Rights of a Sovereign Nation or Invasion of an Open Internet?

The headlines are no surprise to those in the Internet business. “Police in Central China have shut down a hacker training operation that openly recruited thousands of members Global Cyber Security and Protection from Hackersonline…” (AP) We’ve know China, Russia, and several of the former Soviet block countries are the source of sophisticated hacking, and those activities have at least been tolerated, if not directly supported, but the host governments.

The recent dispute between Google and China’s government brings another question into the breach – does a national government have the right to censor or control the flow of information in or out of the country? While China may be in the news, citizen journalists in Tehran have been severely punished for attempting to Tweet, email, blog, or transmit cell phone images outside of the country. Under the umbrella of national security do countries like Iran have the right to control that information, or develop teams of professional hackers to go out and look into the accounts of residents and citizens?

Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA): To amend title 18, United States Code, to make clear a telecommunications carrier’s duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for Law Enforcement purposes, and for other purposes.

DCSNet, an abbreviation for Digital Collection System Network, is the FBI‘s point-and-click surveillance system that can perform instant wiretaps on almost any communications device in the US (Wikipedia)

I think we can all agree that any state which sponsors cyber attacks on another nation, either through direct objectives, or by turning a “blind eye” to the activities of criminal groups or organizations is a bad thing, which the entire global-connected world should fight. There is no justification for state-sponsored or state-tolerated denial of service, disruption or access to personal and private data, nor online theft.

The Rights of a Sovereign Nation

As Americans, we can get very sanctimonious in our approach to human rights, national ethics, or national morals. We believe we are always right, based on our religious or cultural beliefs, and other nations and cultures should learn from us and change their errant ways to be more like Americans. This means it is probably OK for the national Security Agency, or other three-lettered government agencies to tap, monitor, or perform other forms of espionage – as long as it is done under the context of national security, or even better if you can throw the word “anti-0terrorism” in the conversation.

Thus activities such as DCSNet, or laws such as CALEA, do not bother us too much. However when China tries to look into the systems using a similar premise of national security, the world has an uproar of indignity, not understanding how those people can possibly violate the privacy of email and other systems.

So the question is – “does a nation have the right to set its own laws, cyber-policies, and regulations regarding the Internet and other information systems?”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has strong opinions on the topic. As a long time advocate (since 1990) for protecting the civil liberties of Internet users, both through protecting the rights of users and educating law enforcement agencies, the EFF includes the following points in its stated mission:

  • Develop among policy-makers a better understanding of the issues underlying free and open telecommunications, and support the creation of legal and structural approaches which will ease the assimilation of these new technologies by society.
  • Raise public awareness about civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancement in the area of new computer-based communications media.
  • Support litigation in the public interest to preserve, protect, and extend First Amendment rights within the realm of computing and telecommunications technology.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(1st Amendment to the US Constitution)

Law enforcement and national security agencies of countries around the world would object to the American equivalent of the First Amendment, citing the current world situation, or the sovereign rights of a nation allow it to write, establish, modify, interpret, or change such laws as needed to meet an existing or desired environment.

With global connections to a global community governments are struggling to understand how to control or manage information flows within the country. Twenty years ago it was easy for a government to determine exactly what materials would be used in the education of an 8 year old primary school student. Today, a student in Vietnam, Mongolia, or New Jersey basically have the same access to educational materials as any other student in the world, as well as news, intercommunications, and citizen journalism.

And we must also acknowledge the inherent use of deception by governments and other lobbyist organizations. In the world of governments, what you see is not necessarily what you get. The media is used as a mouthpiece of government policy (when it can be controlled), and without a strong governmental “noise filter” and open citizen journalist community you may not get the real story – only the story a government or organization wants you to receive. They believe it is their right as a sovereign nation’s government of deliver you the news they believe you need to know, or they want you to know.

Some Guidelines for Responsible Cyber-Government

There are priorities. While we all understand national intelligence agencies will always do what they do best – access information they believe will give their respective nation some level of political, economic, or military advantage, the priority should be to protect citizens (including the context of global citizens) from malicious attacks on their personal data and ability to do business and communicate via the Internet.

Hacker schools, such as the China-based Black Hawk Safety Net, cannot be tolerated by a reasonable global community. If a government supports the activities network-enabled criminal activities, then that government should be identified and the world given the means to protect themselves from that risk. The US Government has taken some openly advertised steps in this direction by authorizing the US Air Force to establish the USAF Cyber Command.

