Welcome to Undernet 0
The Internet will always evolve faster than government laws to control it. But that’s not stopping governments all over the world from trying. Meanwhile, a sub-group of well-meaning technology experts is building a new Internet, immune from government hands.
The pirates are winning. Earlier this year, the U.S. government attempted to pass legislation that would “ban” websites that host illegal content like copyrighted videos and songs. While that bill failed to pass, technology experts like New York University’s Clay Shirky believe others like it are not far away.
Travis McRea, chief administrative officer of the Pirate Parties International and a Vancouver resident, is helping to build one of the solutions.
“When people try to legislate against the Internet, all they hurt are people who are trying to use the Internet for legitimate reasons,” he said.
“The people doing bad things are on a whole different plane than this,” he added, noting that the evil-doers of the Web world are using an entirely different level of infrastructure and knowledge to carry out their malfeasance.
Shutting down a website, essentially means removing it from the Internet by ensuring that when you type in www.facebook.com, all you see is “404 - Not found.”
It all centres around DNS servers, which are essentially the card catalog of the Internet. When you type facebook.com into your Web browser, your computer speaks to a DNS server, which translates www.facebook.com into the IP address of Facebook’s server that will send you the page and let you play FarmVille.
If you knock the entry out of the DNS server, your computer doesn’t think Facebook exists anymore. And that’s what governments are threatening to do to websites that don’t play by their rules.
Host an illegal file? Nobody on the Internet will ever find you again.But McRea and his ilk have figured out a way around that, and it’s called OpenNIC. OpenNIC is an open-source DNS server that is immune from government influence and exists for the express purpose of listing everything possible on the Internet, even the stuff that makes governments uncomfortable.
And that kind of benevolent hacktivism is increasingly important. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the body responsible for managing the DNS servers that most of us use everyday — recently published a help guide for government “seizures of domain names, DNS name server reconfiguration and transfers of domain name registrations” on their website.
But people using OpenNIC? “They will be able to circumvent that,” McRea says. OpenNIC isn’t in any one country, and isn’t responsible to any one body other than the developers who work on it. It’s enormously difficult to legislate. So long as their DNS servers remain intact, the sites governments have ordered taken down — and that ICANN has obligingly removed — will live on.
Telling your computer to use OpenNIC is remarkably easy, too. Step-by-step directions are available at useopennic.org and it takes the average non-technical person about two minutes to complete the three steps.
“Use alternate solutions to access the Internet and remind governments that the more they tighten their grip on the Internet, the more people are going to start slipping through their hands,” McRea said.
That’s what modern digital piracy looks like. It’s not about stealing a Rihanna single, or a copy of The Avengers. It’s about bypassing those institutions which seek to limit freedom, before threats to those freedoms are even tangible, solely for the purpose of ensuring those freedoms remain intact.
In two minutes you prove that the idea of deleting something from the web is as ludicrous a concept as you always thought it was. Welcome to the Undernet.