Ethics is what we do when nobody is looking

But somebody is always looking. Specially on the internet.

Your sister may have decided you shouldn't do something on the internet. Or maybe your company filters everything and doesn't let you post to your blog, or thinks you shouldn't have access to certain pages. Or maybe even your country has decided to stop you from doing such things. Anonymity is hard to get these days.

Happily, there are some ways to bypass this. I am talking about things like Anonymouse.org, The Onion Router, and I2P.

Anonymouse was put together in a week by Alexander Pircher, a computer science student from Germany in 1997. It has since grown to become one of the most popular point your browser to when you need to surf anonymously. The principle is simple: you just type in an url and it'll fetch it for you, anonymously.

That solves web-surfing to blocked sites from repressive countries. It slows down the process of actually seeing the webpage, but, technically speaking, you're only visiting Anonymouse.org - your request is stored on a proxy and that cached copy is what you access. If you don't mind going back to the website every time you need to surf anonymously, it is a great and simple way to do it.

The Onion Router is another alternative to achieve anonymity. It is developed on the concept of routing onions (wikipedia), which are "data structures used to create paths through which many messages can be transmitted". Messages are encrypted and passed from one server to the other, forming a layered structure in which a message can't be deciphered without knowledge of the previous' server encryption - hence the name onion router.

Installation is straight-forward and available for most popular operating systems (windows, mac, linux). And usage for anonymous web-surfing is further facilitated with the installation of a Tor Button extension on Firefox - which lets you switch with the click of a button between anonymous and public modes. Tor's proxy also lets you anonymize other aplications - like a chat client for example - just by pointing that application to the local tor proxy.

Still on the line of anonymizing applications, but going a step further lies the I2P network. It no only lets you set up anonymous web-surfing and other applications (like the chat client) through the use of a local proxy, but it is designed to let you do a number of things (anonymously) on the net. Like anonymous blogging, anonymous Bit Torrent, and hosting web-pages, anonymously. You could also do some of these things with Tor (like anonymous Bit Torrent) by simply pointing the client to the local proxy, but they discourage it because it puts too much of a load on the network - and I2P is specially designed for this.

There are more differences between the two last alternatives I mentioned, so, to get a more in-depth idea of what these are and which you may actually need to use, take a look at this Network comparison between Tor and I2P.

In all, your online presence can be masked (although you will pay the price on speed, as these methods slow down your internet experience). But the real question behind this is... Should we do it?

I mean, what's legal and not just depends on your country's politicians. The same way your sister or your company may have decided what you should and should not do, someone (somewhere) in your country decided that you shouldn't download this or see that. And I'm not just talking about The Great Firewall of China and other countries which censor nearly everything like Cuba, Iran, Tunisia, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Not being able to see/download something is censorship nonetheless, and you have this in a number of countries (from USA to France to South Africa to Australia). Groups like RIAA and MPAA and local governments keep an eye out on the internet to try to "catch" "criminals" doing such "illegal" things as downloading an mp3, or making a digital copy of a movie. But the game has no sense when what's "legal" and what's not is defined by them anyway. It's like trying to play chess while the other person keeps making up new rules as they go along.

Sure, legality is a way of enforcing ethics. But it's got no sense when they indiscriminately sue for making a local copy of music they have legally bought. I personally think there's nothing ethically wrong with downloading, for example, Popa Chubby's Stealing the Devil's Guitar if you've bought the cd and your little sister sat on it and broke it. Or playing your old snes games on an emulator - taking for granted that you bought these in the past and, for example, your snes broke down and you can't play them anymore.

I guess I'm trying to say that legality should correspond to what is ethical, not the other way around. And, well, if your country doesn't allow you to make a choice, you've got a couple of choices to help you become anonymous and do what you think is ethical. After all, ethics is what we do when nobody's looking.


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Svaj Malizo - Design by Dzelque