SOPA threatens DNS and HTTP, not Free Speech

SOPA, and the recent domain name seizures, makes me concerned for the domain system. Really DNS is nothing more than an open agreement, and if it stops resolving what people are looking for, alternate schemes will rise. It’s surprising DNS has lasted so long, given that there’s no real authority behind the DNS roots, no compelling technical superiority, and no barrier to a new system beyond the strength of numbers that a system like Facebook or eBay holds.

Granted, such systems are hard to take down from the perspective of the guy trying to build a replacement, but the harder you hold onto a monopoly by agreement, the easier it slips away like OpenOffice or xfree86. I’d add Vietnam and others to the list, but I’m pretty sure there’s internet rules about forfeiting your point if you invoke such references.

A darker shadow is the SOPA mandated refusal to route ip requests to certain servers. There is a tremendous amount of thought and money that has been put into routing around such obstructions. The very same services that have been used to circumvent the great firewall of China would be quickly deployed against US filtering of the same kind. Open HTTP is another open agreement. You throw a request out there and trust that everything between you and the server you’re trying to talk to will see that the content gets back to you. But it’s not the only way to get content across the network. For example, if every DSL and Cable router became a TOR node things would get very messy indeed. There are vulnerabilities in onion routing and similar schemes, but there are work arounds for them as well. Getting messages you want delivered without undesirables hitching a ride is an unsolved problem.

However, the physical fabric of the internet is a very real vulnerability. Don’t kid yourself that a government (or an industry) can’t shut down or control the internet. Money makes the internet run, not idealism or some inherent technological democracy. When it becomes more financially attractive to do so, the companies that control your pipes can and will police, filter, or shut them down. At this point in time there is so much undeployed management hardware and software in place that industry will have a huge first mover advantage in any war of escalation that might result from outright rebellion against the regime.

For now, we are better served by working inside the system than outside it. And that means defeating SOPA the old fashioned way—letters to your representatives, election decisions, action committees, etc. Before the technological advantage against arbitrary DNS and HTTP restrictions is pressed, and the dirty, casualty-ridden circumvention escalation begins. This will be a lot messier than deCSS and DRM circumvention.

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