Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: The Web's Petty Restrictions Make Anarchists of Us All

Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: The Web's Petty Restrictions Make Anarchists of Us All

Article excerpt

Credit: Hugo Rifkind

I wouldn't wish to deny that all drug dealers and crime lords read the Guardian . Indeed, check the circulation figures, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that only drug dealers and crime lords read the Guardian . So, when I read last week about the trouble that GCHQ is now having tracking online criminality, and the way that GCHQ considers recent revelations about state surveillance via the Guardian to be the cause, I did not for a moment think that GCHQ was entirely wrong.

I genuinely wonder, though, if the rogue National Security Agency IT boffin Edward Snowden, whom we hear so much about, has damaged national security as much as Apple has. Or Netflix or BT or TalkTalk, or the entirety of the global industries of music, television and film.

No, I'm wholly serious. On our screens and smartphones, something quite alarming is happening. Probably it would have eventually happened anyway, but it's not this fast. And everything anybody does to slow it down makes it happen all the faster.

It clicked for me a month ago, when a bunch of newspapers (including my own) reported a massive surge in encrypted internet traffic. To explain -- and forgive me if no explanation is necessary -- encrypted traffic is traffic disguised or hidden, or behaving in some way as though it doesn't want anybody to be noticing it. This surge was small in the US, but far larger in Europe and South America. According to most reports, this was all about a heightened desire for online privacy in the face of a sudden realisation that online privacy was quite hard to have.

'Gosh,' I thought to myself. And then I went home, fired up Netflix, and made it think I was in America so that I could catch up on Mad Men . And then I thought, 'Hang on.'

For copyright reasons, Netflix America gives you different shows from Netflix UK. Apple's film and music store, iTunes, does the same, to the extent that I once had to tell my wife's iPad we were in America so I could re-download a copy of Finding Nemo we'd bought while over there on holiday. For this reason, all over the world, digitally, people are pretending to be in America when they aren't. Others pretend to be in the UK so they can watch the BBC's iPlayer. It's not hard to do this. Once you know what to do, setting up a web proxy -- effectively re-routing your data so that it doesn't go where your internet provider intends it to -- is the work of a moment.

Possibly your home internet provider blocks porn. David Cameron, remember, wants ISPs to block it by default, unless you ask for it. …

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