2013年6月15日 星期六

Traces of US Influences over Taiwan's Internet Censorship Attempts


Taiwan government attempted to revise 3 of its laws towards Internet censorship in rapid succession in May and June 2013. Evidence suggests that US influences may be behind the scenes. There were also incidents oddly similiar to the legalization of Korean and French "three strikes laws", to the dubious "educational" anti-piracy campaign of New York, and to the closure of Megaupload, mostly in the name of copyright protection. Each could be a mere "coincidence", but taken collectively, these should be viewed as serious warnings for other countries wary of US control over the Internet, especially in the wake of the recent NSA PRISM scandal.

1. Censorship Attempt through Copyright Laws

In late May, news sites in Taiwan reported that foreign websites broadcasting current films would be blocked in the future as a measure to enforce protection of intellectual properties. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) announced its plan to amend the Copyright Act so that it can legally enlist Internet Service Providers (ISP) to blacklist "obviously infringing (foreign) sites" using DNS seizure or IP blocking. Interestingly, Megaupload was cited as an example while Tudou (a Chinese alternative to the blocked Youtube) was explicitly excluded since it "does not count as an obviously infringing site." In addition, Internet protocols including bittorrent, ftp, and foxy would be examined for infringing contents as well.

This announcement was met with overwhelming objections from numerous bloggers and netizens in general. Global Voices Online summarized the attempt and the reactions, and the news was then picked up by the English speaking world through Techinasia, TheNextWeb, Techdirt, EFF, Infojustice, etc. [1] Eventually the IPO backed down a few steps but is still keen on seeking judicial approaches (instead of the original executive approaches) towards legalizing site blocking.

Some worry that Taiwan is on its way to full censorship like China. Yet others point out the much stronger similarity of the proposal to the infamous Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) of US. If US influences were not a major driving force, it would be hard to find logical explanations why the IPO would propose the comically primitive methods of DNS seizure and IP blocking (as opposed to the more sophisticated -- and still bypassable -- Golden Shield Project model) when any competent IT professional (if the IPO ever consulted one) would point out their futility from a technical point of view. Equally noteworthy is the absence of any economic experts and domestic copyright holder groups behind the proposal to justify its usefulness for helping national economy, or at least a sector thereof. In fact many people argue that such measures would hurt the interest of domestic copyright holders since the censorship would, ironically, facilitate foreign infringement upon domestic works while keeping the copyright holders in the dark.

In any case, IPO repeatedly referred to the requests of the "copyright holder groups" without ever revealing the identities of these mysterious puppeteers.

2. Censorship Attempt through National Security Laws

At around the same time, the Executive Yuan proposed amendment of the National Security Act to "include the Internet in the protection of national security." The exact wording of the amendment was nowhere to be seen in the official website but later appeared in a leaked document. [2]

The leaked document tries to justify the amendment by emphasizing "terrorism" and "hackers on the Internet." At this point, a technical reader (such as the author) would, in view of the long-standing botnet problem and the countless invasion incidents in the past years, expect the government to deal with the infamous IE-only (and sometimes IE6-only!) chronic ailments with our sickened national Internet infrastructures such as the banking websites and the Citizen Digital Certificates (自然人憑證).

Instead, the main body of the amendment focuses on building a more pronounced system for "safeguarding national secrets." Ministry of Defense will be in charge of this system for the army, including training and creating related laws. Ministry of Justice will do the same for other government units, and other ministries or bureaus will be in charge of private businesses and/or non-government organizations under their respective administrations. An item about punishment of people who "intend to endanger national security or social order" is updated. The explanatory text seems to suggest that such people are spies. Yet oddly article 2.2, which sets the context of this amendment, seems to expect that these "spies" would disclose such "national secrets" on the Internet -- instead of secretly selling them to enemies for profit. Under the amended law, people reporting these "spies" to the government will be offered monetary reward and protection from exposure.

Again, it is hard to imagine how these measures have anything to do with foreign "terrorists" or "hackers", who most likely wouldn't bother flying all the way to Taiwan hacking at a local computer so as to be caught and prosecuted by the proposed new law. There are speculations that the real intention of the government is to reinstate white terror measures against whistle blowers. Interestingly, several governments -- most likely under the influence of the US government -- have taken many legal and not-so-legal measures to attack wikileaks exactly in the name of combating "terrorists" and "computer hacking." [3] It remains a baffling mystery why the Taiwan government happened to choose precisely the same terms in such an irrelevant context.

