Using Law against Technology

On Thursday, a Brazilian judge ordered the text messaging service WhatsApp shut down for 48 hours. It was a monumental action.

WhatsApp is the most popular app in Brazil, used by about 100 million people. The Brazilian telecoms hate the service because it entices people away from more expensive text messaging services, and they have been lobbying for months to convince the government that it's unregulated and illegal. A judge finally agreed.

In Brazil's case, WhatsApp was blocked for allegedly failing to respond to a court order. Another judge reversed the ban 12 hours later, but there is a pattern forming here. In Egypt, Vodafone has complained about the legality of WhatsApp's free voice-calls, while India's telecoms firms have been lobbying hard to curb messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber. Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates blocked WhatsApp's free voice call feature.

All this is part of a massive power struggle going on right now between traditional companies and new Internet companies, and we're all in the blast radius.

It's one aspect of a tech policy problem that has been plaguing us for at least 25 years: technologists and policymakers don't understand each other, and they inflict damage on society because of that. But it's worse today. The speed of technological progress makes it worse. And the types of technology­ -- especially the current Internet of mobile devices everywhere, cloud computing, always-on connections and the Internet of Things -- ­make it worse.

The Internet has been disrupting and destroying long-standing business models since its popularization in the mid-1990s. And traditional industries have long fought back with every tool at their disposal. The movie and music industries have tried for decades to hamstring computers in an effort to prevent illegal copying of their products. Publishers have battled with Google over whether their books could be indexed for online searching.

More recently, municipal taxi companies and large hotel chains are fighting with ride-sharing companies such as Uber and apartment-sharing companies such as Airbnb. Both the old companies and the new upstarts have tried to bend laws to their will in an effort to outmaneuver each other.

Sometimes the actions of these companies harm the users of these systems and services. And the results can seem crazy. Why would the Brazilian telecoms want to provoke the ire of almost everyone in the country? They're trying to protect their monopoly. If they win in not just shutting down WhatsApp, but Telegram and all the other text-message services, their customers will have no choice. This is how high-stakes these battles can be.

This isn't just companies competing in the marketplace. These are battles between competing visions of how technology should apply to business, and traditional businesses and "disruptive" new businesses. The fundamental problem is that technology and law are in conflict, and what's worked in the past is increasingly failing today.

First, the speeds of technology and law have reversed. Traditionally, new technologies were adopted slowly over decades. There was time for people to figure them out, and for their social repercussions to percolate through society. Legislatures and courts had time to figure out rules for these technologies and how they should integrate into the existing legal structures.

They don't always get it right --­ the sad history of copyright law in the United States is an example of how they can get it badly wrong again and again­ -- but at least they had a chance before the technologies become widely adopted.

That's just not true anymore. A new technology can go from zero to a hundred million users in a year or less. That's just too fast for the political or legal process. By the time they're asked to make rules, these technologies are well-entrenched in society.

Second, the technologies have become more complicated and specialized. This means that the normal system of legislators passing laws, regulators making rules based on those laws and courts providing a second check on those rules fails. None of these people has the expertise necessary to understand these technologies, let alone the subtle and potentially pernicious ramifications of any rules they make.

We see the same thing between governments and law-enforcement and militaries. In the United States, we're expecting policymakers to understand the debate between the FBI's desire to read the encrypted e-mails and computers of crime suspects and the security researchers who maintain that giving them that capability will render everyone insecure. We're expecting legislators to provide meaningful oversight over the National Security Agency, when they can only read highly technical documents about the agency's activities in special rooms and without any aides who might be conversant in the issues.

The result is that we end up in situations such as the one Brazil finds itself in. WhatsApp went from zero to 100 million users in five years. The telecoms are advancing all sorts of weird legal arguments to get the service banned, and judges are ill-equipped to separate fact from fiction.

This isn't a simple matter of needing government to get out of the way and let companies battle in the marketplace. These companies are for-profit entities, and their business models are so complicated that they regularly don't do what's best for their users. (For example, remember that you're not really Facebook's customer. You're their product.)

The fact that people's resumes are effectively the first 10 hits on a Google search of their name is a problem --­ something that the European "right to be forgotten" tried ham-fistedly to address. There's a lot of smart writing that says that Uber's disruption of traditional taxis will be worse for the people who regularly use the services. And many people worry about Amazon's increasing dominance of the publishing industry.

We need a better way of regulating new technologies.

