Connect with us

Science & Technology

Web censorship: the net is closing in

Across the globe governments are monitoring and censoring access to the web. And if we’re not careful millions more people could find the internet fractured, fragmented and controlled by the state

Web censorship the net is closing in

Every state in the world has its own laws, cultural norms and accepted behaviours. As billions of people come online in the next decade, many will discover a newfound independence that will test these boundaries. Each state will attempt to regulate the internet, and shape it in its own image.

The majority of the world’s internet users encounter some form of censorship – also known by the euphemism “filtering” – but what that actually looks like depends on a country’s policies and its technological infrastructure. Not all or even most of that filtering is political censorship; progressive countries routinely block a modest number of sites, such as those featuring child pornography.

In some countries, there are several entry points for internet connectivity, and a handful of private telecommunications companies control them (with some regulation). In others, there is only one entry point, a nationalised internet service provider (ISP), through which all traffic flows. Filtering is relatively easy in the latter case, and more difficult in the former.

When technologists began to notice states regulating and projecting influence online, some warned against a “Balkanisation of the internet”, whereby national filtering and other restrictions would transform what was once the global internet into a connected series of nation-state networks. The web would fracture and fragment, and soon there would be a “Russian internet” and an “American internet” and so on, all coexisting and sometimes overlapping but, in important ways, separate. Information would largely flow within countries but not across them, due to filtering, language or even just user preference. The process would at first be barely perceptible to users, but it would fossilise over time and ultimately remake the internet.

It’s very likely that some version of the above scenario will occur, but the degree to which it does will greatly be determined by what happens in the next decade with newly connected states – which path they choose, whom they emulate and work together with.

The first stage of the process, aggressive and distinctive filtering, is under way. China is the world’s most active and enthusiastic filterer of information. Entire platforms that are hugely popular elsewhere in the world – Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter – are blocked by the Chinese government.

On the Chinese internet, you would be unable to find information about politically sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square protests, embarrassing information about the Chinese political leadership, the Tibetan rights movement and the Dalai Lama, or content related to human rights, political reform or sovereignty issues.

To the average Chinese user, this censorship is seamless – without prior knowledge of events or ideas, it would appear that they never existed.

China’s leadership doesn’t hesitate to defend its policies. In a white paper released in 2010, the government calls the internet “a crystallisation of human wisdom” but states that China’s “laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains contents subverting state power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honour and interests.”

The next stage for many states will be collective editing, states forming communities of interest to edit the web together, based on shared values or geopolitics. For larger states, collaborations will legitimise their filtering efforts and deflect some unwanted attention (the “look, others are doing it too” excuse). For smaller states, alliances along these lines will be a low-cost way to curry favour with bigger players and gain technical skills that they might lack at home.

Collective editing may start with basic cultural agreements and shared antipathies among states, such as what religious minorities they dislike, how they view other parts of the world or what their cultural perspective is on historical figures such as Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong or Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Larger states are less likely to band together than smaller ones – they already have the technical capabilities – so it will be a fleet of smaller states, pooling their resources, that will find this method useful. If some member countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an association of former Soviet states, became fed up with Moscow’s insistence on standardising the Russian language across the region, they could join together to censor all Russian-language content from their national internets and thus limit their citizens’ exposure to Russia.

Ideology and religious morals are likely to be the strongest drivers of these collaborations. Imagine if a group of deeply conservative Sunni-majority countries – say, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria and Mauritania – formed an online alliance and decided to build a “Sunni web”. While technically this Sunni web would still be part of the larger internet, it would become the main source of information, news, history and activity for citizens living in these countries. For years, the development and spread of the internet was highly determined by its English-only language standard, but the continued implementation of internationalised domain names (IDN), which allow people to use and access domain names written in non-Roman alphabet characters, is changing this. The creation of a Sunni web – indeed, all nationalised internets – becomes more likely if its users can access a version of the internet in their own language and script.

Within the Sunni web, the internet could be sharia-complicit: e-commerce and e-banking would look different, since no one would be allowed to charge interest; religious police might monitor online speech, working together with domestic law enforcement to report violations; websites with gay or lesbian content would be uniformly blocked; women’s movements online might somehow be curtailed; and ethnic and religious minority groups might find themselves closely monitored, restricted or even excluded. In this scenario, how possible it would be for a local tech-savvy citizen to circumvent this internet and reach the global world wide web depends on which country he lived in: Mauritania might not have the desire or capacity to stop him, but Saudi Arabia probably would. If the Mauritanian government became concerned that its users were bypassing the Sunni web, on the other hand, surely one of its new digital partners could help it build higher fences.

