Taking Pride in Nefarious Net Activities

When does a passionate advocate for securing the Internet find himself pulling for Internet criminals? When the "crime" is running afoul of a perverse definition of the law. Of course I'm talking about people purposefully ignoring their country's illegitimate attempts to censor or monitor otherwise legitimate Internet use.

Recent events have reinforced the justifiable need for software and sites that can ensure that citizens can continue to communicate freely and confidentially, even when that right is taken away. I especially support people who circumvent the heavy-handed enforcement of questionable censorship laws that exist solely to protect the figureheads in power from the influence of the people they supposedly govern.

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Bypassing censorship filters can be accomplished by using regular services not blocked by the censorship software (such as Twitter) or by using any of the plethora of anonymous proxy services. To get a list of the latter, just search on "anonymous proxies" using any Internet search engine. The best ones encrypt the connection between the originator and proxy so that the information cannot be inspected by intervening filters.

Pretty Great Privacy

The availability of free, reliable encryption software should be a basic human right. From the beginning of computer science, the makers of computer ciphers have considered protecting communications from an oppressive government's prying eyes to be one of the primary uses of their software.

Certainly Phil Zimmermann, the creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption software, had this on his mind as a central theme when he first coded PGP in 1991. He spoke about this need frequently and even covered it in his documentation, FAQ, and book.

At the time, as a citizen who took the freedoms of the United States for granted, I didn't realize the importance of his declaration. Mr. Zimmermann did. He was investigated by the U.S. government for many years -- facing the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence and possibly even the serious charge of treason (punishable by death) -- for making PGP widely available for the world to use. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the investigation, and in the face of overwhelming adversity and the opposition's unlimited monetary resources, he didn't back down.

By 1994, even I recognized the importance of PGP to all freedom-loving peoples. In my youthful exuberance, I was enraged that Zimmermann, who I had personally e-mailed a few times, was being accused of being an American traitor. I came up with a scheme, that upon reflection, was either incredibly ballsy or can only be attributed to adolescent arrogance. My plan was to intentionally violate the U.S. federal statues against distributing encryption programs to foreign governments. This was a charge that Mr. Zimmermann had craftily and legally avoided for good reason.

I was going to create a Web site that would allow any visitor to easily send a copy of PGP to a random foreign e-mail address recipient with a carbon copy of the transfer automatically sent to the White House, along with a protest letter. My idea was to get millions of visitors to violate our "stupid" software encryption laws on purpose and see how the U.S. Justice Department could handle a million violations. My fantasy included the government realizing how ignorant it was, forcing it to change the laws, and to drop the charges against Zimmermann.

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