Governments Working to Ban Hackers and Dissidents From Social Media?

2011 might well be described as the “Year of the Hacker.” The United Kingdom thinks they have a solution by banning “cyber criminals” from accessing social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as other web services.

Governments Working to Ban Hackers and Dissidents From Social Media?

How is the “Year of the Hacker” coming to a close? With the UK government’s proposal “The UK Cyber Security Strategy: Protecting and promoting the UK in the digital world,” Queen and country are seeking to ban hackers, or “cyber criminals” as they term them, from accessing social media and other web services.

Section 4.27 of the proposal reads ,”Computer use may be monitored or restricted under licence conditions when an offender is released, or through a Serious Crime Prevention Order (under the Serious Crime Act 2007)…”

In addition, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office will consider and scope the development of a new way of enforcing these orders, using ‘cyber-tags’ which are triggered by the offender breaching the conditions that have been put on their internet use, and which will automatically inform the police or probation service. If the approach shows promise we will look at expanding cyber-sanctions to a wider group of offenders.

While social media is not spelled out in specific terms, it is well known that UK politicians are seeking to ban those Facebook and Twitter users who use the services to create “disorder.”

The strategy also makes another matter quite clear—the UK is in the business of protecting corporate interests. There is no room for free information advocates and journalists like Julian Assange or those who attempt to highlight the misdeeds of corporations such as Anonymous.

In one of the more Orwellian of the strategy’s objectives, the UK plans to “work with other countries to make sure that we can co-operate on crossborder law enforcement and deny safe havens to cyber criminals.”

Deny safe havens. Translation: A system that would allow authorities to hunt hackers and free information activists to the ends of the Earth.

Granted, much of the proposal is aimed at legitimately combatting malware, fraud, state-sponsored espionage, terrorist fundraising, industrial sabotage and identify theft, amongst other crimes; but it is the UK’s open privileging of business above all else and goal to silence alternative points-of-view that is troubling.

“The threat to the UK from politically-motivated activist groups operating in cyberspace is real. Attacks on public and private sector websites and online services in the UK orchestrated by ‘hacktivists’ are becoming more common, aimed at causing disruption, reputational and financial damage, and gaining publicity,” reads the strategy.

What no government is willing to acknowledge—including the UK—is that the hacks are strategically aimed at unethical banks and corporations, as well as those businesses who openly cooperate with the government in limiting the scope of a free and open internet. Perhaps the UK should note that if businesses acted ethically in the first place, with an average degree of economic, social and environmental awareness, none of the “hacktivism” would be necessary.

And if the government is derelict in its policing duties on this front, then who else will do it?

As Anton Kapela, a security expert, told Death and Taxes, “I’d first love to know the argument that supposedly supports that sort of ‘ban’ or even the sort of application-specific approach. Why not IRC (Internet Relay Chat)? Why not jabber servers? What about bit torrent trackers and public web ‘forums?'”

Kapela continues, “What those two examples suggest is some sort of scale or audience scope is somehow associated with the justification for prohibition, which seems at least somewhat specious an argument to me.”

Kapela notes that in the US, various situations will prompt a judge to “ban” someone from particular device classes depending on bail terms or other supervised-release programs.

“Seems to me that specifically barring folks from ‘applications’ on the internet or other device classes is a fools errand,” says Kapela. “A professor once told me ‘Everyday is day one on the Internet, for someone, somewhere.’ It seems in this case [that] while the UK is ahead of the US by a few time zones, they’re at least a little behind intellectually on these topics.”

As noted in the article, the UK is also putting GCHQ (UK Government Communications Headquarters), the signals intelligence bureau, on corporate retainer. GCHQ is the UK equivalent of the NSA.

“GCHQ is home to world-class expertise in cyber security. Government will explore ways in which that expertise can more directly benefit economic growth and support the development of the UK cyber security sector without compromising the agency’s core security and intelligence mission.”

The UK also seeks to create a GCHQ investment arm not unlike the CIA’s In-Q-Tel to “unlock innovation on cyber security in SMEs.”

The strands of the umbilical cord between government and business grow thicker every day.

Welcome to the machine.