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electronic commerce and software sectors are jubilant that both houses of
parliament have passed the Information Technology Bill, with two
controversial provisions being dropped.
73, reportedly the brainchild of Delhi’s police, would have required
cybercafés to maintain a list of all websites that their customers visited.
Parliament rightly rejected this as being unconstitutional as well as
other clause that was dropped would have required owners of all websites
to provide detailed information to a registrar. In addition to being an
infringement of privacy, this was unnecessary duplication since the
applicant for a domain name has to provide identification to domain
registrars such as InterNic or the National Centre for Software
thus avoided joining the company of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burma, China,
Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan,
United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. According to Reporters Sans
Frontières, these are the only countries which require Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) and cybercafés to monitor the conduct of their
several western democracies are proposing to enact laws much more
restrictive of individual freedoms than the two clauses that India’s
parliament rejected as a violation of fundamental rights.
Kingdom’s parliament is currently debating the Regulation of
Investigatory Powers Bill which would force ISPs to provide complete
information about all their subscribers to the police. UK’s security
agency, MI5, would install surveillance equipment at every ISP, permitting
real-time monitoring of each and every email, website visited, and banking
and e-commerce transaction. Home Secretary Jack Straw stated: "We've
seen the growth of very strong encryption codes, virtually unreadable,
which are good for e-commerce security but can be used by criminals,
terrorists and pedophiles…Under this bill, people who refuse to reveal
their encryption keys to the police can face a two-year jail sentence.”
parliament is currently debating a law which would require authors of
internet content to identify themselves completely, just like publishers
of newspapers. They could risk six months imprisonment and a 7000 euros
fine for providing false information. ISPs and webmasters would be
required to maintain detailed information about their subscribers and
provide these to the police.
the British and French bills are supported by the co-inventor of the World
Wide Web, Robert Cailliau of CERN Geneva: “All
Internet users should be licensed so that surfers on the information
highway are as accountable as drivers on the road. Registration of
servers and websites would help trace child pornography and racist
have argued that the British and French bills would greatly harm the
economies of these two countries by stifling electronic commerce.
Proponents of free speech have also condemned them. Cormac Callanan,
president of EuroISPA, the European association of ISPs, attacked the
French Bill: “A mistake made while registering a subscriber could land
webmasters and ISP executives in prison for six months…Regulations
framed under this bill may extend the policing duties of ISPs to
monitoring individuals in chat rooms, bulletin boards and discussion
major reason behind the British and French bills is that their security
agencies are worried about software programs like Freenet, developed a few
months ago by a proponent of individual liberty, 23-year old Ian Clarke of
Ireland. He developed Freenet for his undergraduate thesis in Computer
Science at the University of Edinburgh and has already distributed 35,000
copies worldwide, free of charge.
explained: “Freenet provides complete anonymity both for those
publishing information and those reading it, protecting
users of the system from censorship of any form. Unlike newspapers and
television, a person’s
ability to publish and communicate information will not depend on his
personal wealth or power.
The worth of his ideas will be determined solely by how many people
want to read them. Freenet spreads information around thousands of
computers so that it is virtually impossible for any agency to destroy or forcibly
remove a particular piece of information, or find out who is
reading it, or who published it in the first place, making
uses the internet as a giant communal hard drive. Volunteers (35,000 so
far) become Freenet nodes by installing the Freenet program and agreeing
to allot a certain number of megabytes on their hard drives for storage of
Freenet files. When someone uploads a file, Freenet seeks another node at
random to store it. The stored file is given a key, Freenet's equivalent
of a Web URL. The identity of the person who uploaded the file is
encrypted and made anonymous. The file is no longer on his hard drive,
having migrated to another computer at random. The latter’s owners will
also not know that they are storing that particular file on their hard
drive because it has been encrypted. All they will know is that some
unidentifiable thing is taking up space on their hard drive. When another
person wants to download that particular file, he enters the key and the
Freenet program searches the nodes until it finds it. It then downloads a
copy of the file without identifying the recipient, or the storage site,
or the uploader. The
keywords used to search the network for files are also scrambled, making
it almost impossible for anyone to find out who is hosting what, or who is
looking for what particular piece of information.
Even the act of trying to determine where particular information is stored
will result in that information moving to other nodes. The entire process
is done free-of-charge.
Akerman, Britain's chief police officer handling computer crimes, attacked
Freenet: “Freenet will provide a haven for criminals, terrorists and
child pornographers. While I'm all for freedom of speech, Freenet will
severely impede our ability to investigate cybercrimes.” Roger
Darlington, chairman of Britain’s Internet Watch Foundation, which
monitors the internet for illegal material, agreed: “Freenet will be
misused by criminals, terrorists and paedophiles, with no risk of getting
did not dispute these criticisms, but clarified: “Freenet is a medium
for freely broadcasting information to the entire world and does
not make value judgments. While
I hope that people under oppressive governments will use Freenet to
describe their plight without retribution, it is certainly possible for a
terrorist to publish on it. A document on Freenet is like an anonymous
letter to the New York Times - but one that always gets
published. Terrorists are unlikely to tell the entire world their secret
plans. Pornographers gain no benefit from distributing their images for
judges information based on its popularity. If humanity is very interested
in pornography, then pornography will be a big part of Freenet.”
designed Freenet’s anonymizer and encryption features specifically to
protect its volunteers against legal liability. USA’s Federal Bureau of
Investigation has admitted that judges would be reluctant to convict
anyone even if the Freenet files that they hosted on their hard drives
were proved to contain illegal material. An FBI spokesperson, Ramiro
Escudero, explained: “Clarke’s argument would go like this: Someone
left a locked suitcase on my porch in my absence. I can prove that the
suitcase doesn’t belong to me, I can prove that I don’t know who left
it, I can prove I don’t have a key, I can prove that I have no idea
what’s inside it. All I did was volunteer at a town meeting that any
resident of the town could leave their belongings on my porch for safe
storage. How was I to know that it contained cocaine or explosives? ”
Escudero added: “With these arguments, most judges would not hold you
criminally liable, but merely say that you were stupid and careless.”
Published in The Telegraph, Calcutta, India, on Friday, 23 June 2000 on the Edit Page
http://www.telegraphindia.com, Click on Archives, Go to Issue of Friday, 23 June 2000, Click on Editorial, Click on “Hard Drive Freedom”
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