3. Censorship Attempt through Telecom Laws

National Communications Commission (NCC) is also revising the Telecom Act. Some text from Article 9 has caused dissents among netizens.

  1. "Upon being notified by authorized government units about cases of distributing unlawful contents to the public via telecom networks, an ISP should, when technically possible, disconnect the service, remove the contents, or take other appropriate measures."
  2. "An ISP may, when technically possible, disconnect the service, remove the contents, or take other appropriate measures in response to cases of distributing, via telecom networks to the public, contents that cause public disorder or go against decent culture."

NCC denied that it is attempting to censor the Internet and explained that "this article is not concerned with deciding the legality of the contents" and that "it is up to the IPO or the judiciary processes to determine copyright infringement." A blogger pointed out that no existing law determines in advance what contents are legal, and that in a progressive society, the decision of what may or may not "cause public disorder" and/or "go against decent culture" should be left to public discourses. [4]

Other than the timing coincidence, there doesn't seem to be any obvious US intervention in this case. More disturbing, however, is its interaction with the other two attempted amendments. The hook to allow "authorized government units" to send disconnection notices may open the door for executive abuses -- for example by IPO or by the many ministries and bureaus overseeing non-government businesses and organizations as implied in the proposed National Security Laws. According to the National Security Law, sitting at the top of the command is a Ministry of Justice, which is reminiscent of the Department of Justice in the US, notorious for the Swartz suicide scandal, the Associated Press surveillance scandal, the mysterious secrecy about wikileaks and Bradley Manning prosecution, among other censorship-related controversies. [5] [6] [7]

4. Earlier Attempts to Restrict Information Flow

In the past few years, there were several other suspicious attempts of the government to restrict information flow in various forms, mostly in the name of copyright protection.

"Graduated response measures" (nicknamed "three strikes law") were, out of the blue, introduced into the Copyright Act in April 2009 -- roughly the same time as the introduction of the contentious French HADOPI law and the Korean version of the three strikes law. However, there has never been a public report of its invocation as of now. Note that in the case of the New Zealand version of the three strikes law (introduced in 2011), wikileaks revealed that indeed it was "pushed, bought and paid for by the US." [8] [9]

Around 2009, posters claiming p2p as illegal started to appear in University campuses. These posters prepared by the computing centers cite the Ministry of Education as the source of this claim and yet no such official documents have ever been published by the MOE or any University. [10] Regardless of its legality and authenticity, such claim is in direct contradiction to network neutrality. [11]

Central Taiwan Teaching/Learning Resource Center held a 'four frame English cartoon contest' to promote anti-piracy education in late 2011, roughly the same time as the controversial "create the next spot contest" anti-piracy campaign of New York City. Curiously,, both contests required participants to relinquish and transfer their copyrights to the organizers instead of educating the participants about the importance of protecting their own copyrights. This inconsistency between words and deeds makes both contests look far more like brain washing than true educational efforts. [12]

Now.in was a platform designed by Victor Lin for independent artists to create their own podcasting feeds. It received IDEAS SHOW award from the Institute for Information Industry in 2011 and was among the 8 nominees of Intel Global Challenge. In March 2012, the police raided Lin's residence upon the request of the Taiwan branch of International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and destroyed the entire site. Questions about judiciary procedures aside, this raid infringed the rights of many legal independent podcasters at now.in -- just like the case with Megaupload which happened in January 2012. Moreover, it annihilated the prospect of revenue collection for artists of Music Copyright Society of Chinese Taipei (MUST) as at that time Lin was negotiating with MUST for payment details to provide a legal basis for those possibly infringing podcasters. [13]

Finally, Anti-piracy propaganda from the Ministry of Education (and in most cases, ultimately from the Ministry of Justice) constantly bombard University campuses and schools of all levels while the existence of free alternatives such as Free/Open Source Software and Creative Commons works is consistently missing from such propaganda. Students are kept in the dark as to fair use right, copyfraud cases of MPAA and RIAA members (or the concept of copyfraud itself), and the abuses of copyright as a censorship tool (especially the chilling effects created by DMCA). [14]

