Most mornings my commute begins with an E11 bus that has to orbit Tung Chung twice in order to achieve escape velocity and set course for the vertical wilds of Hong Kong island; and since the bus isn’t heavily used (nor accurately scheduled) it’s fairly normal for me to end up loitering at the bus stop, marvelling quietly at the genius of JCDecaux, for anything up to 20 minutes. These last few mornings, I’ve been particularly enjoying a bus stop advertisement for Hong Kong’s new Wifi.gov service, bringing you, the citizen, free wireless Internet in selected government locations!
(“Selected”, incidentally, is insidious marketing-speak. Cathay Pacific’s in-flight magazine claims that the full range of in-flight movies is available on all 747 and 777 aircraft and selected A330s. Did somebody actually select them? Why can’t they just use the perfectly adequate and considerably more honest word, “some”?)
Anyway, I have digressed. The Government Wifi’s advertisement claims three security measures to be in place on their public networks. I quote:
- Encrypted channel
- Content filtering
- Peer-to-peer blocking
Did you recognise the handwriting of the Ministry of Truth? Only one-and-one-third of these is a security measure. To wit:
Encrypted channel: I guess they mean WEP or WPA, i.e. encrypted wireless traffic. This is a bona fide security control which will protect the confidentiality and integrity of the users’ wireless traffic. This guy is off the hook.
So what of the other two? Peer-to-peer blocking is almost a security measure. Peer-to-peer traffic can consume a lot of bandwidth, thereby having an impact on the availability of the system. But how on earth is content filtering a security measure? Say I want to surf http://www.midgetsanddonkeys.com. Using my laptop at home, I can do so; using my laptop in HK Central library, I can’t. In what way does that make me more secure? Of course, it doesn’t.
I’m being disingenuous, of course. The government’s intention is clear and in fairness I support their technical constraints. People in public libraries shouldn’t Torrent movies, nor should they surf the kinds of web sites that might frighten the horses (especially if the horses are taking part).
All I’m objecting to is the rebranding of “censorship” as “security”. We have enough of this to deal with in airports, and in the other avenues of our daily life. Inconvenience is not the same thing as security; restrictions are not the same thing as security; surveillance is not the same thing as security; and censorship certainly isn’t.