The new Air Force Cyber Command “will train and equip forces to conduct sustained global operations in and through cyberspace, fully integrated with air and space operations,” said Major General Charles Ickes.

Of course that capability can both defend – and attack as needed to meet military and national objectives.

Leaving users once again at the mercy of governments to both act responsibly, and in the interest of a global community. Sure, we have our work cut out for us. Like most individual users and people depending on the Internet for our livelihoods and futures, the burden is ultimately on us to protect ourselves from intrusion, theft, and denial of service.

Perspectives on War and Conflict – Which Side is Right?

As children of the 50s and 60s, growing up in the US, we had the constant fear of nuclear annihilation riding on our backs. The “Red Threat” resulted in the construction of nuclear fallout shelters, attack drills, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the “Domino Theory” warning of the advance of communism. Every American child was taught to fear, and hate, those who lived in foreign countries considered hostile to the US because of their ideologies and forms of government.

During my first visit to China in the early 1990s, I was genuinely afraid I’d be arrested at immigration due to my past US military experience. Even though I was in my late 30s, the fear of China was so deeply embedded into my psyche that I could not shake the impending feeling of doom as my airplane touched down at the Beijing airport. Even while deplaning I could not help but notice nearly EVERYONE in the airport was wearing some kind of uniform, and they were all looking at me as a spy or person who had entered their country to do them harm.

At immigration the inspector looked at my passport, and said “welcome to the People’s Republic of China.” And that was it.

Conflict of war and perspectiveExiting the airport also meant exiting the community of uniforms, and I entered a world that fascinated me then, given the warmth and openness of the people in Beijing, and continues to fascinate me today. Occasionally a Chinese person engaged me in a debate about the differences of democracy vs. communism, but in the post Tianamen period most Chinese were concentrating on making money, working hard, and getting on with their lives.

Ditto for Mongolia. While I have to admit it was a bit uncomfortable for me to see HIND helicopters flying around, and soldiers walking around with AK-47s, I started to warm up to the idea they were defending their country, their way of life, and trying to keep enemies away from their borders. Kind of like what Americans do within our country.

In Hanoi, a name that still brings a bit of anxiety to many Americans of my generation, walking through the city and museums produced concerns that I might not be well liked, as an American, in a country we fought in a horrible conflict through much of my youth. I had the feeling everybody looking at me was wondering if I flew B52s, or had wounded or killed one of their family.

In fact, many of them do have that question. But much like other humans around the world, life is for the living, and the living get on with their lives. In fact, Hanoi is one of the friendliest cities I have been in, and continues to bring pleasant surprises every time I venture out of the hotel into the community.

The 1000 Pound Reminder

I have started rationalizing my emotions towards war. As a professional soldier I know the meaning of conflict, have been in conflict, and don’t like it very much. The enemy has no face, no soul, no name, no family, and is a slab of meat that needs to be captured or killed. Soldiers, regardless of the soft news that surrounds winning the hearts and minds, are trained to take the lives of their enemies either while advancing on their position, or defending their own position. Pretty simple.

Walking through Hanoi there are still signs of conflict. A large crater that formed when 1000 pound bombs were dropped into neighborhoods. The “Hanoi Hilton” of John McCain fame. The “Hanoi Jane” memorial anti-aircraft gun. All memories of a time many years ago when people in Hanoi were killing or being killed.

As an American I grew up hating the Vietnamese for torturing US airmen. I grew up hating Muslims for the terrible things they did to Jews. I hated Cubans for just about everything. All a result of the media telling me I should hate them. A media that continue s to drive the same message for other conflicts and cultures – broadcast by people with a lot of experience in war, such as Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. They do have a lot of military experience to draw their conclusions from, right?

Now, after many years of walking through countries we have at some point in our generation been at war (Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Mongolia, Viet Nam, Palestine, Israel, Germany, etc., etc., etc…), my perspective is changing. I wonder how I, as an American, would react if the war was fought, for example, in Long Beach (California). If bombers from Manitoba were dropping 1000 pound bombs on Belmont Shore, what would my reaction be?

If I caught a Manitoban flyer who had his plane shot down while dropping bombs on my neighborhood, what would I do to him?

