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CensorshipSome time ago we explained why we are all prisoners having no place to run (Your Country Is Your Prison Cell). We also explained why we can't even hide (This Is The End). But now the inevitable third development is becoming a reality; very soon you won't be able to express your opinions. No. It's not that you will be monitored all the time or censored if you cross the line (many countries already do this). You will be outright denied the technical means to express yourself.

LOOKING AT THE PRESENT

This step was, of course, inevitable. We know that "Intelligence Services" They Want Everything but they are not getting it so far (not for lack of trying). If you would like to see what the future looks like, all you have to do is to look at today's Russia.

In Russia the FSB (the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation or Федеральная служба безопасности Российской Федерации in Russian) monitors all internet traffic at all times either directly or indirectly. Anything that travels un-encrypted through any part of the Russian Internet ends up in a place where the FSB can reach it.

Morover, there is yet another Russian organization called Roskomnadzor whose task is to block access to "certain" domains… those domains deemed "bad" by some sort of Russian apparatchik based on… well... whatever they want to base the ban on. No logic required.

If you need to get an example of Big Brother at work, there you go!

The story of Annushka

Of course, sane Russian people are not about to put up with this dinosaur manure and so they reached out to whatever encryption service they may get their hands on; primarily VPN's (or Virtual Private Networks). VPN's were originally designed to allow for point-to-point communication between two computers without outside interference. The main idea was that employees of a company would be able to link remotely and work as if they would be within the company premises. Soon after, entrepreneurial people realized that VPN's could also be used to protect the privacy of citizens. If people would to VPN into a VPN provider's server in… let's say a different county… then this would bypass all snooping in the country of origin because VPN connections are all encrypted.

Let's say that Annushka who lives in Petrograd wants to surf a website that was blocked in Russia. So Annushka VPNs into a VPN Provider in Holland (Rotterdam). Her communication between Petrograd and Rotterdam is fully encrypted beginning at her computer. As this encryption is strong, Russian apparatchiks can easily get a full copy of it but it is gibberish. Once Annushka's communication resurfaces in Rotterdam, she is free to surf whatever she wants (as long as it is not blocked somewhere else). One in four Russian citizens now use VPNs. Annushka's "friends" at the FSB not only have no idea what is she looking at but they also have no idea as to what she is doing.

The problem with VPN's is that should somehow the FSB "penetrate" the VPN provider, they can unmask Annushka and monitor here every move.

The story of Artyom

But let's say that Artyom who lives in Chelyabinsk is into weird stuff such as collecting recipes for dill-roasted kitties. Although the publication of recipes for delicious dill-roasted kitties is not strictly illegal in Russia, it may be deemed "immoral" or "un-patriotic" or in direct opposition to the sacred opinion of the minority in the sub-sub-committee in the Duma about the purity of thought of segregated Russian youth in relation to the consumption of kitties of Russian descent. And that would be considered sufficient cause by the sub-sub-assistant-under-secretary-to-the-assistant-in-chief-to-the-private-secretary-of-the-main-Duma's Janitor to issue an order to the Roskomnadzor to ban such anti-Russian site. Presto! Artyom cannot find any information about this subject within Russia. Furthermore, as there is an obvious cooperation between the Russian organization for the purity of Russian thought and the International Partnership of Equally Minded Individual and Protectors of Kitties, such websites have the tendency to "disappear" from cyberspace.

Enter TOR.

The Tor Project can be seen as a VPN on steroids. Or, more precisely, a chain of VPNs where all the members of the chain (except the first one) have no idea where the communication comes from or where is it going. Worse. Every step is encrypted multiple times. Even worse. All the providers of VPN tunnels in Tor are volunteers. Tor is what is called an encrypted "distributed peer-to-peer" network. Tor can obviously be used as a replacement for VPN's but only for low bandwidth. This is, while Annushka may be able to download movies through VPN, Artyom cannot do so through Tor. But Tor also has a secondary purpose. Tor allows for "services" to exist within its network. What this means is that people can actually have websites inside the Tor network and these websites are quite well protected against undue snooping. Here Artyom can find all kinds of recipes for his preferred dish without any interference from his "friends" from the FSB. Today in Russia about 0.1% of its population or about 150.000 people use Tor.

And so on

There are several networks that are either "censorship resistant" or "anonymity providing" that can be used to bypass professional state snoopers. Some of them are I2P, Freenet, etc. If you are interesting in this topic go to Wikipedia and search for "Anonymous P2P". All of them are fully capable of helping citizens to bypass state tyranny.

