The Law Is the Internets Biggest Enemy

None of this is legal advice, I am not a lawyer, and this notice is legally required for me to say

People like to shit on libertarians a lot, and sometimes for good reason, however, if there is anything they’ve gotten absolutely right, it’s that when the law gets involved with something, everything becomes horrible.

This is primarily because the law is written by idiots and the evil. Now that sounds like hyperbole, but, once you realize how poorly technical law is for service providers, you’ll sympathize with this mentality. Most of the legislation that exists for regulating the internet hurts small guys more than anything and is one of the great enemies of the free internet. No one wants to be taken into court, or into jail in some cases, because of things that happened on the internet.

Anyone who is familiar with the modern copyright law should know where this is going. Copyright law on the internet is a nightmare because anyone can send DMCA claims from anywhere and those DMCA claims must be respected. If you don’t respect them, you can be hauled off to court or thrown in jail for it. This puts you in a situation where you must be beholden to censors or fight in court (draining you of all the money you have), neither is good.

Just hosting copyrighted content makes you liable for the “damages” it may cause. The only way to get any type of immunity is to follow through a lengthy process that requires you publicly dox yourself and pay the government money (see the Copyright section). This alone already makes hosting painful for most people since, if you want to host anything on the internet, you have to jump through legal loop holes just so some DMCA troll doesn’t screw with you.

The funniest part about this is it’s usually not the honest artist sending DMCA claims, it’s medium-to-large organizations who can foot the legal bills or deranged madmen who want to take someone off the internet through false DMCA claims. So, even if you support this insane system, you are only benefiting the worst of people while the people you want to protect, artists and small creators, get nothing in return.

For a better put together overview of the problems of copyright law, just watch EmpLemon’s three part series on the subject.

Child Pornography

Before I get started, I should make it absolutely clear that possession, creation, and distribution of child pornography is morally wrong and that, if at all possible, people who participate in such activities are punished for their actions. However, the current US law as it stands for how providers should deal with child pornography is beyond retarded for a number of reasons.

Popular knowledge of how the law works is like this: “ensure that no one is distributing CP on your websites and everything is fine”. Following this logic, you should purge, prune, ban, and delete any and all instances of CP on your site to keep in line with this ideal, however, that is a crime.

Yes, that’s right, removing child pornography from your servers is a crime unless the law tells you are allowed to. Until they say so, you must keep it on your servers or else you could be a criminal. This is because you have a duty to report any and all CP posted to your services to NCMEC’s CyberTipline and to keep the CP on your computer (and data about the poster), but not allow it to be accessed by the public.

The funny part about this is that you are not required to proactively search your website for CP and do this, only deal with it once you become aware of it. Meaning that, you can be lazy with actually removing CP, so long as you keep it on your computer once found, and you aren’t harboring a CP trading ring. At least in the United States, one of the key reasons why Child Pornography is distinctly not protected under the first amendment is because the materials constitute “a permanent record of the children’s participation and the harm to the child is exacerbated by their circulation”. If this is the case, then mere possession of a copy of child pornography ought to exasperate harm. This is because, to receive the copy, it must have been distributed and the exasperation of harm likely doesn’t exist in the distribution of the image, but rather the image itself (because the image itself contains the permanent record of the child’s participation). By holding the image for any reason at all, there is an exasperation of harm and the law, by requiring you hold the materials, is legally requiring you to harbor immoral CP and engage in the exploitation of children.

If you disagree with this assessment, then you have to disagree with the notion that harm exists within CP itself. There is no excuse for exasperating moral harm, especially of children, even for the “greater good”. This line of thinking would then justify Task Force Argos’ distribution of child pornography to catch pedophiles. If you really believe CP’s harm exists in the image itself absolutely and its mere existence harms someone, then you should recognize that any existence of it is morally wrong, and it must be actively destroyed.

This doesn’t even get into the practicality of doing this. Where does someone store the CP? If it’s on your own computer, then you could become legally liable for possessing CP by doing the right thing. If it’s on the server, you have to ensure effectively no one can get access to it. I guess that’s possible, but you’re still harboring CP on your server and doing something immoral. No one wins in this circumstance.

Regulation breeds centralization

Baring any of the moral concerns of either of the two problem laws, these regulations only end up breeding centralization. Compliance with these regulations is difficult, and, because its difficult people might not do it. This leads to even something as simple as a matrix instance being a legal ticking time bomb that could blow up in your face at any moment. The damage it can do is more than life ruining.

The only people who can comply with these requirements are companies with lawyers, not individuals. Individuals do not have the time or resources to properly follow these regulations (and the many more that exist). While I won’t say that these regulations alone are what’s causing centralization on the internet, they are contributing to it, especially when it comes to building your own platform.

Anonymity is a must to get around this problem.

These laws likely won’t be removed. You can email your congressman all you like, but nothing is going to happen unless a massive organization of interested individuals lobbies for it and can somehow win against the coffers that copyright-loving companies have and the PR disaster that comes with rewriting anti-child pornography laws.

Practically (as of now), the only option is to become anonymous. Not anonymous as in 4chan anonymous, where you don’t have an identity, but anonymous in the sense that your real identity cannot touch your fake, internet identity. This is very difficult and only can really be done on anonymization networks such as I2P and Tor. Have fun getting networking and reach over there.

Really, we need a new way of doing the internet, so that organizations like the US government can’t regulate it even if they tried. Of course, bad actors will do bad things, but they already do bad things now. It’s just that the red tape surrounding the internet will be removed, so individuals can have a chance of making it big again. Perhaps something good can come out of Urbit or Zeronet to make that dream come true.