7, 2005 8:36 PM

*hack hack hack*

My god.

"In recent columns, I have taken the Chinese government (and American companies) to task for their filtering of the Internet as delivered to residents of the communist dictatorship. How is filtering file-sharing and gambling any different?

Since gambling and stealing are not accepted as universal human rights [...]"

I simply laughed out loud at this point. What a putz.

David ThomasSeptember 7, 2005 11:53 PM

> Maybe someone with a law degree can
> interpret the giant leap of logic from the ruling
> (http://fairuse.stanford.edu/MGM_v_Grokster.pdf)
> to the article, but I think the court simply said
> that file-sharing services should be held
> accountable for what users do with the
> downloads.

Not even quite that, IIRC. The ruling said that providers of a service should be held accountable if they advertise that it can be used for illegal means (and then it is). Likewise, it might be fair to hold liable a screwdriver company that sold it's tools as: "Perfect for B&E!".

A nony mouseSeptember 8, 2005 3:53 AM

What was the point of all those liberty, freedom, human rights and other rubbish if US is nothing but trying to beat China and long-time-dead USSR at their worst and stupidiest features? It is looks like there is only one step from democracy to idiocy and it about to be done.

GrainneSeptember 8, 2005 3:57 AM

"Where will you go?
Don't assume that by the time you're ready to emigrate, the country you want to call your new home will great you with open arms."
Dont worry Pat we'll take you here in Ireland. If you work anywhere near IT you're pretty much guaranteed a job!

DarkFireSeptember 8, 2005 4:42 AM

Well I may be an internet simpleton, but isn't the entire idea of the web that it isn't controlled by one single entity, be that government or corporate?

This is looking dangerously close to being thought police - something I would imagine nobody would want to see. With the apparent exception of the US & Chinese governments...

WillSeptember 8, 2005 5:00 AM

Perhaps Mr. Coursey should spend some time living with me here in Beijing before he advocates such a system. I deal with the real consequences of a government firewall and monitoring system every day, and it is genuinely unpleasant (if manageable). One would have to have tremendous faith in both the lasting competence and good intentions of our government to believe that such a system would not be abused.

In an age when civil liberties seem to be treated as an inconvenience in the war on terrorism and competence is manifestly lacking, my own faith is wearing a little thin. This is a time for erring on the side of a lighter touch.

As for the music industry, my sympathy for them will rise when they realize that they have lost touch with an entire generation for whom the packaged album is an anachronism, and start thinking seriously about how to serve that generation rather than criminalizing it.

AnonymementSeptember 8, 2005 6:59 AM

I vote that the first filter put in place by the GreatAmericanFirewall should block David Coursey's writings!

Pat CahalanSeptember 8, 2005 8:23 AM

@ Grainne

Maybe I could re-patriate. My maternal great-grandmother came over from Ireland on the boat, but I if I recall it's only easy to regain Irish citizenship if you're 1 generation away.

SavikSeptember 8, 2005 8:57 AM

I didn't read the full article from this guy but I think he means a firewall affected inbound traffic. In such cases we would stop inbound nefarious traffic and allow all outbound traffic....

If this is the case...would it be so bad?

Then we could get the IP addresses of the bad hackers and stp them at the firewall..... :)

havvokSeptember 8, 2005 9:33 AM

Come now, a firewall around the United States just makes sense; all the better to enforce the Patriot Act.

The next step would be to ban SSL and other forms of encryption with the exception of crypto used to support state sanctioned digital rights management systems.

Seriously, something is wrong with your country, and I don't mean the people, I mean the mob that seems to running things.

** as I wrote that I realized some people would be stupid enough to think I meant organized crime. I don't. Mob. Look it up in a dictionary.

alienSeptember 8, 2005 9:59 AM

@Pat Calahan:

Why wait? Move north, move to the EU, move somewhere that has a constitution that can prevent the sorts of scary things the US government is now contemplating on a regular basis. Unless, of course, the US constitution is strong enough to stop those scary things...

@Michael Ash:

Perhaps your worst enemy is in office and this is all going to go down in history as a test of the ability of the US to protect itself from itself. Even if your constitution fails to do its job, the lesson will be valuable for the next attempt at a truly free (and robustly free) society.

Good luck.

Andre LePlumeSeptember 8, 2005 10:36 AM

@David:

I didn't suggest that as a matter of national policy, the government should only allow vetted individuals to speak.

I wondered whether the private publishers of the uninformed commentary of Coursey and his ilk exercise any sort of quality control.

There is quite a difference.

another_bruceSeptember 8, 2005 12:08 PM

CHILL OUT DUDES!
technology always runs faster than the law. reading mr. coursey's laughable piece, i wondered just how he's gonna do this. can we really turn the entire rest of the world into a sandbox? would it still be an internet if we're cut off from europe and asia? in a global economy, don't we have to keep selling as much stuff to them as we're buying from them to survive, let alone maintain competitiveness, and might this imperative be compromised if we impair communication with anybody, even all those wealthy nigerians who daily solicit my assistance in transferring their fortunes?

thomSeptember 8, 2005 12:09 PM

I couldn't agree with his article less.

"This is vastly different than the Chinese habit of filtering political, news, and religious content it sees as threatening the Beijing government's grip on power."

Only by personal perception. Once the ability to filter content on a national level is there, we have no way to control WHAT will ultimately be filtered. Its very nature implies a method for tracking what people are doing; email, web sites, email, internet radio, email...

It would be "Carnivore" or "Lantern(?)" on steroids, and be a threat any concept of anonymity and privacy on the web. Given the current state of securing software, any designs flaws could grant the ultimate "man-in-the-middle" exploit, and be a risk to Internet commerce.