LOOKING AT THE FUTURE

That's not right! Clearly. People should not have the right to read (or even publish!) their thoughts without the… proper guidance… of the… properly trained and indoctrinated specialists... of the state… Yeah… that's it!

But don't you worry because Russian apparatchiks are working hard at it. In the last Infoforum 2015 the enlightened Member of the Duma Parliament Mr Leonid Levin (deputy head of the Duma Committee on Information Politics - yes - such a ridiculous committee does indeed exist, we are no making this stuff up) indicated that anonymization and by bypassing technologies such as Tor, VPN and other proxies need to be "restricted". This needs to be done because in Russia they have the authority to pre-trial block websites… in order for justice to be served… of course. Justice first, trial second. Makes sense and it saves a lot of time and effort.

According to Mr Levin (whose internet is not "blocked" or "censored" - allegedly- because he needs access to figure out what is "good" and what is "bad" for the country -allegedly-), blocking of these technologies and websites is necessary because:

  • It restricts citizen's access to blocked content.
  • It stops people from transferring content anonymously.
  • It reduces the commercial distribution of malware.

Yes indeed! This sounds as incredible and as stupid as written. Basically what Mr Levin is saying is that bypassing technologies are bad because it allows people to see what they don't want them to see, it prevents them from knowing what people are they transferring and it reduces the snooping competition (which can be stopped by a regular antivirus).

And… that's it! That's the full gamut of excuses boiling down to:

It Interferes With Our Snooping! Buaaaaaaaaa!

But that's not it. Mr Levin is all out supporting the fearless apparatchiks of the Roskomnadzor to "lock down" such technical services technically preventing Russians from using them. This is obviously necessary because Tor, for example, are nothing but a “den of criminals” and “ghouls, all gathered in one place” (yes, those are his words)…not to mention the fact that the FSB proposed such las in 2012 and the Duma shut it down. It again boils down to:

It Interferes With Our Snooping! Buaaaaaaaaa!

BUT THIS IS RUSSIA, RIGHT?

Well, yes. But do you actually believe that this won't spread? Of course it will! The reason is simple. As we mentioned before, They Want Everything. And who is "they"? The so-called "Intelligence Services" anywhere in the world. What the Russians are doing today will simply trigger a chain reaction in other countries around the world. The excuse will be to fight against "terrorists" or "tax evasion" or "child pornography" or "industrial spies" or "national security" or…or…or… Any and all excuses will be used, and to underline such "necessities" a few tru-ish horror stories will be presented and blown out of all proportion accompanied by massive propaganda efforts. In Russia this is not necessary because whatever Putin The Great Wants, Putting The Great Gets. But in other places, politicians still need votes and this means "convincing" people.

The real reason why "Intelligence Services" will want the same "privileges" is to keep their overwhelming power. Consequently, their excuse presented to the mid-political management will be that if Russians and Chinese are doing it, we will be at a disadvantage if we do not (accompanied by a well crafted careful selection of "test cases" to properly scare politicians). Need-to-know only. People will never know because they "can't handle the truth". Game over.

LET'S BE HONEST HERE

If you know that your particular brand of nasty Big Brother is actually watching and analyzing everything (and we mean everything) you do online, will you continue to do what you feel that you want to do? Or will you only do what you are "supposed" to do according to the apparatchiks du-jour? Fear is a very contagious disease. Fear, uncertainty and doubt. They have it all and without anonymizing or bypassing services we have exactly nothing.

This is our future. At this current state of events we are not sure if we are not entirely doomed. For now. It would seem so. Maybe new technology will appear over time allowing people to speak freely, but as of now the future looks very dark indeed. Maybe the powers that be won't go that far (because it would be political suicide) and we just may win WWIV.

Alas, all is not lost. If there is a shiny beacon of hope is the knowledge that even censoring 100% of all our communications cannot prevent political evolution. On the contrary; every effort governments make to control us is a step forward in the education of the people and their political evolution. The more governments press people, the faster the evolution accelerates. Total censorship won't stop evolution, it will accelerate it.

CONCLUSION

You can't run, you can't hide and you cannot talk about it, but you can evolve. You can ignore governments and you can refuse to obey. Disobey! will eventually become the inner battle cry of most people. No leaders, not glorious revolution. Just a quick walk away for most people of earth. Irrelevancy. Obsolescence. Indifference. Those will be the main characteristics of all governments on earth. Eventually, but never soon enough.

Remember, in ultimate analysis it is your choice and your choice alone. You are in charge. If you do not change, if you do not exercise your choice then you will be forever stuck in this horrible, horrible past of yours. Good luck with that. You are going to need it.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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