Argentina telecoms regulator opens net censorship Pandora's Box -

The telecoms regulator in Argentina, CNC - National Telecommunications Commission - officially opened the Pandora's Box of internet censorship by caving in to a Federal Judge's order and issuing a notice that instructs all local ISPs to block access to a pair of web sites.

This chain of events started with the creation of an anonymous blog dubbed "LeakyMails", and hosted at a pair of web addresses: leakymails.com, and leakymails.blogspot.com. On it, its creators link to a series of alleged e-mails from various members of the Argentine government, its finance minister, and even the president, Cristina Fernández.

Most of the alleged leaked e-mails date from 2007 although some reports indicate there are newer ones as well. The blogs also link to several RAR files hosted on RapidShare.com which claim to contain the attachments of such emails, photos, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

The decision

The decision, as published on the CNC site says "in accordance with the mandate by the Federal Judge number 9, Sec.# 17, as part of the case number 9177/11 titled "Revealing of policy and military secrets" by which it was ordered to this Commission to communicate to all License holders the decisions made by it (...) it is informed that by date August the 4th, 2011 it has been ruled: "1. TO DECREE THE PREVENTIVE BLOCKING by part of the local service providers of Internet services, of access to the following web sites: http:/www.leakymails.com and http:/leakymails.blogspot.com. Signed by Sergio TORRES, Federal Judge."

Those in favour of the decision claim that the regulatory body is just "following orders" from a Federal Judge, but one has to wonder if the CNC had no choice but to comply, or could instead issue a recommendation or comment to the judge, offering alternatives to this blocking, like for instance going after the actual provider hosting the page - in this case, Blogger, which means, Google.

Google has local offices in Buenos Aires, and it's not the first time that a judge orders for some information to be removed from Google's servers, as a result of individual claims of a defamation or libel suit, or for instance by supermodels whose images were used in the promotion of porn sites without their consent.

So why Judge Torres decided to go after the data pipe providers letting web surfers load the page instead of the hosting providers that were actually holding the allegedly illegal data is very strange indeed.

Streisand Effect

Shortly after the decision was announced, copies of the site started appearing as a result of the so-called "Streisand Effect". One reader quickly pointed this scribbler towards the same site name, but hosted on WordPress.com instead of BlogSpot. That means that Judge Torres and the regulators at CNC will need to start updating that list around the clock.

The question begs repeating: isn't it easier for the authorities to go after the companies hosting the content, here or abroad? Ironically, the judicial order does not even mention Radidshare.com, which hosts the actual RAR files and which can be still freely accessed despite this filtering order.

Technical pitfalls

Leaving aside for a moment the horror of this transvestite of justice that asks internet providers to turn into censors instead of going after those holding the content, the ruling - or communication if you wish - by CNC is going to be very difficult to implement.

Blocking the .com domain might be easier, but blocking a particular .blogspot.com address - if you do it by IP address router rule - means you also block the whole of Blogger (*.blogspot.com).

As an example, right now Leakymails.blogspot.com and another blog which sides with the government rambletamble.blogspot.com both point towards blogspot.l.google.com with the IP address 72.14.204.132.

If, instead, the ISPs decide to enforce the blockade by DNS, they can make the target domain leakymails.blogspot.com point elsewhere, but that would only work if the users have configured their own ISP's DNS servers. Since the local ISPs have somewhat unreliable DNS servers, many people use other DNS providers like Google DNS, EasyDNS or Open-DNS. In such cases, a DNS redirection by the local ISP will achieve nothing.

For a full blocking at the http level, ISPs would have to run the equivalent of an IDS, and monitor every single page requested by their users, with the obvious privacy implications, or set up a forced proxy - some cable ISPs run Cisco CacheEngine, for instance - or put the whole country behind a firewall, like China.

Still, something must have been done because at the time of this writing, connections from two different ISPs (one cable, another ADSL from the incumbent) have given this scribbler the result of "connection reset by peer". The RAR files hosted at RapidShare, however, are readily accessible to anyone. Congratulations to CNC for their collective wit.

Politics, lies, and hacked e-mails

Whoever is behind LeakyMails certainly seems to have an axe to grind but with a very particular target: the current government.

The targets seem to be only from the current and previous administration. They accuse the government of "intolerance" "ignorance" and "fanaticism" and of having "despotic power". They must have not heard of the opposition wins in the last legislative elections, or don't seem very interested in the powerful farmer unions that brought the country to a halt in 2008.

In any case, they seem to equal releasing pictures of the Finance Minister remodelling his bathroom to WikiLeaks' exposure of how an Empire pressures other countries.

This isn't the first incident involving e-mail accounts of politicians and journalists getting hacked and the contents released. Two and a half year ago, there was a similar incident involving lower-profile ministers and two employees of the nation's spy agency, SIDE.

Opposition paper Perfil, wrote at the time: "A Federal judge now investigates if behind this team were the former head of SIDE during the Menem presidency, Juan Bautista “Tata” Yofre, and former SIDE agent Iván Velásquez". Both Velásquez and another agent went to Uruguay, and tried to get political refugee status claiming they were subject to "political prosecution".

Conclusion

While the powers that be were able to catch Osama Bin Laden, the "LeakyMails" hackers mock authorities from their Twitter account and promise to reveal more e-mails involving "journalists, civilians, military, the Jewish community and the Church".