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article imageInternet Censorship: The i-Patriot Act Waiting to be Implemented?

By Susan Duclos     Aug 7, 2008 in Internet
Lawrence Lessig, who is a respected law professor for Stanford University told an audience at a tech conference that there was going to be a i-911 event that would spur the implementation of patriot act laws for online, which he calls i-Patriot Act.
At 4 minutes and 30 seconds into the video above, Lessig describes the details of a plan supposedly already written up, planned and waiting to be implemented should some cyberterror attack hit the Internet.
Before going into the details, lets look at who Lessig is.
Lessig is not only a law professor at Stanford, he is also a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications. Lessig is the founder of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society. He is also a founding member of Creative Commons and is a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and of the Software Freedom Law Center.
Lessig spoke at the Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, California, this year and he told the audience "There’s going to be an i-9/11 event” which will act as a catalyst for a radical reworking of the law pertaining to the internet."
He also claims that he spoke to the former government Counter Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke and he found out that the Justice Department was waiting for a cyber terrorism event that would be the catalyst for implemented the "cyber equivalent " of the Patriot Act, to which Lessig nicknamed the i-Patriot Act.
He further claims that the patriot Act, that was implemented 20 days after the 911 attack on the United States, had been sitting in a drawer for 20 years waiting for an attack of that magnitude and that is how it was ready to implemented that soon after the actual attack.
Another statement attributed to Lessig from the conference is as follows:
Of course, the Patriot Act is filled with all sorts of insanity about changing the way civil rights are protected, or not protected in this instance. So I was having dinner with Richard Clarke and I asked him if there is an equivalent, is there an i-Patriot Act just sitting waiting for some substantial event as an excuse to radically change the way the internet works. He said “of course there is”.
Lessig alleges that just as the Patriot Act had been sitting in a drawer for all those years, waiting to be implemented, that the cyber equivalent is also already prepared and waiting for an Internet attack of such a magnitude that it would have to be implemented just as the Patriot Act was.
He also provides examples showing that even without the implementation of the i-Patriot Act, there is already legislation to create an IP czar at the Department of Justice and to enforce intellectual property rights:
Our governments have reams of legislation penned to put clamps on the web as we know it. Legislation such as the PRO-IP Act of 2007: H.R. 4279, that would create an IP czar at the Department of Justice and the Intellectual Property Enforcement Act of 2007: S. 522, which would create an entire ‘Intellectual Property Enforcement Network’. These are just two examples.
He points to examples such as Facebook and what he calls "overarching identification, verification and access systems" that are being implemented, to warn about strict control mechanisms that are being developed and implemented right before our eyes, saying it needs to be spoken about before the Internet becomes "paralyzed beyond repair."
Cyber terrorism is not a new worry, there have been noted attacks already in the news.
On January 18, 2008, Friday, CIA analyst Tom Donahue, at the SANS security trade conference in New Orleans, disclosed recently declassified information about such attacks saying that hackers have, indeed, penetrated power systems in regions outside the U.S. and in some cases causing power outages that affected multiple cities.
Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer for security firm BT Counterpane, warned that the U.S. has no immunity, despite the fact that the recently disclosed attacks happened outside the U.S.and states "There's nothing magical about a system being in the U.S. The same vulnerabilities are everywhere."
Hands-on model of the Internet
Hands-on model of the Internet
by Takuya Oikawa-Flickr
One memorable previous cyber attack was in 2002 when a denial of service (DOS) attack hit 13 servers and the top five viewed sites went down temporarily.
That attack flooded the 13 domain-name service root servers around the world with 30-40 times the normal amount of data. Seven of the servers were affected enough to have periods of "zero-reachability," according to Web security firm Matrix NetSystems.
You can see for yourself how the Internet structure works here.
In researching what a worst case scenario would look like I ran across a two page article in Newsweek, written in November of 2003.
One specific quote from that article could be labeled as disturbing. It was made by Paul Vixie, president of the Internet Software Consortium, a nonprofit group that helps maintain the Internet, where he said "I'm terrified if I think too hard about it. This isn't so much a threat to national security as a threat to civilization."
When the experts use the word "terrified", and "threat to civilization" it makes one stop and think.
The Internet is used for just about every portion of our lives, utility companies use it, phone, cable, air control, bus, trains and boats use systems which utilize the Internet, even our basic day to day traffic on the roads are controlled by computers running the stoplights.
Protecting something that has become part of our very infrastructure is important, but is that reason to go overboard to restrict, censor, monitor or track online activities.
Where is the line in the sand?
Is there one?
It might also be considered reasonable by some to ask whether or not implementing a cyber equivalent of the Patriot Act would matter much if civilization as we know it (run by computers that no longer function) is in total chaos?
If such a dire scenario were to come, how many people would be worried about jumping on their computer?
More about Censorship, I-patriot act, Cyberterror