The answer is pretty easy. I would rip him limb from limb and feed the parts to coyotes – while I watched and laughed.

When I think of the indignities a young school girl encounters while passing from Ramallah into East Jerusalem, what can I expect her to think or feel as she passes Jewish people or Israelis each day? What if I was her father? How would I react to bulldozers wiping out my neighborhood to accommodate settlement expansions? If foreigners were occupying my homeland, would I welcome them with open arms, or find a way to fight?

How do you win the hearts and minds when a bomber accidently drops its payload on a civilian community and calls it “collateral damage?” At the end of the day, it really makes no difference if it is a mistake or not – people die.

It is all about your perspective. As history has shown, the winner ultimately writes the history. It is both enlightening, and confusing to look at the perspectives of each side. We can now look at the wars of the Romans, Mongols, British Empire, and Zulus with a detached, neutral, and academic view. Recent wars are still being written, and may not be understood for another 500 years or so. And when they are written, there is not going to be a right or wrong, only a winner and body count of the dead.

My perspective is now that war is not a good thing for the living. And as Clausewitz eloquently said, “war results when diplomats are incompetent or screw up.” Or something like that. And 16 year old children implement their failed policy with guns or explosives strapped to their belts.

All about perspective, and understanding there are two distinct sides to every argument or conflict.

Copenhagen Climate Summit Ends – What Did They Accomplish?

The Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers, and other heads of delegation present at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen,… Have agreed on this Copenhagen Accord which is operational immediately.” And so ends the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Long Beach port and oil island - major source of pollution for LA BasinBut what did the participants agree to? Was it substantial enough to make a difference? Did they silence the skeptics? Will Sarah Palin finally believe Alaska is melting into the North Pacific?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defends the Copenhagen climate summit. In an interview with the German news source Bild am Sonntag Merkel stated “Copenhagen is a first step toward a new world climate order – no more, but also no less. Anyone who just badmouths Copenhagen now is engaging in the business of those who are applying the brakes rather than moving forward.”

The climate conference ended Saturday with 192 participating nations walking away with the “Copenhagen Accord,” a deal brokered between China, South Africa, India, Brazil and the US.

The “Accord” can really be brought into one statement:

To achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, we shall, recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development, enhance our long-term cooperative action to combat climate change.

How the global community gets to that objective resulted in a non-binding acknowledgement that doesn’t set hard numbers on reducing carbon emissions, specific timelines, or penalties on violators.

It does agree to provide $30bn in funding for poor countries to the “adverse effects of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures” from next year (2010) to 2012, and $100bn a year after 2020.

The “Accord” not cites carbon emissions as an issue, but also deforestation.

We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries.

Oddly, or maybe not, China (as the world’s largest source of carbon emissions and greenhouse gas) applauded the “Accord.” Maybe the “non-binding” nature of the “Accord” gave China some relief, or maybe China has simply accepted their role and responsibility in providing global leadership in reducing harmful toxins into our environment.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China believes the Copenhagen Summit produced “significant and positive” results. “Developing and developed countries are very different in their historical emissions responsibilities and current emissions levels, and in their basic national characteristics and development stages,” Yang said in a statement. “Therefore, they should shoulder different responsibilities and obligations in fighting climate change.” (Xinhua)

President Barack Obama stated “a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough” was made in Copenhagen. “All major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.” (from Press Conference in Copenhagen)

But there are skeptics

No event is perfect. When you get representatives from 192 nations in a room, teamwork is probably a fantasy none of us should harbor. A small island nation may wish to defend their island from rising oceans, where an oil-producing country may want to defend their industry.

Communist and socialist countries may have an agenda, religious leaders an agenda, democracies an agenda, and superpowers an agenda. So as expected, not everybody walked away from the conference with warm words for the “Accord.”

  • Venezuala – International thought leader Hugo Chavez stated “If it’s to go and waste time, it’s better I don’t go,” he said. “If everything is already cooked up by the big [nations], then forget it.”
  • Bolivia – Bolivian President Evo Morales called for the creation of an actual climate justice tribunal. The Global North, Morales said, should indemnify poor nations for the ravages of climate change.
  • Ethiopia – Director General of the Ethiopian Environment Protection Agency, Dr Tewolde Birhan Gebre-Egziabher
    beleives Africa is already suffering, and likely to suffer more from climate change, but contributes very little to climate change.
  • Nepal – Prime Minister Madhav Kumar highlighted his concern of the “seriousness of the problem of climate change” particularly for the least developed and vulnerable countries. He adds that Nepal urges special focus on the impact of global warming on the Himalayas, in Nepal and elsewhere.
  • UK – Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said “If leading countries hold out against something like ‘legally binding’ or against the 2050 target of 50 per cent reductions in carbon emissions – which was held out against by countries like China – you are not going to get the agreement you want.” (COPS15 )

And so on.