That's going to require bridging the gap between technologists and policymakers. Each needs to understand the other ­-- not enough to be experts in each other's fields, but enough to engage in meaningful conversations and debates. That's also going to require laws that are agile and written to be as technologically invariant as possible.

It's a tall order, I know, and one that has been on the wish list of every tech policymaker for decades. But today, the stakes are higher and the issues come faster. Not doing so will become increasingly harmful for all of us.

This essay originally appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD (12/23): Slashdot thread.

Posted on December 23, 2015 at 6:48 AM • 59 Comments

Comments

ThothDecember 23, 2015 7:20 AM

The better fix would be a sort of in-line media encryptor (software or hardware) which is easy to use. The idea is that it rides on the textbox input and layers it's own textbox input on top to intercept plaintext inputs and then negotiates an ephemeral secure session and converts the plaintext into ciphertext and pipes them into the chat app unless the chat app includes an API to send messages. This method would allow users to setup secure ephemeral sessions on any kind of chat messaging services including SMS messages but using a different multi-SMS scheme (kinda like TextSecure's SMS encryption service).

This way, judges managing to force the hands of Google, Apple, Blackberry, Facebook, Telegram or any messaging service (including ISPs) to backdoor their applications would face with a "box-in-a-box" scenario where another plausible layer of encryption beyond the original messaging service would supply it's own trusted security. The removal of known headers and flags (by wrapping them in a 'Plausible Decryption' scheme) would make it very difficult for service providers or nation states to police and filter 'Plausible Decryption' + 'Box-in-a-Box' combination deployment as the filtering service would need to understand every single language and make sense of conversations which can at time be senseless to third parties.

I have been weighing in on creating such an Android app for interception of plaintext and transparently encrypting them before releasing them into the chat apps but that requires some time to create and I have not yet designed much. Anyone interested can use the above suggestions freely without restriction as you wish.

RonKDecember 23, 2015 8:01 AM

It appears to me that what were originally dashes have disappeared, gluing neighboring words together in multiple places... Or if not, Bruce has invented several interesting new words (to me, anyway), for example, what is the "other­not"?

Other places: technology­especially, right­the, again­but, problem­something

Capitalism?December 23, 2015 8:14 AM

Companies are quick to extol the virtues of capitalism in defense of their businesses when it suits them. They then show their true greed by corrupting the political process in order to protect their monopolies. Couple that with various political processes that are ripe for corruption and...profit?

I contend that until greed is no longer good, this problem will persist.

CTOs EverywhereDecember 23, 2015 8:21 AM

Looks like it's high time for every judge, legislature and government executive who will deal with any tech-related issues to have a mandated "computer guy." This would essentially be a technical person versed in policy and business issues whose job would be to raise the bullsh*t flag to the judge/rep/exec when a company tries to cloud an issue with bullsh*t.

Maybe a "technology policy analyst" corps of government employees who are meted out to various fed, state and local districts like FBI agents to advise judges and policymakers on technical issues.

StautonDecember 23, 2015 8:28 AM

>>> "We need a better way of regulating new technologies."

No. Government regulation (arbitrary, destructive control) is precisely the core problem, not a solution to anything.

Government "regulation" is a disaster around the world and across the centuries, no matter the object. They never learn-- 21st century technologists still cling faithfully to ancient statist superstition.

Mr. PaulDecember 23, 2015 8:36 AM

The article blithely takes for granted that all the new technologies need regulation, but I fail to see how that is a given. Even for things like Uber, the technology part of it probably doesn't need regulation. The driving people around in your car part does, but that always has, and actually does have regulation; the regulation failed to be in the customers interest (no pressure for service, false scarcity, you name it). Uber enabled people to see a better service; it wasn't really so much about the technology. They got big enough, and stubborn enough, and got their users behind them enough to fight the rules. I fail to see the pressing need for the other technology companies to be regulated.

DavidDecember 23, 2015 8:53 AM

@Stauton:

This may sound really rude, but I hope you get on the next ValueJet (592*) for your next plane trip, and then once the plane bursts into fire and crashes killing everyone you'll finally understand why governmental regulation is not only required but absolutely necessary.

Business will ignore and fail to act unless required to do so, even on obvious issues of safety and the risk of death. That is why we come together as a society to provide required regulation, to provide everyone requisite health, safety and needed stability.

*http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/AAR9706.aspx

LogicDecember 23, 2015 9:17 AM

@david

So a company that has a reputation for it's planes catching fire and killing all of its customers is going to last how long in business?

