The Western World has long righteously denounced China for its attempts to control the Internet as a means of maintaining social order. It even more vocally condemned Arab regimes such as the one in Egypt for shutting down Internet and cell phone service in order to disrupts protests.
But, in the wake of recent riots in London and throughout Britain — a serious upheaval to be sure, but far less disruptive than what happened in the Middle East this year, or what happens routinelyin China — the instant reaction of Prime Minister David Cameron was a scheme to force telecoms to allow his government the power to limit the use of Internet and social networking sites. Earlier this week, when San Francisco residents gathered in the BART subway system to protest the shooting by BART police of a 45-year-old man, city officials shut down underground cell phone service entirely for hours; that, in turn, led to hacking reprisals against BART by the hacker collective known as “Anonymous.” As the San-Fransisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation put it on its website: ”BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak.” Those efforts in Britain and San Fransisco are obviously not yet on the same scale as those in other places, but it illustrates how authorities react to social disorder: with an instinctive desire to control communication technologies and the flow of information.
The emergence of entities like WikiLeaks (which single-handedley jeopardizes pervasive government and corporate secrecy) and Anonymous (which has repeatedly targeted entitiesthat seek to impede the free flow of communication and information) underscores the way in which this conflict is a genuine “war.” The U.S. Government’s efforts to destroy WikiLeaks and harass its supporters have been well-documented. Meanwhile, the U.S. seeks to expand its own power to launch devastating cyber attacks: there is ample evidence suggesting its involvement in the Stuxnet attacks on Iran, as well as reason to believe that some government agency was responsible for thesophisticated cyber-attack that knocked WikiLeaks off U.S. servers (attacks the U.S. Government tellingly never condemned, let alone investigated). Yet simultaneously, the DOJ and other Western law enforcement agencies have pursued Anonymous with extreme vigor. That is the definition of a war over Internet control: the government wants the unilateral power to cyber-attack and shut down those who pose a threat ot it, while destroying those who resists those efforts.