The important thing to remember…

The important thing to remember is that we, as a planet, were able to get 192 nations together to agree on one important point – climate change is occurring, and human bei9ngs are part of the problem. If we do not get control over global warming, our planet will not be able to support life in the longer term.

Every media source in the world focused attention on the issue for the better part of two weeks. Even Fox News, acrimonious as they are, provided a lot of coverage. Regardless of polls stating the roller-coaster of public opinion on global warming vs. job loss, 90% or more of the global population will now at least look at a bus spewing black clouds of exhaust into the air, deforestation, and thousands of 2-stroke motor scooters crowding streets as something that is not healthy for the planet.

Regardless of which side of the debate you fall, the result is your position will now need defense – defense that it is not destructive to the planet, defense a Hummer/2 used to buy beer in a West Virginia country town is your inherent right as an American, or defense that every energy-related decision should include an environmental impact question.

Prior articles in this series:

Interview with Mike Lagunowitsch, Presence Networks, Hong Kong

It was a clear, very beautiful morning in Sydney. Mike brought the Pitts biplane up to about 4,500ft, and you could literally reach out and touch the mountains from the open cockpit and passenger seat. I came close to better appreciating the words of the classic poem that is understood by pilots, and very few others;

Mike Lagunowitsch, the pilot, a friend, and former colleague at Sprint Australia and Sprint China, is one of the few people I know who can really step away from the job, and escape into complete indulgence in life. Then almost like flipping a switch he returns to being one of the most enthusiastic, aggressive visionairies in the telecommunications industry.

Savageau: Mike, what are you doing these days? Been a long time since we had a chance to catch up.

Mike: I live in Hong Kong and am building Presence Networks in Asia Pacific/India. We provide presence based, secure IM Unified Comms delivered as SaaS for telecommunications carriers and large enterprises.

Savageau: What attracted you into technology and the telecom business?

Mike: At University in the ‘80s I did an Industrial Training year, and was subsequently hired by an early email and network access provider. I was assigned to a network services team, building and troubleshooting X.25 packet switching networks. It was a real apprenticeship in hierarchical peering protocols and the telecoms business. Subsequently I did similar job for a US carrier that operated in the global market. These foundations still serve me well. I also developed relationships that I have kept and which have been incredibly important in my career.

Savageau: What makes technology-related industry more interesting than other careers?

Mike: For me it’s the speed of acquisition, application of knowledge, and the creativity that’s enabled. It’s just unprecedented. And it will only get faster and more innovative. The implications are mind blowing.

Savageau: What are some of your most memorable projects?

Mike: I was based in Jilin province China once for a project where we had to install some very sophisticated Class IV laser DWD Muxes. The venue was very near the North Korean border. Problem was that the data centre was in a remote place several miles from the closest train station. It was February, about nine feet of snow, and a complete mess everywhere. Roads were absolutely unusable by trucks.

To solve our transportation and logistics problem we hired a wooden cart pulled by a massive hairy yak. This modern transportation system ultimately hauled the crated mux to our customer’s site. A few days later after sorting out grounding, power stability and replacing broken windows, we actually got it up and running. Amazing. It was a wonderful international joint effort between Chinese, US and Canadian engineers, with me as the token Brit – all pulling together to get the job done. A real can-do team effort. Lots of smiles and “gwangshi building” beers were consumed after that job.

I also worked with a team of Russian engineers in Moscow. I was amazed that they had laid and lit fibre in the sewers across the city. The network was huge. Later when in Sydney, Australia we were building a dark fibre network in the CBD but couldn’t find the right skills in the local market. So I flew down some of the team of Russian engineers to get the job done. They did the job in half the planned time. They had something to prove, and their level of professional pride and work ethic was incredible. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting their team manager again. He was passing through Hong Kong this past January, and of course meeting him and catching up was really nice for me. We hadn’t seen each other for ten years but had got back in touch via the social networking tool LinkedIn over the last year.