Government regulation stops us from taking water on to a plane if this really to keep us safe?

StautonDecember 23, 2015 9:38 AM

>>> @David

So you too proudly subscribe to statist superstition -- that the only thing holding our society together and keeping it safe... are the noble & selfless government regulators (politicians & bureaucrats) -- those horrible greedy businessmen & private citizens would generate chaos & death if left alone.

Since the general American population is inherently untrustworthy -- tell me where you find and recruit these noble government "regulators" to supervise everyone else. Are humans labeled as "regulators" free of greed, self-interest, faulty thinking and other foibles of the human race that the "regulated" masses suffer?

Also, if the general American population too untrustworthy to be left unsupervised by the government-- why are they fully trusted to vote-for/elect the politicians who select the regulators?

Should not American voters be closely regulated to prevent them from making bad choices ??

CNNDecember 23, 2015 9:44 AM

@David @Stauton

Aren't you both right? That is, government regulation is critical in areas like aviation safety, pharmaceuticals and so on to protect human lives and well-being, but simply an impediment to innovation in areas like communications, where they appear to be simply protecting monopolies?

What business is it of the government that new messaging, VOIP and other apps undermine traditional monopolies and oligopolies, as is the case with regard to Whatsapp? The end-end encrypted drug dealer comms angle appears to be just a distraction from business models that have been superceded by the Internet juggernaut.

@Bruce - amazing that CNN publishes your material. Consider that in a month-long analysis of CNN coverage between Nov 21 - Dec 21, CNN mentioned the phrases Terrorism 427 times, ISIS 404 times, poverty 34 times, and the privacy eroding bill CISA a grand total of zero times .

Similar figures apply for Fox and MSNBC. What a happy coincidence.

Perhaps you should use your clout to highlight the draconian CISA bill and see if it will pass the government friendly censors at CNN. Somehow I doubt it. What did George Carlin say again... ah that's right:

"They own and control the corporations. They've long since bought, and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls."

PeteRepeat December 23, 2015 9:45 AM

"We need a better way of regulating new technologies."
Why ?
It is not really the technologies that pose a problem, it's the corporations .
What we need is strong anti-monopoly laws and laws that forbid corporations from
bribing .. sorry, "contributing to the campaign-fund of".. politicians .
No single corporation should be allowed monopoly over any market .

Björn PerssonDecember 23, 2015 9:48 AM

A new technology can go from zero to a hundred million users in a year or less. That's just too fast for the political or legal process. By the time they're asked to make rules, these technologies are well-entrenched in society.
That's not really true. Whatsapp is not a technology. The technologies involved here are the Internet, wireless digital communication, and computers that fit in a pocket. All of those technologies took a long time to grow popular. The tendency to think of every new service that pops up on the Internet as a new technology and a need for new laws is part of the problem.

econ_102December 23, 2015 10:22 AM

This isn't a simple matter of needing government to get out of the way and let companies battle in the marketplace.

The use of the word government in the above phrase is a misnomer. Blocking competitors using government/laws is the definition of competition.

Nearly all unregulated markets mature to some value-destroying model like a monopoly, duopoly.

David LeppikDecember 23, 2015 10:36 AM

@David @Logic

Free markets work when there is no hidden knowledge. When a seller (e.g. an airline) knows that a plane is shoddy, but the passenger does not, the passenger cannot choose to fly in a safe plane. That's been well understood by economists for over a century. What economists haven't recognized until recently is how humans differ from "rational actors."

Risk is something where people are especially irrational: ignoring certain high risks, while paralyzed with fear from certain low risks. Like fast driving in a car with no seat belt and too little sleep in order to avoid terrorist attacks on an airplane.

I don't see why people keep arguing that free markets are a cure-all when even the most pro-free-market economists have known their limitations for over a century. Free market competition is the most efficient known optimization strategy. But society still decides what to optimize, and if the decision isn't made democratically, it gets made by the power brokers.

No Such AgencyDecember 23, 2015 10:38 AM

Regulation is not the answer.

These big companies need to realize their business models are broken. Legislating to keep broken business models viable is just pure corruption.

So, we're supposed to halt progress because Mega Corp didn't post their 20th consecutive record profits?

