Iran has its own internet, and so can you

An article in Tech Review today discusses Irans "private" internet. It is not private in the sense that it's not open to the public, but it is unavailable if you are outside Iran:
One of the lesser known features of the internet is the ability to create private networks using IP addresses reserved for exactly this purpose.

These addresses come under the IP block and allow a total of almost 17 millon different hosts. Anybody can use them to set up a private network for their office, home or, in this case, nation.

Today, Collin Anderson, an internet security researcher funded by the University of Pennsylvania, says he has gathered evidence proving that Iran is using this approach on a national scale to create a private internet that is widely accessible within the country but hidden from outside.

While Iran having its own internet is interesting in some ways, what is more interesting is the broader idea of creating private internets. For more than a decade now debates over internet privacy, copyright and other related issues has raged in the west. The powers that be (government and corporate) have reliably and predictably come down on the side of ever increasing control over what people do online.

When discussing these issues with friends who lean toward the 'technology geek' side, someone in the crowd can usually be counted on to add "well, if they mess it up too badly, we'll just build a new one." For the people who side with or represent the "powers that be" it is worth considering that it can be done, without much trouble. A new internet could be built, or several new internets - one for hackers, one for pirates, one for political activists and these could be built without any government control or monitoring, and without any access for corporations or advertisers.

Imagine, for a moment, an internet where social media happens, where files (all kinds of files) are shared and traded openly, where people have open and honest discussions on a variety of topics. Also imagine that this internet operates outside the reach of governments and regulatory bodies, and that corporations can't advertise or build web sites on it.

The expression "content is king" has always been popular with media companies, however kings are less impressive without any subjects - if the people behind Anyonymous, Wikileaks, the Pirate Bay etc., finally decide that too much control has been placed on the public internet they can, and no doubt will, build a new one. When that happens, all of the companies that have worked so hard to capture internet audiences (and control their online behavior) will find a large segment of that audience missing and beyond their reach.

The early 1990s are far behind us now and, while I look back nostalgically I recognize that the internet can't be the wild west anymore. There are too many people online, especially young people and older people, who would not know how to defend themselves. However, the internet also cannot become and was never meant to be Stalinist Russia. By repeatedly attempting to exert total control, governments and corporations risk losing control entirely.
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