Week 2. Threats to the Free Digital Society

2.1. Digital Society: Inclusion or Escape? Surveillance, censorship, restricting the users

  • Shall we aim for inclusion to or escape from the Digital Society?
  • What are the threats to the Digital Society? Overview.
  • Threat 1: Surveillance.
    • Surveillance and Democracy: how are they compatible?
    • Who watches the watchmen? Why society needs whistleblowers.
    • Common engineering practice of the day: keep all the data you can.
    • Three ways to spy on people. Examples and the ways to react:
      1. Through their own systems.
      2. Through the systems they use but don't own (e.g., phone networks).
      3. Surveillance systems which are designed specifically for this activity.
    • Data from business surveillance systems is available to the state.
  • Threat 2: Censorship.
    • Censorship in Internet: "filtration".
    • Country examples (Europe, Asia, ...).
    • Propaganda methods: using disgusting things (e.g., child pornography) to advocate censorship tools.
  • Threat 3: Data formats that restrict their users.
    • Digital handcuffs.
    • DRM: Digital Restrictions Management.
    • Reasons why secret data formats exist.


2.2. Threats from software that the user do not control

  • There are only two options: the users controls the program OR the program controls the users.
  • Backdoors and Universal Backdoors.
  • Real-life examples: Amazon Swindle, portable phones.


2.3. Threats from Service as a Software Substitute

  • SaaSS: new way to lose control over your computing.
  • SaaSS: how it works. Technical explanation.
  • SaaSS is equivalent to running non-free program with universal backdoor which makes it proprietary malware.
  • Paradoxical relationships between SaaSS and free/nonfree software.
    • If server software is free, it does not help the users. It benefits only the server owner.
    • If server software is non-free then server owner does not control it. Somebody else controls it. The users do not benefit in either of the situations.
  • Not all the services are SaaSS:
    • Sometimes you can't fully control your computing - e.g., when you are communicating with other people.
    • If your task can be done if you have powerful computer and required software, then server-based solution is SaaSS. Otherwise it is not.
  • Examples of SaaSS: Translation and Speech Recognition services.


2.4. War on Sharing. Precarity

  • What is sharing and why it is good.
  • Attack on sharing is an attack on social cooperation.
  • Two kinds of works:
    1. Works we need to do practical jobs (e.g. reference works, educational works): should be free.
    2. Others (e.g. entertainment, opinion, art) should be freely shareable.
  • Ways to attack sharing:
    • Laws which forbid sharing.
    • Propaganda. Terms like "Piracy" and "Theft":
      • Reject propaganda terms! Attacking ship is very bad, sharing is good.
      • Legally speaking, copyright infringement is never theft. Sometimes it's a crime, sometimes not. But is it NEVER a theft.
    • Publishing of the works using secret formats with the purpose to restrict the public:
      • DVD "conspiracy": if you want to manufacture DVD player, you need to join the conspiracy. No competition in this important part of DVD player functionality!
    • DMCA: Digital Millennium Copyright Act:
      • Banning distribution of free software which allows to read DVDs in the secret format.
      • Similar laws in EU and other countries.
    • DRM: Digital Restrictions Management:
      • Introduced by AACS (Advanced Access Content System) "conspiracy".
      • Example of AACS power: they managed to ban analog video outputs.
    • Disconnect people from Internet when they are accused of sharing (without a trial):
  • Controlling what our technology does is a worse attack on society than controlling prices. It shall be treated as more grave crime.
  • Usage of Internet is precarious:
    • You need to cooperate with ISP, DNS registrar, other companies in order to do your tasks.
    • Typically the contracts you sign are so, that they can be canceled for any reason by service provider.
    • Example: Dirty Tricks campaign against WikiLeaks.
    • Analogy: imagine that government convinces your phone or electrical company that it's in their interest to stop serving you.
    • Regulation is needed like for other public utilities: no right to disconnect if I pay according to the contract, no way to discriminate single customer etc.


Additional materials