WhatsApp Inferior AnyhowDecember 23, 2015 10:52 AM

Hopefully this government over-reach will drive users to more secure platforms anyhow. WhatsApp fails the following on the EFF scorecard:

- Not encrypted so the provider can't read it
- Can't verify contacts' identities
- Past comms are not secure if your keys are compromised / stolen
- Code is not open to independent review
- The security design is not properly documented

But passes the following:

- Encrypted in transit
- Recent code audit

So, a 2/7 is not a great score.

Hint to mobile / computer users (that's most of you), transition to one of the following far safer alternatives, which get 7/7 on this checklist (albeit not perfect by any means):

- Chat Secure + Orbit
- CryptoCat
- OTR messaging for Windows (Pidgin)
- Signal / Redphone
- Silent Phone
- Silent Text
- Telegram (Secret Chats)
- TextSecure

Drive the three-letter agencies insane whenever possible. Just because you can.

They may play whack-a-mole with various protocols, but much like the drug dealers, the untimely demise of each kingpin will lead to another immediately rising in their place, as per Telegram's ascendancy in Brazil.

David LeppikDecember 23, 2015 11:00 AM

The beef I have with this essay is that it treats technology like a force of nature. It's not. Inventions are made within a certain social environment to fix perceived problems with an existing social environment. And they only catch on if they find a niche within a social environment.

That's especially true today, when most new inventions are less than 5% novel engineering and 95% UX (user experience), or what you might call spit-and-polish. The difference between Facebook and Google+ or MySpace isn't algorithmic, it's social.

So the issue isn't technology vs. incumbents so much as it is Silicon Valley culture vs. incumbents. And thanks to the Internet, it doesn't have to be Silicon Valley culture, it could be any culture clash. Silicon Valley simply happens to be the most well-funded, populist and brazenly anti-traditional.

There will be other tech-savvy, charismatic, anti-authority groups trying to change the world. ISIL is trying to get there. The difference is that ISIL recruits people who feel disenfranchised, and everyone else they try to scare into submission; whereas Silicon Valley entrepreneurs promote their values by giving people things they actually want.

Either way, the dynamic is that tech-savvy populists move much faster than the law, so in some places the law is getting really heavy handed. And that's accelerated enormously over the last decade.

Marcos El MaloDecember 23, 2015 12:04 PM

@CTOs everywhere

Sure, we can have future lobbyists, I mean, technically savvy bureaucrats advising judges. I'm not worried at all about the revolving door from government service to lobbyist and corporate "government affairs" jobs. I'm sure that none of the advisors will be swayed in anyway by corporations that dole out juicy favors when the government employee decides to leave his job.

Anyway, to be more serious/less sarcastic, hoping that judges can be made more tech savvy is probably too late in the process. Judges are there to interpret the laws of Congress. The best approach is to elect tech savvy and tech sympathetic legislatures, so they can make laws that make sense. Yes, this is easier said than done. One thing you can do is to contribute to organizations such as the EFF (or whatever). Another thing you can do is contribute money to the campaigns of those politicians that "get it". Remember, you can contribute money to any political campaign (assuming you are a U.S. resident and we're talking about US politics). You can write to legislators. Lastly, you can vote (probably the least effective means of making political change, but it's still something).

I'm not saying that addressing the justice system is wrong, it's just that it's the back end. We will get better results if we attack the front end, where the laws are made.

Marcos El MaloDecember 23, 2015 12:20 PM

@David Leppik

Regarding "The Free Market", there's also the dimension of timely access. Equal access to information also means everyone receiving info at the same time. Milliseconds count in the stock market, for example (and some trading entities get trading information up to 5 minutes ahead of everyone else).

I'm not sure if this directly touches on your air safety example, but it seems to me it's one more crack in the "belief" in free markets. "The Free Market" is a fantasy ideal, similar to Heaven or the Workers' Paradise.

I'm not against capitalism, I'm just opposed to completely unfettered capitalism. Capitalism is a tool, not a god. As a tool, it can be misused. Regulation can prevent that misuse.

anonymousDecember 23, 2015 12:30 PM

"I'm not against capitalism, I'm just opposed to completely unfettered capitalism. Capitalism is a tool, not a god. As a tool, it can be misused. Regulation can prevent that misuse."

In 1990, capitalism defeated communism. By 2010, it had also defeated democracy and free-markets.

Clive RobinsonDecember 23, 2015 12:37 PM

@ David Leppic,

Free market competition is the most efficient known optimization strategy.

Actually that is not quite true, when unregulated what it invariably gives is a "race to the bottom". That is it only optimizes in one way, which actually turns out to be bad for the market, the seller and the buyer.

