London Riots: Why censoring technology doesn’t work.

Leaving to one side (for a moment) the moral, political and Human Rights arguments over David Cameron’s post-riot stance on censoring/deservedly restricting (take your pick) phone and Internet communications this, from a recent post by techPresident about BART’s shutdown of the phone network in San Francisco, shows how futile such attempts would be.

“The latest twist is an NBC Bay Area blog post about the existence of Auto-BAHN, an Android app demonstrated at the Defcon hacker conference this year that uses Bluetooth connections to link mobile phones together when cellular networks are down. This app, per the NBC item, could be a workaround for protesters if BART ever decided to disrupt service again. The thing is, the app isn’t consumer-ready. There’s no iPhone version, and while the Android app is available for download, it’s not in the Android market — meaning whether you can get it depends on whether your mobile vendor trusts you enough with that device you bought to put non-market apps on it. (I could install it on a Verizon device; a colleague couldn’t do it on her AT&T-provided Samsung Galaxy S.) There are other forays into this field, but Nathan Freitas, a developer who specializes in building apps that make it harder for censors to suppress or monitor mobile communications, tells me nothing is ready for the market yet.”

You don’t need a Harvard MBA to predict that any attempts to promote censorship or shutdowns (however temporary) during civil disorder, or even the threat that this might happen, will act as an even greater spur to the natural human inclination to find ways of getting round the problem.  So, technologically speaking, a lot of tail chasing as the authorities go after each and every means of avoiding a shutdown.

Ok, now the Human Rights.  Nor do you need to be a political genius to understand that such a stance gives succour to repressive regimes around the world and does real, long-term damage to the Civil and Human Rights aspirations of millions of people that we in the West should be supporting.  To the UK authorities: Twitter is, by and large, an open platform. Follow it.  The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act already already gives you the powers you need.  Use them.  To UK politicians: Stop posturing and think before you speak!

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