There will be some instances where autocratic and democratic nations edit the web together. Such a collaboration will typically happen when a weaker democracy is in a neighbourhood of stronger autocratic states that coerce it to make the same geopolitical compromises online that it makes in the physical world.

For example, Mongolia is a young democracy with an open internet, sandwiched between Russia and China – two large countries with their own unique and restrictive internet policies. The former Mongolian prime minister Sukhbaatar Batbold explained to us that he wants Mongolia, like any country, to have its own identity. This means, he said, it must have good relations with its neighbours to keep them from meddling in Mongolian affairs.

Iranian internet cafe

People use the internet in Tehran, Iran, where the government has spoken of creating its own ‘halal internet’. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

A neutral stance of noninterference is more easily sustainable in the physical world. Virtual space significantly complicates this model. People sympathetic to opposition groups and ethnic minorities within China and Russia would look at Mongolia as an excellent place to congregate. Supporters of the Uighurs, Tibetans or Chechen rebels might seek to use Mongolia’s internet space as a base from which to mobilise, to wage online campaigns and build virtual movements. If that happened, the Mongolian government would no doubt feel the pressure from China and Russia, not just diplomatically but because its national infrastructure is not built to withstand a cyber assault from either neighbour. Seeking to please its neighbours and preserve its own physical and virtual sovereignty, Mongolia might find it necessary to abide by a Chinese or Russian mandate and filter internet content associated with hot-button issues.

What started as the world wide web will begin to look more like the world itself, full of internal divisions and divergent interests. Some form of visa requirement will emerge on the internet. This could be done quickly and electronically, as a method to contain the flow of information in both directions, requiring that users register and agree to certain conditions to access a country’s internet. Citizen engagement, international business operations and investigative reporting will all be seriously affected. This, along with internal restrictions of the internet, suggests a 21st-century equivalent of Japan’s famous sakoku (“locked country”) policy of near-total isolation enacted in the 17th century.

Some states may implement visa requirements as both a monitoring tool for international visitors and as a revenue-generating exercise – a small fee would be charged upon entering a country’s virtual space, even more if one’s online activities violated the terms of the visa. Virtual visas would appear in response to security threats related to cyber attacks; if your IP address (the unique number associated with each device on the internet) came from a blacklisted country, you would encounter heightened monitoring.

Under conditions like these, the world will see its first Internet asylum seeker. A dissident who can’t live freely under an autocratic Internet and is refused access to other states’ Internets will choose to seek physical asylum in another country to gain virtual freedom on its Internet. There could be a form of interim virtual asylum, where the host country would share sophisticated proxy and circumvention tools that would allow the dissident to connect outside.

Virtual asylum will not work, however, if the ultimate escalation occurs: the creation of an alternative domain name system (DNS), or even aggressive and ubiquitous tampering with it to advance state interests. Today, the internet as we know it uses the DNS to match computers and devices to relevant data sources, translating IP addresses (numbers) into readable names, with .edu, .com, .net suffixes, and vice versa. No government has yet achieved an alternative system, but if one succeeded in doing so, it would effectively unplug its population from the global internet and instead offer only a closed, national intranet. In technical terms, this would entail creating a censored gateway between a given country and the rest of the world, so that a human proxy could facilitate external data transmissions when absolutely necessary – for matters involving state resources, for instance.

