NetHui 2011 – Day 1: Globalisation, the Internet and the Law – The Internet as a Revolutionary Tool

Session Lead by: Brian Calhoun, Independent Consultant and co-chair of NZRise Inc

 “I see a gradual slide toward corporate and government control…by control I mean content”

The session started with a discussion of TOR / BitCoin / BitTorrent – all created specifically to circumvent control systems that were already in existence. The question then posed to the room was:

“How long before our government moves to block/disable these things? […] What is your bottom line? How pissed off do you need to get before you take action?”

Q: “Have you thought of the internet as a revolutionary tool from a behavioral PoV?”

A: The risk of the “For more information visit [NewsSite]” is that you only get their view, it’s only one of many, but there are very few off property links.

A further question was asked (in relation to the InternetNZ values of “Keeping the Internet open and uncapturable”)

Is it communication or content which should be uncapturable?

My view is it’s the communication, or more specifically - the ability to communicate, which should be uncapturable – where uncapturable means unconstrained.

In relation to BitCoin, Robert O’Brian discussed how a lot of these technologies are adopted only once there is a need for it. This means there is a community of people passing the information around as and where it’s needed. The systems have properties which are attractive to certain groups of people (giving the TOR + Silkroad example).

“We are all just nodes on the internet – no one node is more important than any other, some may have more bandwidth back to the core, but it is still ‘just a node’ – companies or people that don’t understand this, tend not to do too well on the Internet.” – Colin Jackson

A very interesting question from the floor then came up around TOR, and the reasons why; while the person agreed with some of the more laudable uses of the TOR network, he has resisted setting up a node because of the insidious content which flows through it. (Child Pr0n as an example). The question was asked “Can a ‘clean’ TOR be created?”

It would be fascinating to see if/how this would take off as an initiative, and how the community would keep it clean, but I think, if the self-policing proven to be effective, that there would be a far greater number of people willing to donate. Perhaps based on belief set “Use for nationwide filtering circumvention” or “use for supporting uprisings”… you get the idea.

Watch live streaming video from nethui2011globalisation at

Another great thought provoking challenge was how far we allow these communities to exert control over the governance in which we live. Perhaps this question is couched in the comfortable circumstance that many ‘civilized’ western democracies find themselves

“So then – do we trust anonymous, non-elected communities over systems and governance that has been put in place and agreed upon democratically? Is this a baby with the bath water? Our forefathers fought and died for these democracies, anarchy needs to be kept in check.”

The key point with the InternetNZ mantra is open and uncapturable, not secret and uncapturable. There is a subtle difference here which would probably require a few beers and a long conversation to tease out where I sit on this continuum. If you watch the stream for this session (embedded above, or from here), Robert O’Brian speaks at length around BitCoin and makes a lot of sense regarding the construct of open, transparent system of record – the example of BitName for DNS also given. I hope the mics picked up what he had to say.

“The trend in government is to keep regulation to a minimum rather than legislate everything” … “The risk is that if anarchy exists just because the tools allow it, then regulation at a government level will be called for by the populous which may result in more regulation than anyone wants.” – Marie Shroff (Privacy Commissioner)

The opportunity then may not be in revolution, but evolution – allowing a more participatory nature of government. However, one of the drawbacks of everyone being able to create/manage/search content is that digital literacy is lacking, we need to be able to discern (for ourselves) the leanings/bias of any particular source.

Minimize the harm, but maximize the benefits from the platforms.


All in all it was a much more interesting discussion that I was expecting, which was a pleasant suprise and resulted in quite a challenge to the way I consider things, especially given my interest in security. In summary, the session closed with the following points:

  • Open communication is very very good. It’s between people and government, between people and people. Openness is key to transparency
  • The more that we as people communicate and create technologies that communicate in ways which mirror the internet, the better.