Savageau: You are British, but have chosen to live your life in the international community – any particular reason why?

Mike: Actually I carry dual nationality & passports – British by birth and Australian by choice. I grew up in the UK, but my father was from what is now Belarus. From an early age I was encouraged that the “world was my oyster” to “stand on my own two feet” and “go explore”. I have had some wonderful cultural experiences being in the international telecoms industry. These have helped me understand how to work with other cultures and recognize the limitations of nationalistic and protectionist attitudes. It’s important never to forget your roots and culture of course, but in the current world we live in fostering tolerance and having the ability to cross culturally collaborate is critical. It’s also fun and I love the variety of cuisines.

Savageau: What professional goals are still out there for you to achieve?

Mike: I would love to combine my interests in technology and aviation.

I think we are at the tip of the iceberg with the current generation of computing and service technologies. Ironically I think the current global economic climate will accelerate the rate of technological innovation that drive efficiencies in how we collaborate, force the development of new business models and help eradicate mindless bureaucracy. I so want to be a part of this change.

Savageau: Any emerging technologies or applications that really excite you?

Mike: I’ve been curious about Artificial Intelligence since University days. With today’s early collaborative technologies, increases in computational and storage performance, increasingly sophisticated search engines, and with a permanently wired generational mindset starting to enter the labour pool the opportunities to creatively engage this somewhat fringe technology are very exciting. Of course AI is no match for natural stupidity but maybe the latter can serve as inspiration.

Savageau: Do you have suggestions for young engineers who are looking not only for a great career, but also the chance to bring excitement into their jobs?

Yeah. Don’t be afraid to take risks, especially now. Recognize the limitations of material things and don’t go chase a job for the sake of money. Identify and play to your strengths. Be creative and apply your skills to help solve the really critical issues of today; disease, population growth, extinction of species – animal and plant, government’s and corporation’s exploitation of finite natural resources. Despite the current military conflicts and economic challenges these are the BIG issues of today the ones that will deliver truly exciting returns. Technology alone is not the answer but it can be a critical enabler for rapid positive change that will benefit everyone in society.

Savageau: Final message to the tech community in California?

Mike: Continue to harness technology to create and innovate in all areas. Remain the world leader in these areas. Thwart senseless bureaucracy at all levels. Openly collaborate with all cultures, learn from them to develop technologies/services that benefit everyone. The money will follow.

===

I’ve known Mike for just about 17 years. We’ve walked the streets of Beijing, Sydney, London, HongKong, Tokyo, and Washington DC together, talking about technology, culture, and visions of the future. Hong Kong is lucky to have him. I look forward to getting him to Long Beach some day, and having the chance to catch up on all topics in tech and life.

And he does an awesome reverse negative “G”stall in the Pitts at 10,000 feet.

UPDATE: The Green Dam Bursts – China Backs Off on Web Filtering Requirements

Possibly due to international pressure, possibly due to the fact it probably simply wouldn’t work, China has made a decision to delay the deadline for companies to install the controversial “Green Dam” software in all new computers sold in the country. The software package, formally called “Green Dam Youth Escort,” was promoted by the Chinese government as a utility to protect Chinese citizens from being exposed to pornography.

However, once the package was released to manufacturers and testing organizations it quickly became apparent the software had other features, including filtering words and topics deemed too sensitive for Internet users. Those topics include phrases like “Falun Gong,” and “7/4 (a reference to the Tianamen Square Massacre).” If a user typed sensitive phrases into a browser search window, Green Dam would immediately close the browser window denying the user access to both the browser and content.

Other content being requested resulted in POP UP screens announcing the content is “harmful” to web viewers.

It is also probable (although not confirmed) that when a user did try to use those sensitive phrases or access porn sites, that the attempt would be recorded and sent to authorities. This would be the equivalent of state-sponsored spyware being loaded on computers.

Within China many protests were threatened by activists demanding the government Ministry of Information and Information Technology rescind their order to install the software prior to the 1 July deadline. Even with the threat of potential civil disobedience, China also acknowledged that PC vendors and manufacturers would not have been ready to meet the deadline.

CNN reports that “had the government not delayed its controversial order that all computers be equipped with Green Dam by July 1, the result would have been the same — Chinese computer retailers were far from ready.” Manufacturers assembling and distributing computers in China include Dell, Lenovo, and Hewlett-Packard.