It’s the most extreme version of what technologists call a walled garden. On the internet, a walled garden refers to a browsing environment that controls a user’s access to information and services online. (This concept is not limited to discussions of censorship; AOL and CompuServe, internet giants for a time, both started as walled gardens.) For the full effect of disconnection, the government would also instruct the routers to fail to advertise the IP addresses of websites – unlike DNS names, IP addresses are immutably tied to the sites themselves – which would have the effect of putting those websites on a very distant island, utterly unreachable. Whatever content existed on this national network would circulate only internally, trapped like a cluster of bubbles in a computer screen saver, and any attempts to reach users on this network from the outside would meet a hard stop. With the flip of a switch, an entire country would simply disappear from the internet.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. It was first reported in 2011 that the Iranian government’s plan to build a “halal internet” was under way, and the regime’s December 2012 launch of Mehr, its own version of YouTube with “government-approved videos“, demonstrated that it was serious about the project. Details of the plan remained hazy but, according to Iranian government officials, in the first phase the national “clean” internet would exist in tandem with the global internet for Iranians (heavily censored as it is), then it would come to replace the global internet altogether. The government and affiliated institutions would provide the content for the national intranet, either gathering it from the global web and scrubbing it, or creating it manually. All activity on the network would be closely monitored. Iran’s head of economic affairs told the country’s state-run news agency that they hoped their halal internet would come to replace the web in other Muslim countries, too – at least those with Farsi speakers. Pakistan has pledged to build something similar.

It is possible that Iran’s threat is merely a hoax. How exactly the state intends to proceed with this project is unclear both technically and politically. How would it avoid enraging the sizable chunk of its population that has access to the internet? Some believe it would be impossible to fully disconnect Iran from the global internet because of its broad economic reliance on external connections. Others speculate that, if it wasn’t able to build an alternative root system, Iran could pioneer a dual-internet model that other repressive states would want to follow. Whichever route Iran chooses, if it is successful in this endeavour, its halal internet would surpass the “great firewall of China” as the single most extreme version of information censorship in history. It would change the internet as we know it.

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Advertisement
Comments

Science & Technology

Health authorities have confirmed a case of a rare type of smallpox in a UK patient

Skin rashes caused by ape pox. Credit: CDC's Public Health Image Library (Public domain)

A patient in England has been diagnosed with a rare case of monkeypox, as reported by Public Health England (PHE).

The rare viral infection is similar to smallpox, and though it is milder, it can be fatal.

It has been reported that the individual was in Nigeria and that he would have contracted the disease there. Later, upon returning to the United Kingdom, he stayed in the southwest of England where the disease occurred.

Upon symptoms, he was transferred to the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust , a center specializing in infectious diseases in London.

The health authorities have taken the necessary measures to prevent the virus from spreading to other people.

Vaccination against smallpox to people in Africa. (Public domain)

The PHE said in a statement:

As a precaution, PHE experts are working closely with NHS colleagues to implement rapid infection control procedures, including contact with people who may have been in close contact with the individual to provide health information and advice. ”

But experts are not very worried about contagion, because monkeypox does not spread easily among people and the risk of affecting the population is quite low, said Dr. Meera Chand , PHE consulting microbiologist.

This transmission electron micrograph (TEM) represents a series of smallpox virus virions. Credit: CDC / Dr. Fred Murphy; Sylvia Whitfield / Wikimedia Commons

Although the infection usually occurs mildly and people get better without treatment; Some individuals may develop very serious symptoms, with a percentage of 1 to 10 percent of patients dying from the disease during outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization .

The symptoms presented are similar to those of smallpox but milder. First, fever, headaches, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. Subsequently rashes may appear on the skin , starting on the face and spreading throughout the rest of the body.

This is not the first time a patient has been infected with smallpox in the United Kingdom. In 2018, there were three cases after a person was diagnosed with the disease. The individual had also returned from Nigeria.

Source: Gov.ukIFL Science

Continue Reading

Science & Technology

A cold virus can infect a pregnant woman’s fetus

The study showed that the expectant mother is able to transmit a respiratory tract infection to her unborn child.

Scientists from Tulane University (Louisiana, USA) received the first evidence that the cold virus, which affects a pregnant woman, can penetrate the placenta and infect the fetus. An article about this has been published in PLOS One .

The placenta, an organ that develops in the uterine cavity of a woman during pregnancy, provides the necessary nutrition from the mother to the embryo and simultaneously performs another important task: it filters out potential pathogenic microorganisms. However, a group of pediatricians led by Professor Giovanni Piedimonte found that this natural “barrier” is not so impenetrable.

Scientists took the placenta from donors, isolated three main types of cells – cytotrophoblasts, fibroblasts and Kashchenko – Hofbauer cells – and in vitro exposed them to the human respiratory syncytial virus, which causes respiratory tract infections. Although cytotrophoblast cells supported a weak process of the spread of the virus, two other types were more susceptible to infection. So, Kashchenko-Hofbauer cells survived and allowed the virus to replicate inside the cell walls. According to scientists, then these cells, moving inside the placenta, are able to transmit the virus to the fetus.

