Posted by: paulacunniffe | 08/28/2010

Internet and Democracy

The description of UK internet laws as ‘draconian’ was not something I immediately agreed with. Regardless of the difficulty in catching illegal downloaders, surely a government should at least try to reduce/combat internet piracy?

But then I read this article. From a British broadsheet newspaper called The Guardian, the article talks about the new Digital Economy Act in Britain (brought into law in April 2010) which will allow the owners of IP addresses to be issued fines for illegally downloading/file-sharing material. Those who are repeat offenders risk having their internet access blocked.

The problem with this legislation is that it is hugely difficult to identify exactly who is illegally downloading material; those who are experts in internet piracy can hijack IP addresses or mask their own IP addresses. Wifi networks can also be hacked into. It does seem, as Mosorov describes it, ‘impractical’ to prosecute those who own the IP address. What if someone else was using their internet connection? At this stage in the article I began to see Mosorov’s point.

The Guardian estimates that ‘hundreds, or possibly thousands’ of people have been wrongfully accused of internet piracy, and have received letters from law firms stating that they have to pay a fine. Some people pay the fine to save the hassle – when they might not even be guilty. For example, the article mentions a couple over 50 who received a letter saying they had been illegally file-sharing, when they didn’t even know what file-sharing was! This example illustrates the difficulty in identifying the correct person (and also the law firm’s eagerness to make money from the new legislation).

The concept of DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks was something I had not heard of before, and still did not fully understand from Mosorov’s article. What does he mean by ‘serve’? Serve them what?!

It became clearer when I read this article from The Irish Times (I swear I wasn’t looking for Irish/UK examples, these two just came up in my search!) Q: does that say something about how google track my searches and filters the results?

Do you ever go on Facebook or Twitter and get frustrated when your pages won’t load or the site is completely down? This could be a DDOS attack. My main question was why do hackers attack websites?

Not surprisingly, one of the answers from The Irish Times is money. If you crash a website you can then contact the owner and charge them to provide protection against a similar attack. Or, as mentioned in Mosorov, it can be a means of censorship.  The scary part is that some governments in authoritarian countries are funding these attacks to censor or silence opposition.

I also found it interesting that a severe attack can not only bring down a specific website, but can threaten other sites which are hosted by the same server. So when Amazon was attacked in 2009, it also slowed down or crashed Walmart and Expedia’s websites- all companies served by the same host. (Source:

So I guess next time Facebook is down I shouldn’t get too annoyed…. they might be under attack!



  1. That article from The Guardian (Digital Economy Act likely to increase households targeted for piracy) gives us a very scary scenario. Nice link!

    The post from Mashable (DDoS Attack Takes Down Amazon, Wal-Mart) is okay, but it does not give us much information. It’s clear, however, that you looked at other sources to answer your questions about DDOS attacks — good work.

    Please watch your spelling: Morozov.

  2. I love the first article you shared with us. It touches a real-life concern, which is related to our daily online activities. Obviously the internet is a platform for information exchange. But there should be, and there is a clear line to tell people which are free to share and which are viewed as commodity. I think even in countries where no specific regulations are launched, internet users could be aware that downloading is sort of illegal, but they are downloading files all the time, as most of the resource is free of charge…
    I agree with you that it is very difficult to handle this copyright and piracy issue, because it is the action that so many people are doing. It is impossible to put everyone who’s downloading files into jails… What I can do is never try to touch the bottom line, never put myself at hazard.

  3. I can help with one of your questions about “serve.” That’s a piece of lingo used by techies to talk about requests to display a page. Your computer sends out a message to the computer that that page is stored on asking it to “serve” the page to you, or to give your computer the information to display the page. That is how we came to call mainframes that physically hold the information for websites “servers.”

    And, while it may be a hacker shutting down a website by secretly programing thousands of computers to access a particular site at a given time, it might also be that Lady Gaga tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. 🙂


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