Regulation can be shown to distort the market and thus change what it optimizes, this can be good for the market, the seller and the buyer, often in ways that were not predicted by those involved in the regulation.

One example the MBA crowd had difficulty getting their head around was "Quality Assurance". Although not "legaly mandated" it was "contractually mandated" by the likes of Governments and others with significant purchasing power, so it became de facto regulation not de jure regulation. However what was seen as an expensive add on to an existing optimized system actually ended up increasing not just quality of the "goods" but the "bottom line".

Another example this time de jure is vehicle safety regulation. It forced manufacturers out of a downward spiral, to invest in new methods, these in turn caused other investment. The result is not just safer but lighter, more fuel efficient and less expensive vehicles.

The thing is the glib "Free market competition is the most efficient known optimization strategy" can be shown to be wrong logicaly not just by example.

All results can be shown to be have arived at by a decision tree, which is problematical. That is what is an optimization at one node will not of necessity produce anything close to an overall optimization, in fact it is more likely to fork in the wrong direction and get stuck in a false minima. When a market gets stuck in a minima it will not get out unless a cost is involved to push it back up the tree and down a different node, the market it's self will not provide the incentive.

It's a thorny issue that "Free Market" devotees gloss over with their rhetoric. It's also something that short term markets do not want to talk about either. Further it's not going to get you a tenured position and a comfortable office as an economist, because those who contribute to the funds of sugh august establishments don't want to hear about it either, because it shows them "to be lesser men".

Rob EDecember 23, 2015 12:50 PM

The fact that changes in technology outpace law and government is one of the only things that give the average person and or the majority of society access to power and the ability to bypass and mitigate corruption.

jonesDecember 23, 2015 2:04 PM

It should be reasonably clear at this point that market forces do little to shape the evolution of these industries; they're oligopolies and monopolies that do everything in their power to eliminate market forces at every opportunity.

Markets are unpredictable by definition: if a competition is fair the outcome is uncertain.

Competition is bad for investors who want return on their investment. Modern corporations plan; they are our equivalent of soviet planning bureaux in size and influence. Influencing legislation allows corporations to plan more effectively; a side effect is increased uncertainty for individuals.

Innovation is not a major factor in these large corporations either: where planning dominates, innovation is impossible. Mergers and acquisitions have taken the place of innovation.

It's interesting to not in this connection that the forbidden book-within-a-book in George Orwell's 1984 was titled "Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism."

JdLDecember 23, 2015 2:04 PM

We need a better way of regulating new technologies.

No we don't. We need the government to butt out except in cases of force or fraud.

AnuraDecember 23, 2015 2:20 PM

@Clive Robinson

Indeed. Looking at things from a microeconomic perspective pretty much always shows every regulation, tax increase, and minimum wage increase to be destructive to the economy. The problem is that the supply and demand curves they are focused on looks at a specific snapshot in time. These changes end up changing the nature of the markets themselves to the point where the microeconomic perspective is no longer valid.

Take pollution regulation. Dumping waste in the nearest river is cheap while proper disposal is expensive. According to microeconomics, implementing regulations to require proper disposal will surely eat up all of their profit margins and cause them to start losing money. In reality, this never happens because the same regulations affect their competitors as well and prices change to compensate for the increased costs of proper disposal. Without the dumping, the rivers are cleaner, drinking water is cleaner, people are healthier and more productive and the economy can actually grow enough to make up for the costs. The entire market is different and life and business not only go on, but it leads to better outcomes.

Minimum wage is another interesting example. In the 1950s and first half of the 1960s the US increased minimum wage with productivity. Life went on, businesses went on, etc. Markets evolved around this growth in our standard of living. However, in the 1980s we decided that any minimum wage increase would surely destroy the economy. As a result, the markets evolved around stagnant or declining wages for most of the population. As a result, the growth in our economy has been in things like the financial sector so we dedicate resources simply to managing the wealth of the wealthy without actually improving outcomes for society (basically, waste).

Had we increased minimum wage with labor productivity over the last 40 years, the markets would be different and revolve around a higher standard of living for most of the population. Businesses would have no trouble paying the higher wages, it's just that the relative prices of various goods and services would be different to compensate. Sectors that saw high productivity growth would be forced to lower prices and sectors that see low productivity growth would be forced to raise prices.

Considering growth in income for the poor provides much higher benefit for a similar percentage increase in consumption for the wealthy, an unregulated market is less efficient in terms of outcomes* vs economic inputs.

