A draft proposal was leaked this week that indicated that the UK government was considering banning people from the internet who downloaded music and films illegally.
There have been a number of responses to this leak already ranging from the polite "it’s a nice idea but just how do you think the internet works you twat?" to the more succinct "you total mongoloid spacs".
Yes, they were my responses! Clever you!
Politicians are, by and large, inept at their jobs. Politicians who become ministers are, without fail, totally inept at their jobs. This is because experience in any particular field is seen as coincidental at best to running the associated department. A politician who used to be a head teacher is more likely to be promoted to the cabinet position of Minister of Defence than anything in the education sector due to the governmental standard No That’s Just What They’ll Be Expecting Us To Do approach to employment.
So, when the government says it’s looking into enforcing sweeping new powers on the internet you can be sure of one thing: the chance that anyone in the consultation process knew what the internet was or had read a pamphlet that explained how the internet worked is 0% (with a +/- 0 margin of error).
Can you actually detect when someone is downloading something illegally?
Yes. If the something they are downloading is known to be illegal. And if the something hasn’t been encrypted in a new way masking its signature from known illegal packets. And if you can be sure the download isn’t merely being passed through inadvertently via a legal peering system. And if you can be sure the machine doing the downloading hasn’t been zombified.
Of course, in order to be sure that what’s being downloaded is illegal it would be necessary to decrypt and reassemble traffic bound for a destination and compare it against something known to be illegal.
So the internet service providers would have to have copies of everything illegal to download to match against. Think about that!
And they’d have to have the powers and ability to read and decode everything sent across the internet. Everything. Personal emails. Personal pictures. Business proposals. Everything.
Remember: that’s not the police with the powers. That’s not a court-ordered subpoena to inspect your private communications because there’s evidence you’re a wrongdoer. That’s the ISPs with the powers. That’s BT getting the power, or AOL, or Nildram, or Virgin. Those are the people not only getting the power but being forced to use that power and report back to the government so that they can then be instructed to enforce blocking orders.
Technically feasible? Just about, initially, at huge cost to absolutely everyone. But – and here’s the important thing – it’s doomed to failure. There will be workarounds. They’ll be discovered and patches rolled out to the ISPs to lock them down in time but … there’ll be new workarounds. And newer ones. And there will be problems. People accused wrongly, for instance. Rest assured though that there will subsequently be lengthy investigations into wrongful accusations with the onus on the innocent to prove their status.
It’ll hit everyone, making life worse and more expensive for everyone from users to businesses and, most importantly, won’t have the slightest effect in curbing illegal downloads.
I know it, you know it, the ISPs know it. The government doesn’t know it. But then, it’s made up of politicians so it doesn’t really know much.
The proposal is ludicrous. Do not be surprised in the near future when you hear about a leaked document supporting a move to clamp down on the letter ‘m’ on the internet in order to assuage downloads of music, mp3s, films, and movies. It’s about as likely to be successful.