2011年8月17日 星期三

Repressing the Internet, Western-Style

2011年 08月 17日 14:24
Repressing the Internet, Western-Style

Evgeny Morozov

Did the youthful rioters who roamed the streets of London, Manchester and other British cities expect to see their photos scrutinized by angry Internet users, keen to identify the miscreants? In the immediate aftermath of the riots, many cyber-vigilantes turned to Facebook, Flickr and other social networking sites to study pictures of the violence. Some computer-savvy members even volunteered to automate the process by using software to compare rioters' faces with faces pictured elsewhere on the Internet.

The rioting youths were not exactly Luddites either. They used BlackBerrys to send their messages, avoiding more visible platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It's telling that they looted many stores selling fancy electronics. The path is short, it would seem, from 'digital natives' to 'digital restives.'

Technology has empowered all sides in this skirmish: the rioters, the vigilantes, the government and even the ordinary citizens eager to help. But it has empowered all of them to different degrees. As the British police, armed with the latest facial-recognition technology, go through the footage captured by their numerous closed-circuit TV cameras and study chat transcripts and geolocation data, they are likely to identify many of the culprits.

Authoritarian states are monitoring these developments closely. Chinese state media, for one, blamed the riots on a lack of Chinese-style controls over social media. Such regimes are eager to see what kind of precedents will be set by Western officials as they wrestle with these evolving technologies. They hope for at least partial vindication of their own repressive policies.

Some British politicians quickly called on the BlackBerry maker Research in Motion to suspend its messaging service to avoid an escalation of the riots. On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the government should consider blocking access to social media for people who plot violence or disorder.

After the recent massacre in Norway, many European politicians voiced their concern that anonymous anti-immigrant comments on the Web were inciting extremism. They are now debating ways to limit online anonymity.

Does the Internet really need an overhaul of norms, laws and technologies that gives more control to governments? When the Egyptian secret police can purchase Western technology that allows them to eavesdrop on the Skype calls of dissidents, it seems unlikely that American and European intelligence agencies have no means of listening the calls of, say, a loner in Norway.

We tolerate such drastic proposals only because acts of terror briefly deprive us of the ability to think straight. We are also distracted by the universal tendency to imagine technology as a liberating force; it keeps us from noticing that governments already have more power than is healthy.

The domestic challenges posed by the Internet demand a measured, cautious response in the West. Leaders in Beijing, Tehran and elsewhere are awaiting our wrong-headed moves, which would allow them to claim an international license for dealing with their own protests. The yare also looking for tools and strategies that might improve their own digital surveillance.

After violent riots in 2009, Chinese officials had no qualms about cutting off the Xinjiang region's Internet access for 10 months. Still, they would surely welcome a formal excuse for such drastic measures if the West should decide to take similar measures in dealing with disorder. Likewise, any plan in the U.S. or Europe to engage in online behavioral profiling─trying to identify future terrorists based on their tweets, gaming habits or social networking activity─is likely to boost the already booming data-mining industry. It would not take long for such tools to find their way to repressive states.

But something even more important is at stake here. To the rest of the world, the efforts of Western nations, and especially the U.S., to promote democracy abroad have often smacked of hypocrisy. How could the West lecture others while struggling to cope with its own internal social contradictions? Other countries could live with this hypocrisy as long as the West held firm in promoting its ideals abroad. But this double game is harder to maintain in the Internet era.

In their concern to stop not just mob violence but commercial crimes like piracy and file-sharing, Western politicians have proposed new tools for examining Web traffic and changes in the basic architecture of the Internet to simplify surveillance. What they fail to see is that such measures can also affect the fate of dissidents in places like China and Iran. Likewise, how European politicians handle online anonymity will influence the policies of sites like Facebook, which, in turn, will affect the political behavior of those who use social media in the Middle East.

Should America and Europe abandon any pretense of even wanting to promote democracy abroad? Or should they try to figure out how to increase the resilience of their political institutions in the face of the Internet? As much as our leaders might congratulate themselves for embracing the revolutionary potential of these new technologies, they have shown little evidence of being able to think about them in a nuanced and principled way.

(-Mr. Morozov is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and the author of 'The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom.')

2011年 08月 17日 14:24

Evgeny Morozov

些 遊盪在倫敦、曼徹斯特和其他英國城市的青年暴徒是否預料到自己的照片會遭到憤怒網民的仔細審查?暴亂後不久﹐許多義憤填膺的網民來到Facebook和 Flickr等社交網站研究暴力事件的照片﹐急切地想確認這些惡棍的身份。有些精通電腦的網民甚至自告奮勇將這一過程自動化﹐用軟件對照來自網上不同地方 的暴徒照片。

那些青年暴徒也不完全是反對科技進步的勒德主義者(Luddites)。他們用黑莓(BlackBerry)發消息﹐避免使 用Facebook和Twitter這樣比較顯眼的平台。據說他們搶劫了許多銷售時尚電子產品的商店。從“數字原生代”到“數字暴民”似乎沒有多長的距 離。



部分英國政界人士迅速呼籲黑莓製造商Research in Motion取消其消息服務以防暴亂升級。上週四﹐英國首相卡梅倫(David Cameron)說﹐政府應考慮阻止密謀發起暴力或騷亂活動的人使用社交媒體。





2009 年的暴力騷亂過後﹐中國官員毫不猶豫地切斷了新疆地區的互聯網通訊﹐時間長達10個月。儘管如此﹐如果西方國家在處理混亂局面時決定採取類似措施﹐中國官 員無疑仍會為他們上述激進行動獲得了一個冠冕堂皇的借口而歡喜。同樣﹐美國或歐洲從事“網絡行為側寫”(online behavioral profiling)的任何計劃﹐都有可能推動已經蓬勃發展的數據挖掘行業。要不了多久此類工具就會為壓迫政權所利用。所謂“網絡行為側寫”是指試圖根據 微博、遊戲習慣或社交網絡活動等信息找出未來的恐怖分子。

但一些更為重要的事情正處於危急關頭。對世界其他國家來說﹐以美國為首的西方國 家在國外促進民主的舉措往往讓人覺得虛偽。西方國家在奮力應對其自身的社會矛盾之際﹐他們又如何能向其它國家說教呢?只要西方國家堅持在海外推廣其理念﹐ 其它國家或許還是可以忍受這種虛偽的。但在互聯網時代﹐這種表裡不一的做法難以為繼。

西方政界人士既希望制止暴徒的暴力行為﹐還想遏止盜 版和非法文件共享等商業犯罪行為﹐他們建議採用新工具檢測網絡流量﹐並改變互聯網的基本架構以簡化監控。但他們忽視的是﹐這些舉措也能夠影響到中國和伊朗 等國異見人士的命運。同樣﹐歐洲政界人士處理網絡匿名問題的方式方法也將影響到Facebook等社交網站的政策﹐而這又將影響中東地區使用社交媒體的那 些人的政治行為。


(編者注:本文作者Evgeny Morozov是斯坦福大學的訪問學者﹐也是《網絡的錯覺:互聯網自由的陰暗面》(The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom)一書的作者。)