*economic outcomes is different than output - for example. two societies that are otherwise equal in terms of non-healthcare consumption, but with one society with a lot of chronic illness due to pollution will see that one society has more output due to the increased healthcare consumption but worse outcome due to the poor health.

anonymousDecember 23, 2015 2:34 PM

In light of the opening of the new Star Wars movie, shutting down WhatsApp makes perfect sense. For the sake of those of us who haven't seen it yet, Facebook, Twitter, and any number of social media outlets should clearly be turned off.

Gerard van VoorenDecember 23, 2015 2:35 PM

It's days like these that I start to understand that G.W. Bush has been elected. Two times.

Thanks to guys such as G.W.Bush we are still suffering the financial crisis.

Of course there needs to be regulation.

Gerard van VoorenDecember 23, 2015 2:42 PM

Typo.

It's days like these that I start to understand why G.W. Bush has been elected. Two times.

Thanks to guys such as G.W.Bush we are still suffering the financial crisis.

Of course there needs to be regulation.

Point OneDecember 23, 2015 3:30 PM

Point One: Free Speech

That Mr. Schneier didn't use that word pair in this article is the first big red flag (no offense meant to the color red)

Point TwoDecember 23, 2015 3:33 PM

Point Two: Fair Use

That Mr. Schneier didn't use that word pair in this article is another red flag. A pattern begins to emerge when we see even articles as sprinkled with wise words as this one, ignore such huge elephants in the room. No offense meant to elephants.

Point ThreeDecember 23, 2015 3:42 PM

Point Three: Stupid Girls (song)

It's one aspect of a tech policy problem that has been plaguing us for at least 25 years: technologists and policymakers don't understand each other, and they inflict damage on society because of that.

There may be some truth in this characterization, but it's not IMO the important truth. The much more important truth is that there is money and value to be had by pretending not to understand others. Both sides of this equation are running rampant down this path. Our culture (see Trump) seems to be willing to let this go on. We'll reap what we've sewn.

See points One and Two and the P!nk song 'Stupid Girls'. It is a sad aspect of humanity that so many women choose not to 'cast pearls among swine' lest their strategic image of incompetence be revealed and rendered useless. Mr. Schneier needs to pay more attention to Free Speech and Fair Use, lest people think he is just 'playing dumb'.

Francis KimDecember 23, 2015 3:55 PM

I agree with you 100% here Bruce. I've been sharing the same view about what happens here in Australia - but it seems to happen everywhere.

Point FourDecember 23, 2015 4:09 PM

We see the same thing between governments and law-enforcement and militaries. In the United States, we're expecting policymakers to understand the debate between the FBI's desire to read the encrypted emails and computers of crime suspects and the security researchers who maintain that giving them that capability will render everyone insecure.

Point Four: Torture

A fundamental question Mr. Schneier left unexplored is how the future technological progression of torture methods, and brain science, apply to heretofor accepted standards of human social interaction. It has always been possible to use methods of torture to extract more information from the 'locked up' 'zones of lawlessness' inside the craniums of suspected criminals. Just because there are ways we can force secrets from a human being with technology (even rather primitive technology), does not mean we should.

Likewise, to have this whole discussion without bringing in the 2nd amendment, and it's historical understanding of a balance of violent bloody power between individuals and the state, is disingenuous. Likewise to bring that angle into the discussion, without admitting that gun-control/weapon-control has been with us all along is also just as disingenous. What is the ethical difference between a hand grenade, an ak-47, and a nuclear weapon? Perhaps 200 years ago the 2nd amendment made some actual sense as a balancing force between tyranny and the people. Lately I've grown so cynical I begin to doubt whether the original debate on that was genuine and wise, or just a matter of a few politicians playing dumb whenever it strategically suited their more immediate agendas.

nycmanDecember 23, 2015 4:49 PM

"We need a better way of regulating new technologies."

How about: We need better new technologies that resist regulation.

Encryption that cannot be subverted simply by putting pressure on the service provider. Communications that can't be shutdown simply by shutting down a node from one service provider. Comm protocols that are difficult to identify and block. Technologies that protect one's privacy and even encourage anonymity, while allowing to develop trust relationships. Technologies that can resist attacks on free speech.

MiDecember 23, 2015 5:25 PM

There are some people in D.C. who only see technology in the context of how it can help the lawmaker accomplish his or her goals. Understandable, but it results in horrible repercussions when the lawmaker doesn't understand the ramifications of what they're asking for.

