The Effects of Promoting Propaganda

Posted on by Chris Warburton

Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation are often the butt of jokes due to their campaign of explaining "GNU/Linux". The problem I have with their tactics is that they bring the issue up where it isn't particularly appropriate, for example in the recent Steven Fry video. There was no need to blabber on about such unnecessary bike shed issues in a video that is solely written by the FSF (ie. there's no need to correct anything, since they control its contents). I do, however, agree with the basic reasoning they have, that the phrases and words we use can shape our minds, and especially the minds of those we are talking to (if they are new to a subject).

In their case it is the use of the name "Linux" to describe an entire computer system, where Linux is only the kernel, and the use of the phrase Open Source instead of the phrase Free Software since the former promotes an efficient way of programming whereas the latter promotes the freedom of computer users. An example more common to people who aren't me would be the gross misuse of the word "pirate", used instead of "copyright infringer" in a context which implies that infringing copyright is akin to looting, murdering and raping on the high seas, and thus biases the minds of those who hear the phrase (murder, theft and rape are obviously wrong and criminal, and very serious matters indeed, whereas not only is copyright infringement an intangible and often debatable issue, it is not clear whether infringement is even wrong, despite its status as criminal).

One term a lot of people who know me will know my chargrin at is "secured" and "unsecured"/"insecure" when describing an 802.11 wireless computer network. The phrase is used to describe WEP and WPA encryption, but completely biases the minds of people who use and hear it. Deciding whether to allow or disallow devices to connect to a network is a matter that can be debated by rational people, whereas framing such a debate into choosing a "secure" network or an "insecure" network can easily end all discussion in favour of the option labelled "secure", ie. restricted access.

Such framing is plain wrong: First, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be used over any network, even an "unsecured" one, to establish secure communication between machines. For instance, a wireless access point can be used without encryption, thus allowing anyone who wants to to connect, whilst certain computers (for instance the tennants in a house) can use a VPN on top of this network to allow each other to access shared files and networked printers and nobody else on the access point can access things. A network could even be set up to allow the VPN as much bandwidth as it wants, giving what's left over to anyone else (so the tennants wouldn't even realise other people are online, for example, whilst people in the area can get free access to the knowledge and commication abilities that the Internet provides, although at a reduced priority).

Second, WEP encryption was broken years ago, thus any network which is "secured" by WEP actually has no security at all. Any device can use a Free Software tool like Aircrack to monitor the network automatically until it gets enough data to present the user with the encryption key being used.

The reason I'm going on about this is a very serious one: It might soon become illegal in India to allow people to connect to an 802.11 wireless computer network. Now, of course those behind this aren't using those words, they are saying "unsecured" networks will be illegal.

Oh yeah, it's also because those who use "unsecured" wireless networks are apparently terrorists. Since the T-word is in there I wouldn't be suprised if this does become law and sets an unnerving precedence.

BTW, I just noticed this (both by Uli Kusch though):

You may need to install SWFDec to watch those videos.