While the US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and the US Trade Representative Ron Kirk have sent letters of protest to the Chinese government, as well as their counterparts from the European Union and other international trade groups, it is probably domestic pressure that led to the delay. Chinese groups all around the country promised to boycott, including rather prominent Chinese personalities such as Ai Wei, the artist who designed the famous “Bird’s Nest Stadium” for the Beijing Olympics.

Reuters reported Wei organized a “Green Dam Party” for Internet users to protest the software deadline by gathering a large group (~200) at a trendy café in Beijing. Wearing T-Shirts mocking the government program, protesters gathered to attend the rally – and were pleasantly surprised to find out they had already won the fight – or at least helped cause postponement of the deadline.

Baby steps. Learn more about Green Dam with a Google search – it is important to ensure we all understand both government attempts at censorship, as well as efforts to prevent censorship and freedom of information.

 

John Savageau, Long Beach

No, You Can’t See That! – Internet Censorship in China and Around the World

Internet censorship is control or suppression of the publishing or accessing of information on the Internet. (Wikipedia)

Attempts to censor Internet content have been around for years. In the good old days of the US Internet we had a lot of innovative censorship ideas including the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the “clipper chip.” In recent years we’ve added additional utilities demanded free speech, john savageauby the Children’s Internet Protection Act and Online Predators Act.

It is not only the United States. Many countries around the world restrict Internet access for a variety of reasons, both political and to prevent access to “indecent” materials. Not surprising, governments which are the most repressive, such as Burma/Myanmar, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and China, have the harshest controls over who can access the Internet – and what they can or cannot view via the Internet. Most of these countries are concerned with free access to world news and opinion, with pornography a slightly lower censorship priority.

China recently took the requirement for censoring internet access to a new level by demanding PC manufacturers and computer vendors to install Internet filtering software on each device sold within China. The filtering software is called “Green Dam,” and is causing an uproar not only within the Internet community, but also among several governments.

“The aim of this internet filter, contrary to what Chinese authorities contend, is clearly to censor internet and limit freedom of expression,” the European Commission said in a Statement. (AFP)

“We therefore urge China to postpone the implementation of this mandate and request that a meeting is organized at technical level to better understand what is at stake.”

According to the Washington Post, the Green Dam software is designed to protect viewers from pornographic images and content. However it is also clear the software is also capable of providing additional filtering utilities for blocking politically sensitive content, including news. In addition, many in the Internet community believe the software is not only technically flawed – posing many access and security risks, but also designed to provide Chinese officials access to data stored within individual computers and networks.

This is disturbing, as our computers are now under frequent attack by a growing list of nefarious utilities such as adware, viruses, spyware, and other malicious code. State-sponsored spyware runs counter to the intent of the Internet, and puts those countries well into the list of “Enemies of the Internet,” as provided by the Open Net Initiative (a partnership among several universities with the objective to “investigate, expose and analyze filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion.”).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation/EFF believes that Internet users and content providers have a set of basic rights to free speech:

  • You Have the Right to Blog Anonymously
  • You Have the Right to Keep Sources Confidential
  • You Have the Right to Make Fair Use of Intellectual Property
  • You have the Right to Allow Reader’s Comments Without Fear
  • You Have the Right to Protect Your Server from Government Seizure
  • You Have the Right to Freely Blog about Elections
  • You Have the Right to Blog about Your Workplace
  • You Have the Right to Access as Media
  • Know Your Rights and Prepare to Defend Them

This set of rights rubs against the grain of US politicians, who have tried to limit the Internet’s desire for open communications and the basic rights of internet use through laws such as the Patriot Act, which the American Civil Liberties Union/ACLU believes gives government the right to “threaten your fundamental freedoms by giving the government the power to access to your medical records, tax records, information about the books you buy or borrow without probable cause, and the power to break into your home and conduct secret searches without telling you for weeks, months, or indefinitely.” This includes having access to your computer, your network and online profile, your access records, and your usage of Internet web sites.

Companies such as Yahoo and Google have frequently come under attack by not only Internet rights advocates, but also the US Government when their desire to do business within China resulted in both companies cooperating with Chinese authorities to not only install censoring software within their product, but also turn over user records. Yahoo allegedly turned over records of some Chinese dissidents, resulting in those persons being imprisoned.