5. Conclusions

Each incident summarized in this article could be excused as a circumstantial evidence or something even less. Collectively, however, it would be extremely unwise to brush off these as coincidences. In the wake of the four consecutive US surveillance scandals (Verizon, PRISM, Blarney, and Boundless Informant, all directed by the National Security Agency), citizens of smaller US-friendly countries and territories around the world are advised to share observations similar to this article to expose the secret influences that US exercises over their governments. Many people would think political censorship, copyright enforcement, national security protection, and child protection from porn (a hotly debated topic in UK and Australia) as vastly different issues. From a programmer's point of view, however, they are merely similar tasks dealing with different types of digital contents. Furthermore, censorship and surveillance go hand in hand as explained in Cory Doctorow's talk [15]:

As we saw in the copyright wars, all attempts at controlling PCs will converge on rootkits; all attempts at controlling the Internet will converge on surveillance and censorship.

Microsoft has not only won the control over PCs but has also almost won the rhetoric battle of euphemizing "restricted boot" as "secure boot." [16] The only remaining question is: who will control the Internet?

6. References

  1. 洪朝貴 (2013). 「方便黑箱作業、 事後遮醜、 阻撓揭弊」的國安修法退散! 請給我「吹哨者保護」與「政府透明化」. Retrieved from http://ckhung0.blogspot.tw/2013/06/nsb.html
  2. Wikileaks (2012). US Government Attack on Wikileaks. Retrieved from http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/05/us-government-attack-on-wikileaks/
  3. Wayneh (2013). 當政府成了「新警察」 -- 精神錯亂的電信法第9條修正案. Retrieved from http://waynehphilos.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/%E7%95%B6%E6%94%BF%E5%BA%9C%E6%88%90%E4%BA%86%E3%80%8C%E6%96%B0%E8%AD%A6%E5%AF%9F%E3%80%8D%E2%94%80%E2%94%80%E7%B2%BE%E7%A5%9E%E9%8C%AF%E4%BA%82%E7%9A%84t9%E4%BF%AE%E6%AD%A3%E6%A1%88/
  4. Masnick, Mike (2013). DOJ Admits It Had To Put Aaron Swartz In Jail To Save Face Over The Arrest. Retrieved from https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130223/02284022080/doj-admits-it-had-to-put-aaron-swartz-jail-to-save-face-over-arrest.shtml
  5. Stearns, Josh (2013). Everything You Wanted to Know About the DoJ/AP Controversy. Retrieved from http://www.freepress.net/blog/2013/05/15/everything-you-wanted-know-about-dojap-controversy
  6. Scarcella, Mike (2013). DOJ Tells Judge WikiLeaks Investigation Details Should Remain Secret. Retrieved from http://legaltimes.typepad.com/blt/2013/01/doj-tells-judge-wikileaks-investigation-details-should-remain-secret.html
  7. Wikipedia. Graduated response. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graduated_response
  8. 洪朝貴 (2009). 從盜版三振法案看政府走向極權的網路控管. Retrieved from http://blog.ofset.org/ckhung/index.php?post/09cd
  9. 洪朝貴 (2009). 盜版爛帳 莫算到合法 P2P 行為頭上. Retrieved from http://blog.ofset.org/ckhung/index.php?post/09ap
  10. Wikipedia. Net neutrality. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_neutrality
  11. 洪朝貴 (2011). 靜宜大學外語教學中心加入各大學電算中心, 淪為智慧財產權洗腦幫兇. Retrieved from http://ckhung0.blogspot.tw/2011/10/brainwashing.html
  12. 洪朝貴 (2012). Now.in 遭檢抄臺, 為了保護強權智財。 濫傷無辜? 你活該!. Retrieved from http://ckhung0.blogspot.tw/2012/03/nowin.html
  13. 洪朝貴 (2012). 教育部長年協助利益團體智財洗腦? 請打電話教他們搜尋. Retrieved from http://ckhung0.blogspot.tw/2012/09/moe-brain-washing.html
  14. Doctorow, Cory (2011). The Coming War on General Purpose Computation. Retrieved from http://boingboing.net/2011/12/27/the-coming-war-on-general-purp.html
  15. Free Software Foundation (2011). Will your computer's "Secure Boot" turn out to be "Restricted Boot"?. Retrieved from http://www.fsf.org/campaigns/secure-boot-vs-restricted-boot/

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(Presented at NETs2013, International Conference on Internet Studies.)

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