Bonum Certa Men Certa

The War Against USENET Symbolises an Assault on Free Speech

Child-molesting terrorists who 'pirate' films are to blame (the classic excuses)

THE CONSTANT WAR on the Internet is a war against disruptive means of business and communication. The Web is perpetually under threat because, as Richard Stallman put it, you need to "value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history."



One person who speaks a great deal about the use of laws against modern communication in a digital age is Professor Lawrence Lessig and here is a very recent talk of his where he covers important points that he routinely repeats:



Because this talk is very long, we are unable to produce an Ogg version and we apologise. I've personally asked him to make his talks available in free formats.

Appended at the bottom we have references which show the ongoing war on USENET [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]; the material is mostly self explanatory and the references are all from 2008. Also compare Microsoft's role [6] (spying and profiling) to Google's role [7] (accumulation, retention, and dissemination) in USENET.

In this post, we wish only to pass on the details of an experience encountered by one of our readers, who put to the test some comparable services to investigate potential throttling. This needed to be reorganised and clarified, so he summarised his experiences as follows:

Before last Monday, I was using individual.net to access Usenet via port 119 without any problems. Starting Monday, I started experience some extreme problems with speed of access to Usenet. I used to be able to download a complete list of active newsgroups in under a minute. Now it takes 10 minutes or more to do this. The speed problems did not affect any other service except for Usenet to individual.net.

Here is a little table showing my experiments to trace the source of the speed problem:




>From home DSL connection (in the USA): -- slow to individual.net port 119 -- not slow to individual.net port 80 -- networks to individual.net: Covad, Level3, Telia, DFN -- not slow to motzarella.org port 119 -- networks to motzarella.org: Covad, Level3, Mcbone, Fdknet

>From another shell account in the USA: -- not slow to individual.net port 119 -- networks to individual.net: Cogent, DFN



Both my ISP and Individual.net deny doing any sort of rate limiting or traffic shaping on port 119. My experience with motzarella.org tends to exonerate my ISP and their upstream, level3.net. From the fact that I have no speed problems from another US-based shell account to individual.net, that tells me that there is no rate limiting on their end or with DFN. My primary suspect for the cause of the speed problem is Telia.


We've already inquired in the IRC channel, hoping to see if anyone has had negative USENET experiences. When asked whether "anything has changed recently," said balzac: "I think ISPs are freezing USENET out." Some people are already aware that politicians -- along with the media industry -- are shutting down such servers gradually, claiming that USENET is antiquated anyway. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is done also for political reasons. USENET is not centralised enough for them, so there is no control over content (censorship cannot be imposed).

Will people be told the truth though?

"Both "individual.net" and my ISP deny doing any kind of rate limiting," says our reader. "I have also tried connecting from different networks and I also noticed the slowness from an old Unix shell account I have. The upstreams of my DSL account and the Unix shell account have level3.net in common. [...] Either somebody made a mistake or they are deliberately trying to slow down Usenet. If it's the latter, then no doubt the RIAA/MPAA has pressured the network provider into doing it on the theory that they are curbing copyright infringement in binaries newsgroups. Ironically, "individual.net" does not carry binary newsgroups so they would have missed their target here."

If essential channels of communication are under attack, then it ought to be publicised somewhere, even if does not fit the central theme of this Web site. The issue is important to us because this site now drives 6-7GB of traffic per day and some influential companies really don't want it to exist. ______ [1] Comcast to shut down free Usenet access

Comcast is just the latest of the large ISPs to buckle under to MAFIAA pressure from the music and movie cartels, but that doesn't mean that they deserve to get away with this.


[2] Usenet: Not Dead Yet"

Over the last few years, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other organizations looking to eliminate the illegal swapping of digital media files have attacked the problem through the courts, publicity campaigns, and other means.


[3] Comcast, NetZero latest providers to bow to Cuomo's Usenet campaign

But in reality, Cuomo's pressure tactics have misfired. They led Time Warner Cable to pull the plug on some 100,000 Usenet discussion groups, including such hotbeds of illicit content as talk.politics and misc.activism.progressive. Verizon Communications deleted such unlawful discussion groups as us.military, ny.politics, alt.society.labor-unions, and alt.politics.democrats. AT&T and Time Warner Cable have taken similar steps.


[4] Verizon offers details of Usenet deletion: alt.* groups, others gone

Cuomo claimed that his office found child porn on 88 newsgroups--out of roughly 100,000 newsgroups that exist. In a press release, he took credit for the companies' blunderbuss-style newsgroup removal by saying: "We are attacking this problem by working with Internet service providers...I commend the companies that have stepped up today to embrace a new standard of responsibility, which should serve as a model for the entire industry."

[...]

What this means in practice is that, thanks to the New York state attorney general, Verizon customers will lose out on innocent discussions. Verizon is retaining only eight newsgroup hierarchies, even though over 1,000 hierarchies exist.


[5] Usenet Villified In NY Deal With ISPs

Time Warner Cable will turn off all newsgroup access, while Sprint plans to cut access to the whole alt.* segment. Verizon may follow Sprint's example.

Blocking all newsgroups does appear to be a broad approach to a problem involving a minority of such groups. As with the Internet in general, not everything in Usenet poses a threat. But no one wants to be tainted with even a suggestion of being soft on child porn, hence the rush to apply censorship with a sweeping axe rather than a skillfully-wielded scalpel.


[6] Microsoft Shuts Down Netscan (Usenet groups Analytics Tool)

Microsoft Netscan system has been scanning and collection activity of all newsgroups since 1999 but unfortunately, things are about to change.


[7] Deja Googled

Google was, thus, compelled to offer free access to the CONTENT of the Deja archives to alternative (non-Google) archiving systems. But it remains mum on the search programming code and the user interface. Already one such open source group (called Dela News) is coalescing, although it is not clear who will bear the costs of the gigantic storage and processing such a project would require. Dela wants to have a physical copy of the archive deposited in trust with a dot org.


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