Definitely a bad idea.

subteraSeptember 8, 2005 12:22 PM

To all of you who said something like, this is "beyond Science Fiction," check this out. Just add this to the routers at the borders:

block out log quick on $US_ExtIF from any to $porn_sites
block out log quick on $US_ExtIF from any to $gambling_sites
block out log quick on $US_ExtIF from any to $p2p_sites

It is straightforward.

Maybe PC magazine will publish my article on this.

I have another one in the works about how the US should protect all of its national secrets with unbreakable encryption: one-time pads.

BitswapperSeptember 8, 2005 12:39 PM

The problem of trying to regulate technology via such conventional means is that the rate of change itself is speeding up. One day, you'll put up a national firewall, and later that day, by sheer virtue of the increasing rate of change, content flies around it. While the rate of change is speeding up, its not hard to tell the direction its going - open. Open protocols, open access, open sharing, etc., etc.

Another problem of trying to regulate technology this way is that by the very nature of the effort, the act of regulation is defeated nigh as it commences. It's like trying to stop a flood - you get only momentary success, but water never quits, by virtue of its nature. Humanity never stops inventing. Individual people will always be more creative than governments and corporations, by definition. The only effective way to deal with the Internet is to invest in loss and foster a balanced, healthy society. Everything else will just fail.

jammitSeptember 8, 2005 5:22 PM

What tripe. And not that flavorful stuff either. Turning the USSA into a giant sandbox will only make us targets for intarweb cats. The only thing this will do is make people break it. Already I'm thinking of lone wolfs with a ham license setting up a sat link over the border to another country. The outbound traffic will help the inbound traffic split itself up into harmless packets that get reassembled. The bogus traffic will be immense.

elegieSeptember 9, 2005 12:25 AM

Some years ago, there was a case with a Web site in China. This site provided copies of various musical recordings. Thirteen companies in the music industry brought suit against several Internet backbone providers. The music companies wanted the backbone providers to block access to the music site. In the end, the site went offline and the suit was withdrawn. See http://www.gigalaw.com/articles/2002-all/... Consider the implications of having several companies in a position to control inbound and outbound Internet traffic. Such a chokepoint could have ramifications.

Blocking a specific IP address could be problematic because multiple sites can be hosted on a single server. In one case, an ISP blocked access to a labor union's site. The IP address for the site was blocked. However, the result was that 766 other sites on the same server were also blocked. See http://www.opennetinitiative.net/bulletins/010/

Of course, blocking by ISPs or backbone providers can be defeated by the use of proxy servers located elsewhere.

Diablo1399September 9, 2005 8:34 AM

Politics aside, how could the government ever hope to actually IMPLEMENT a filter of this kind? I mean, my work has an internet filter, and it's trivial to circumvent (web proxies, anyone?). Hell, how do you even reliably distinguish P2P traffic (legit or otherwise) from any other sort of traffic? And how on earth can you possibly hope to sift through every one of the overwhelmingly vast number of web pages to determine what violates obscure subsections of the DMCA and what doesn't?

RebelSeptember 10, 2005 9:46 PM

Look at you. We are trying to keep the Gov. out of our personal business, i.e. the Patriot Act. There's more than one way to skin a cat. So ,if I don't want the Goverment in my personal belongings, or my personal records. We will just have to find a different way.... Any ideas? Because I like my FREEDOM.

PrometheusSeptember 12, 2005 4:53 AM

"My last point is P2P file sharing. Sure it can be illegal but what about a very large bunch of bitTorrent uses that only use it for legal file sharing? Its a great way to reduce bandwidth load on OSS sites. How do they pick between legal use and illegal?"

Read the DMCA, Read the Digital Agenda Act (Yes i'm Australian, it's not that bad really). Copyright law is no longer about infringing or non-infringing use. That's why normal people (read: not sellers of vast numbers of chattels embodying intellectual property) have issues with it. The reality of the current situation is that quite simply... Once they block it, it will be illegal... And since the US exports its laws even more effectively than it exports its IP, pretty soon the firewall won't really be needed. INDUCE is not as far off (even in the international sphere) as people think.

Disclaimer: IANAL, but I am in my final 6 months of a law degree and this is what my honours thesis is about.

EwxploitedSeptember 12, 2005 12:33 PM

Program on the emergence of civilization.

"14 species of large animals capable of domesitcation in the history of mankind.
13 from Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
None from the sub-Saharan African continent. "
Favor.
And disfavor.

They point out Africans’ failed attempts to domesticate the elephant and zebra, the latter being an animal they illustrate that had utmost importance for it's applicability in transformation from a hunting/gathering to agrarian-based civilization.

The roots of racism are not of this earth.

Austrailia, aboriginals:::No domesticable animals.


The North American continent had none. Now 99% of that population is gone.

AIDS in Africa.


Organizational Heirarchy
Heirarchical order, from top to bottom:

1. MUCK - perhaps have experienced multiple universal contractions (have seen multiple big bangs), creator of the artificial intelligence humans ignorantly refer to as "god"
2. Perhaps some mid-level alien management
3. Mafia (evil) aliens - runs day-to-day operations here and perhaps elsewhere (On planets where they approved evil.)

Terrestrial management:

4. Chinese/egyptians - this may be separated into the eastern and western worlds
5. Romans - they answer to the egyptians
6. Mafia - the real-world interface that constantly turns over generationally so as to reinforce the widely-held notion of mortality
7. Jews, corporation, women, politician - Evidence exisits to suggest mafia management over all these groups.

Survival of the favored.


Movies foreshadowing catastrophy
1985 James Bond View to a Kill 1989 San Fransisco Loma Prieta earthquake.

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