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Iran Election, Privacy and Proxies

As most informed citizens of the world now now, Iran is having a lot of turmoil over its recent elections. The most interesting part about it (ok perhaps second most interesting after the chance of a potential revolution in Iran) is the power of the internet and how news and information has traveled. The story was largely ignored by major news networks (looking at you CNN) but it gained life on Twitter (@ProxyHost now on twitter). They re-scheduled maintenance around the event and news from Iran has been all but cut off with the exception of Twitter.

Why is Twitter the exception?
*Open network - Anyone can join
*Open API - Tons of applications, services and proxies can access and post information

I think those are the two main reasons. The first gave rise to a service and the second cemented it's power for the users. With a completely open API anyone around the world can access it, build apps and allow other services to interact on their behalf. So let's say government Y blocks access to twitter.com, they still have to block every proxy (web service that allows you to interact with the service/post information to it/etc) to effectively shut the service down. Now that Twitter has grown and developers have taken the challenge of building applications for it on, it simply can't be stopped. News, leaks and videos pop up onto the service constantly no matter how hard a government tries to stop it.

Proxy Servers used as evidence of 'sophistication in committing a crime'

The US government has dropped - for now - a plan to classify the use of 'proxy' servers as evidence of sophistication in committing a crime.

Proxy servers are computers that disguise the source of Internet traffic. They are commonly used for legitimate purposes, like evading Internet censors and working from home. But they can also be used to hide from law enforcement.

Just like I could use a kitchen knife to cut veggies or kill someone. Should we ban kitchen knives? Proxies are important today. Even western governments have begun censoring content (see wikileaks about these lists). While I don't promote or condone the content listed at many of the censored sites I think it is a step in the wrong direction and the wrong way to handle such things. We have law enforcement which should investigate crimes, not block all uses of technology/create arcane laws to 'protect' citizens from the potential harm. We might as well all jump into bubbles and never experience life because that is where the ultra strong paternalistic state seems to want to push us.

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LOLcats, Porn, Proxies and Censorship

Based on my Tripod experience, I’d offer the hypothesis that any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media - it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test - if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable.

In late 1996, we noticed that Tripod was receiving a great deal of traffic from Malaysia. Searching through the server logs, we found lots of pages in Bahasa Malay talking about “Reformasi” and “Anwar Ibrahim”. I had to visit the Political Science department at Williams College to figure out that we were apparently hosting much of the Malaysian opposition political movement, dedicated to helping deposed and imprisoned deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim return to power. Malaysian media was largely closed to opposition voices, but investment in internet infrastructure meant that the opposition was able to access the internet and publish material that couldn’t be disseminated any other way. (Several of these pages still exist on Tripod.)