I don't know how to address this with much of the existing legislature in the U.S.

fudmierDecember 23, 2015 6:13 PM

This is just like the oil business. Big gangster oil owns all of the governments that have oil resources within their boundaries, no outsider gets elected or makes money inside the oil domains controlled by Big gangster oil BGO.

BGO controls who gets elected, the laws the elected must implement, what the elected can do with the nation state power. Anytime a leader deviates BGO orders a military invasion, a false-flagged act of terror, imposes sanctions, insist on a regime change or sends one of its drones to destroy the monopoly challenge (person or technology). BGO prevent all competition in the oil business, thatś why the Shea Muslims have been denied access to the global markets for their oil, otherwise prices would be around $16 a barrel. BGĆ has a similar MO.

Dirk PraetDecember 23, 2015 6:20 PM

@ CTOs Everywhere

Looks like it's high time for every judge, legislature and government executive who will deal with any tech-related issues to have a mandated "computer guy."

Err, I'd think that any party in any court room can bring in expert witnesses.

@ Mr. Paul

Even for things like Uber, the technology part of it probably doesn't need regulation.

Uber claiming that they are a technology company, not a taxi company - and thus not subject to regulation imposed on regular taxi companies - is exactly what got them banned in several European countries. And deservedly so.

@ Logic

So a company that has a reputation for it's planes catching fire and killing all of its customers is going to last how long in business?

Unless they can blame terrorists, probably not too long. But what about banks nearly bringing the entire financial system down, ruining hundreds of thousands of lives in the process? They get bailed out by the government with tax payers money and no one ever gets convicted.

@ WhatsApp Inferior Anyhow

Telegram (Secret Chats)

You don't EVER use Telegram for anything sensitive. Check out Twitter for some really entertaining exchanges between Moxie Marlinspike and Pavel Durov on Telegram security.

@ JdL

No we don't. We need the government to butt out except in cases of force or fraud.

Well, that's exactly what regulation tries to prevent and deter by criminalising certain behaviours and practices.

VincentDecember 23, 2015 7:50 PM

I just wonder where we will get once some technical limitations to these blocks are removed -- It was only possible to block WhatsApp because it have a centralized infrastructure (i.e. a know set of servers which can be queried through DNS).

What would be happening if people were using Tox? No central server, DHT-based searches, no fixed port number, etc. Also, no central entity to be targeted with subpoenas. No one who can be coerced to intercept the communication.

SteveDecember 23, 2015 9:13 PM

Without commenting on this particular instance other than generally, I'm prompted to observe that we all want something for nothing, whether its text messaging, phone calls, news, music, movies, the list goes on.

Unfortunately, all these things cost money to produce and transmit.

Disruption can be known by many names. I leave it for the reader to think of a few.

Miguel FarahDecember 24, 2015 4:14 AM

An unexpected side effect of having blocked WhatsApp in Brazil was... blocking WhatsApp in Chile for a majority of its users (those who are clients of two out of the three main mobile phone services, Entel and Vomistar; Claro was unaffected). Why? Both these companies use the Brazilian networks to route their own traffic, thus having themselves set up for this kind of problem.

Clive RobinsonDecember 24, 2015 4:58 AM

@ Miguel Farah,

So customers in Chile out of Brazilian Juresdiction were significantly effected by the decision of a Brazilian Judge...

At some point some journalist is going to wake up to the fact that the tactics of the millennial old "Water Wars" is going to happen with "Information" where those "up stream" get to decide on what those "down stream" get... Maybe whilst they are considering it they should think about "Energy" as well.

The thing is these denial attacks are more of a threat to highly developed cities and towns with "information economies" than they are to more decentralized agrarian populations.

RonKDecember 24, 2015 5:45 AM

@ Steve

> ... I'm prompted to observe that we all want something for nothing

Besides being a sweeping generalization, I'd say that it's just wrong from a psychological point of view (for most adults). My guess is that "we all want to feel good about how we allocate our use of money and other limited resources" would be more accurate.

> I leave it for the reader to think of a few.

This is an interesting kind of bad argument. It's not a logical fallacy per se since it doesn't actually make any factual statement whatsoever. I'd have to classify it as "appeal to manipulated imagination". You set up various psychological associations, either positive or negative, and then appeal to the reader's imagination. Cute.

Anyway I'll bite: I think you were looking for "innovation", "evolution", "competition".