Several organizations are developing software that allows citizen journalists in countries such as Iran to access the Internet, report anonymously, and beat the censors. The Global Internet Freedom Consortium offers their GIFC Anti-Censorship Tools Bundle to help citizen journalists not only transmit their stories, but also read news online which is being aggressively censored by the Iranian government.

Censorship is a very hot topic. While the US and other governments hop on the bandwagon to promote Internet freedom, at the same time they are enacting restrictive laws within their own countries. The good news for Internet freedom fighters is that news, like the Internet packet, will eventually find its way around blocks, censors, filters, and restrictions to the eyeballs and minds which crave a view to that which is not known.

Find out more about Internet censorship, form your own opinions – for or against censorship, and make a stand. You might fall somewhere in the middle of the issues, you might be teetering on the far edge of each issue, but the Internet is a global tool, and you have the right to make your voice heard.

 

John Savageau, Long Beach

Interview with Adil Mehmood – Global Internet Engineer

January 2003. 

“Hey Adil, I need some help getting a LAN installation done – you up for a month or so worth of consultant gig?”

“Sure, where is the job, and are there any special problems?”

“Well, it is in Mongolia…”

“Mongolia?  Are there any real issues with the customer?”

“Well, it is at a new gold mining operation.  Location is about 300km from the nearest city, no electricity, no telecom infrastructure in place, and the temperature gets down to about -45c at night.  All they need from you to design and implement a fiber optic LAN system within the 150 sqkm campus, and then build a VoIP architecture to bring their communications back to Canada and the capital city (Ulaanbaatar) of Mongolia.  Guess you will have to use VSAT (satellite) to someplace like HongKong or California to make the connections.”

“Cool, when would you like me to be there?”

 

Adil Mehmood is what real engineers aspire to become.  With the tacit knowledge gained from more than 20 years in the telecom engineering and operations business, there is literally no job too large or difficult for him to engage.  He has specialized in implementing telecom systems and basic telecom infrastructure in developing countries throughout his career – one of those unknown professionals who actually have the privilege of going to sleep at night knowing he has made a huge, positive impact on the future of millions of people. 

Part of the Internet tech community hangs out at conferences and parties, others roll up their sleeves and apply their energy and experience to real projects, in countries and locations most of us may not even be able to find on a map.  Adil Mehomood is one of those people, and unsung hero of the Internet community.

I recently caught up with Adil as he was passing through Los Angeles on his way back to Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, or wherever his trail currently heads.

John  – Adil, what are you doing these days?  

Adil – Well,  after spending  time back in the UK trying to settle down into the domestic life with my family, I quickly realized I was getting bored . I wanted to be out dealing with challenges, and this meant working as an expatriate again in a developing country.  Over the past few years I worked on a large rural VoIP project in Mongolia (first of it’s type) and just ended up staying in North Asia!

John – You are known in the telecom community as one of the more creative network design engineers.  How did you get into that level of engineering?

Adil – I think one of my inspiring moments was in 1995, I had just landed in Beijing on a look-see trip for a 2-year contract with Sprint China. I ended up at the Beijing Telecom data centre the same afternoon, helping some engineers from the Beijing Telecom Authority to upgrade their initial Internet connection to 256Kbps.  This was back in the days ChinaNet had only two 64Kbps satellite links to California serving the entire public Internet in China.  I never looked back, and ended up working with some really talented folks in Beijing, who are still friends and colleagues.  

Later in  1998 I ended up working with  a group of  hard-core network systems engineers , based in  Reston  (Virginia, USA) as the Director of IT Products for Global One, and we created the first global IP VPN (Internet Protocol – virtual private network)backbone.

John – What made you decide to break from the large, corporate environment and strike out on your own?
 
Adil – I got tempted by the Internet boom.  We had taken the Global One product team to its limit, and I wanted to participate on a more creative level as the Internet was really catching some good traction as global infrastructure.  I  went to work for a startup VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) carrier, based out of Hong Kong as the head of product development.  We did some amazing technical innovations, but got caught when the Internet bubble burst.  That’s when I decided to go on my own and moved back to  the UK to build my own network consultancy.

John – How important is innovation, first mover status, and taking technical risk?  What would you advise IT managers or engineers to consider in their own companies?

