We often talk about the Internet as being the new “public square,” the place where we communicate, participate, argue, share, debate, learn, listen. But many of the key pieces of Internet infrastructure are privately owned. And these companies have no obligation – and sometimes clearly, little willingness – to protect our First Amendment rights.
The actions taken against Wikileaks should be a wake-up call to those of us who do value free expression. We need to support organizations, projects, and technologies that will make sure that the Internet remains open, and that information and knowledge are free. We need to recognize the “weak links” and move to strengthen the alternatives.
Excerpted from Audrey Watters:
“No matter how one justifies the actions of Amazon and the like – Terms of Service or otherwise – the events this past week have not simply demonstrated the spinelessness of certain companies to stand up to government and public pressure; they have pointed to some of the weak links in the “open Internet,” those points of control that are particularly important (and seemingly particularly vulnerable).
1. Cloud Storage:
Amazon Web Services is the leader in cloud computing, that is, virtualized servers that offer a far cheaper and more flexible way to store data and host websites. Cloud computing is, in the words of Newsweek’s Joseph Galarneau, the “21st century equivalent of the printing press.” Arguably cloud computing has helped facilitate the explosion of new media and new companies.
However, that the modern-day printing press – the way in which companies increasingly host and distribute their content – is so quick to shut its doors is deeply troubling. It raises a number of questions about the future of free expression as well as about the reliability of the cloud as a tool for such. It also highlights the importance of data portability. If cloud providers can so easily oust controversial customers, the cloud may be a less appealing route for publishers. But once “in the cloud,” we do need interoperability – the ability to easily move storage from one cloud provider to another. We shouldn’t be locked in to one provider who can then completely govern whether or not we can have access to its “printing press.”
It’s important to point out that unlike Amazon, Paypal, and Tableau, EveryDNS did not boot Wikileaks due to political pressure. The service provider said it needed to sever the contract in order to maintain services to its other customers. Nonetheless, problems with Wikileaks’ DNS — as well as recent domain seizures by Homeland Security – point to the second major weak link in the open Internet: the domain name system. The DNS, or Domain Name System, is one of the foundational elements of the Internet, responsible for translating the numbers in IP addresses to the more human-friendly names. And Wikileaks has struggled to keep its site up, having to move from Wikleaks.org to Wikileaks.ch to Wikileaks.nl as various countries have put pressure on both local DNS providers as well as on ICANN the international body that manages the registration of top level domains.
There have a number of suggestions recently to address this centralized control, most notably a proposal by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde to work towards the development of an alternative P2P DNS, one that would be decentralized and distributed. In the meantime, hundreds of people are setting up mirror sites for Wikileaks.”