Am I right? :-)

Janne KoschinskiDecember 24, 2015 1:28 PM

@Clive Robinson

where those "up stream" get to decide on what those "down stream" get... Maybe whilst they are considering it they should think about "Energy" as well.

That’s been known in most of the world for decades now, considering that the US’ policies regarding what is acceptable and what isn’t are forced down the throats of the rest of the free world.

mkDecember 24, 2015 2:43 PM

". Government regulation (arbitrary, destructive control) is precisely the core problem, not a solution to anything."

Libertarian dogma is, like all dogma, full of dogcrap.

Tell A GramDecember 24, 2015 3:22 PM

It's worth noting that they might actually be doing users a favor by banning Telegram, given the sketchy encryption and generally horrible privacy practices of that app.

LazyProgrammer.meDecember 24, 2015 5:17 PM

Maybe the only way for law to keep up with technology is for technology to be the law.

When AI is smarter than us and can make better decisions than us, we don't want a bunch of old farts continuing their tradition of corruption and greed.

Even if there are politicians who are well-intentioned (probably few and far between), they may still be too far behind in their understanding of tech to politic effectively.

No Such AgencyDecember 24, 2015 8:18 PM

Not to state the obvious (and I didn't read all the comments, either), but why not just encrypt messages before sending them using the chosen communication method?

That way you only need to ensure the end points are secure. If the messaging app is open to interception, then it doesn't matter.

It seems people aren't applying "defense-in-depth" when it really matters, and are completely overlooking this.

WaelDecember 24, 2015 9:32 PM

@No Such Agency,

It seems people aren't applying "defense-in-depth" when it really matters, and are completely overlooking this.

Some are, some aren't! Still, defense-in-depth is no longer adequate! Attacks are coming in depth, height, and width; left, right and center! Attacks are taking place at all layers including layers -1, 0, 1,... 7, 8, 9 and possibly above and below. @Clive Robinson will tell you what layers 7+ signify. Attacks are technical and political. Unless you're able to defend on "all fronts" you'll ever remain vulnerable.

No Such AgencyDecember 26, 2015 7:07 PM

Right at this moment, I see three major attacks upon privacy and communication more generally:

1) Forcing 3rd parties to intercept their user's data
2) Using the law to restrict certain communications methods/technologies
3) Attacking the very encryption used

What I was mostly talking about was point 1. Most people use the security of whatever app it is they are using to communicate with, so for example if they are using WhatsApp, then they are relying on WhatsApp security to protect their messages. If they used a separate method of encrypting their communications before sending it, then this largely mitigates point 1 and 3, whilst enabling flexibility on point 2.

Point 1 leads directly to point 3. If the app is sending the keys to a central server along with the encrypted messages, or the app is just sending the plain text to a central server, then it is game over.

As we all know, it is rarely the encryption itself that is ever targeted. So... by splitting the security of a message to other methods long before the act of transmission occurs, you limit immediately the attack vector to either a targeted attack against the systems in use by the parties of interest, or a physical attack of some description.

On the surface however, it would seem that most people just accept the security provided by whatever app they choose to use. One would question if anyone who was serious about their security would do this, and if not, then what is the purpose of breaking these systems in the first place?

As it is, certain groups already gravitate towards certain technologies, such as Tor. Whilst it has uses for those living under oppressed regimes, it is also a hot-bed for illegal activity. Just using the system could be enough to get you flagged for deeper investigation. Surely it would be more interesting to break these systems (if they're not already broken)?

I see limiting these widely used communication software the same way as applying an automated wire-tap to every telephone in existence, or a hidden bug in every new building. it seems rather pointless if the goal is to stop terrorists. It only makes sense if the goal is something rather more sinister, such as targeting free speech.

Jonathan WilsonDecember 27, 2015 8:30 AM

Telephone companies have been fighting the Internet since the beginning.
Even in the US there have been incidences of telcos doing things in an attempt to block VoIP and similar services.

CallMeLateForSupperDecember 27, 2015 8:36 AM

@Bruce
I'd like to see your list include &Goliaths vs municipal broadband.

Fascist NationDecember 29, 2015 2:39 PM

Completely untrue. This is not about old versus new technology. This is just the norm of the fascist governments around the planet where lobbying corporations use armed government thugs to crush the threat of competition. Oh, how I lament such a rapid justice system did not exist to protect the buggy whip makers when ignorant government purveyors simply did not understand what a wonderful racket they had in their hands. They well under$tand it now.

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