“Such cells do not die after they become infected,” Piedimonte explains. – When they enter the fetus, they are comparable to bombs stuffed with a virus. They do not spread the virus in the area of ​​the “explosion”, but carry it through the intercellular channels. <…> Thus, our theory is confirmed that when a woman gets a cold during pregnancy, the virus that causes the infection can pass to the fetus and cause a pulmonary infection before the birth of a child. ”

Pediatricians also suggested that the respiratory syncytial virus is able to infect the lung tissue of the unborn baby and provoke the development of an infection that will subsequently affect the predisposition to asthma. To confirm or refute their theory, the authors of the study intend to conduct clinical tests.

Last year, scientists from the University of Cambridge created an artificial and functional mini-placenta using trophoblasts, and recently it turned out that particles of air pollution can penetrate the placenta of pregnant women

Continue Reading

Science & Technology

How are ETs traveling through space and time today?

Traveling through space has always been a difficult task, as the distances between planets and even more between solar systems and galaxies are incomprehensible.

Science fiction makes things look easy using space warp engines and wormholes in space. There has been much speculation about the idea that there is a way to travel the vast distance of space with relative ease. Now it seems that no conventional science can support these ideas. Many men and women of science bet that this is possible.

Something that any viewer has seen on films several times is the crew of a spaceship needing to reach another planet or region of space deep within the universe. They enter some coordinates and voila , cross some tunnel-like structure, and reach a destination millions of light years from the point of departure.

But what was fantasy can now come true, as recent discoveries have found that galaxies can move between great distances and against predictions of basic cosmological models. The reason for this may make us rethink everything we think science knows about the universe.

The universe is full of many mysteries; It is an impressive kaleidoscope of patterns that science studies. These nebulae and star clusters continually reveal secrets about how they move in unexplained patterns.

Galaxies tend to form clusters that are limited by gravity, and continue to clump together until they become much larger superclusters. Earth is part of a cluster (galaxy) we call the Milky Way, which in turn is part of the Virgo supercluster that contains over 1,000 galaxies. These masses continually change into different shapes, merging with each other, and some are even pulled between competing galaxies. The movement indicates that there is possibly some massive invisible force at work.

Generally, galaxies have an effect on each other, exerting gravitational force that moves them in a way that is predictable. What scientists have found is that there are exceptions to this and they are theorizing that this may be related to the influence of “large scale” structures..

These “large-scale structures” are composed of hydrogen gas and dark matter and form a pattern of strings, sheets, filaments, and knots that connect galaxies. Imagine a giant cosmic web that connects all parts of the universe.

This web has enormous implications for the way we think the universe works, the movement of galaxies and the development of planets and suns, and basically every astronomical body has massive consequences on the habitability of a world and the possibility of life’s evolution.

So what makes these clusters move the way they do, and why are newfound structures a problem for current gravity-based theories?

First, it is contrary to current thinking that galaxies follow a fixed uniform pattern, which means that many of the patterns that have been shown and explanations of why a galaxy follows such a pattern will need to be reexamined.

The impact of these large structures will need to be added to the mix and they could actually change the accepted cosmic model. Science needs to collect much more data about structures in order to calculate this effect. A man who works on this is a scientist named Hutsemékers.

When asked about discovering this connection network, he said:

One of the great things about science is that you can create a model with thousands of dice, but if something doesn’t ‘stick’, it starts to break. This crack has to be sealed or it will tear down the entire house.

This new discovery will really stir up the established ideas. Theories about the universe, as the most important of events, “the big bang ” will need to be reworked.

Why is this so interesting?

Because it can help us understand, link ideas and theories about the existence of extraterrestrial life somewhere deep in space.

If we discover the web that connects the universe, an advanced alien race may also have learned about it. Could this be how ETs are traveling the universe today?

One thing that many skeptics point to as a way of refuting extraterrestrial visitation on the planet is that the vastness of space prevents any species from traveling between worlds. What if an advanced alien race had found a way to utilize this cosmic web?

Making a full circle to the beginning of this story, would they have some kind of drive, motor or technology that could allow access to the structure and then travel between galaxies?

A tunnel like a shortcut or a ‘wormhole’ could very well accommodate this need.

Source

Continue Reading

Recent Comments

Trending