Adil – I always use the term  “… working right at the edge of the envelope…,” meaning  the best place to be is absolute first mover  status.  As a startup, you must always consider maximizing new technology and innovation, with of course proper risk management.  My advice to IT managers and lead engineers would be a “Calculated Offense” is your best defense.  As a small company or startup company without innovation and managed risk, you put your existing services at company at a disadvantage.  You must be able to discriminate yourself from the pack. 

John – You’ve been with the Internet since the beginning, and lived each step of the evolution up till today.  Are you comfortable with how the Internet has evolved?  Mistakes made?  Concerns with the current state of the ‘net?  Happy with the Internet as it is today?

Adil – When I first got involved with rolling out the Internet  into the Middle-East (NOTE:  Adil was part of the telecom reconstruction team that went into Kuwait following the first Gulf War), Europe, and Asia it was exciting.  I learned very quickly what a huge impact the Internet and Internet technology was going to have on people’s lives.

The evolution (of the Internet) was incredibly fast.  And while I think along the way we could have done things more tactfully and strategically, my only regret is that in the early days the global carrier I worked for (Global One/Sprint International) didn’t fully commit to the Internet wave.   We helped influence and change that later when I headed the product management, but global commercialization of the Internet had already taken off by the time my company fully engaged in building their network and product lines to meet customer and market expectations. 

John – Where would you like to take the Internet, or more importantly, what does the world need from Internet and communications engineers to get where we should be in 15 years?

Adil – Back when I worked in Beijing and we built our first company Intranet using the IP protocol, we let everyone in the company go nuts with creativity and freedom of thought.  It was a wonderful period, with a group of very talented and innovative Chinese engineers.  We had not only the approval of our local and regional management, but also full support from the Chinese government which funded much of our lab work.  I remember some other big corporations doing the same, and we called it the “chaos phase of the Internet.” 

This is where we are again today with the Internet.  In my opinion, Internet development now needs a bit more direction.  In 15 years we shouldn’t have to work out how to plug into it (the Internet), it should be integrated and seamless anywhere.  Connectivity and access to the global Internet should no longer be a burden, it should be a basic right of all persons in all countries.

Once we have cracked the nut of access, we will need to further force the IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) into the network, and better understand how to not only increase bandwidth in an affordable model, but also build in better efficiencies to eliminate bottlenecks.  Only then can we really concentrate on encouraging open and creative development of applications that will bring our communities – regardless of geography and political controls – into the next generation of social and economic globalization.

John – You’ve always been a visionary, as well as an engineer.  What do you think is the most important problem we have to solve with networks over the next 10~15 years, both technical and political?

Adil – Thanks for the complement! Technically our networks use similar components but work in very different ways, i.e. unique to the programming of hundreds and thousands of interconnected networks. The Internet was founded by establishing common ground rules, however we seem to have drifted away from some of the ground rules, and the processes in place to control the chaos of the Internet.

Those rules need to be re-established, but this is likely to be a political nightmare as governments struggle to gain greater control over both the Internet and people who are using the Internet.  I do believe that from this period of chaos there will be a solution.  The Internet itself is inherently self-healing, and from the chaos will emerge a stronger Internet.

John – What effect did your days in China, Kuwait, and other developing countries have on your desire to continue working in the developing economies of the world?

Adil – Working in developing countries I have the ability to leapfrog established thinking and technologies, and truly be involved in innovation. I can continue to be an engineer at heart and yet still drive technology, educate, create.   All the things that help me maintain the “…edge of the envelope…” philosophy.

John – Where do you go from here?

Adil –  Continue working with other visionaries and apply the results to real projects.  I want to continue to contribute to the global community in any way possible.  I is fun to actually see the results of your effort helping make people’s lives and futures more attainable.  One of the marketing lines I used some years ago was “… I’m still working on a simple particle transportation platform…’  I think the future is going to be an exciting place. I have some ideas on what I might do next – still under wraps though…!


During his 20 year career, Adil Mehmood has served a wide range of senior roles in Global Telecomms with Tier-1 and Tier-2 telecommunications carriers, VoIP Carriers, Internet Service Providers and various specialist consultancies. He has worked in several international locations, and currently resides in Mongolia working for a Global Mining Company as their Enterprise IT Director.

Adil Mehmood holds a B.Eng (Hons) in Electronic Systems Engineering from Kingston University in the United Kingdom.


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