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INTERNET GEO-LOCATION TECHNOLOGY
John Paul Jones, 2007

In 1989, as recorded in his book "The Cuckoo's Egg", Clifford Stoll, an astronomer at Lawrence Berkley Lab, managed to trace the location of a computer hacker located in Hannover Germany who had been breaking into computer systems in the United States. Despite the hacker's method of using intermediary computers to cover his tracks, Stoll somehow managed, with the help of the FBI, to trace the hacker's location to a computer at the University of Bremen. This would seem to suggest that any locational anonymity that may exist on the Internet exists only because the authorities typically don't care enough to geo-locate any particular cyber surfer. Yet, given the right resources, it's evidently possible to find the exact location of the computer from which a data-packet originated.

Based on this, we might infer that it's possible to automate the process of geographically locating the source computer. At any rate, that's the assumtion upon which the hypothetical TROLL Cam system's internet geo-location theory was based. But is it really possible to automatically identify the location of a web surfer's computer? To some extent, yes.

In the late 1990s, Marc Knobel, a French Jew, found Nazi hate sites on AOL and threatened a public relations war unless the offending sites were blocked. AOL closed the sites. As everybody should know by now, AOL is not your typical ISP. Located in Washington D.C. suburbia, AOL has it's finger on political realities that Silicon Valley Internet companies like Yahoo would no doubt like to ignore, and evidently, judging by the ubiquity of AOL's distribution software CDs, which are pushed at FedEx Kinkos, CompUSA, and seemingly inumerable other retailers, not to mention the U.S. Post Office, a federal agency of all places--AOL is well-connected and well-liked by the powers that supposedly see all and be all. In any case, AOL eargerly complied with Knobel's complaint.

In 2000, Knobel hoped that a similar threat against Yahoo would yeild like results. His hopes were dashed, however. Yahoo, the brain child of two Stanford graduate students, Jerry Yan and David Filo, evidently adopted the politically incorrect view that only an un-American Net Nazi would seek to stiffle free speach on the Internet by appealing to restrictive French hate-crime laws. In any case, Yahoo did nothing to remmove the offensive content, perhaps giving Knobel and company the sense that they were being told to take a long hike on a short peer. It's hard to know how Knobel's Gestapo-Stopers might view Yahoo's unwillingness to jump at the opportunity to remmove offensive speach from cyberspace.

In any case, Knobel was not disuaded or detered. On April 11, 2000, he sued Yahooo in a French court on behalf of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism and others, who claimed in court that Yahoo's actions violated the French laws banning the import or trafficing of Nazi regalia in France. In a surprise ruling on May 22, 2000, the French court ruled that Yahoo was indeed obligated to prevent French web surfers from accessing the France-Forbidden Yahoo-based Nazi auctions sites on yahoo.com. Yahoo claimed such filtering was not feasible, a technological impossibility: "Asking us to filter access to our sites according to the nationality of surfers is very naive."

Yahoo's impossiblity argument was based on prevalant but erroneous assumptions about the architecture of the internet, not the least of which is that the Net's architecture was written in stone, a theory since disproved by, among other things, China's Golden Shield system. Uncle Sam it was, not God, who ordained that there be 13 root servers under the control of the U.S. government, and after the 9-1l terror attack, some of Uncle Sam's employees in the FBI were the first to suggest the unthinkable: namely, that the Internet architecture be changed fundamentally, thus suggesting that perhaps Uncle Sam knew what "We the People" were programmed to know not.

Judge Gomez gave Yahoo two months to find out how to block French surfers, during which time Cryil Houri, another French Jew, the founder of a new American firm called InfoSplit, contacted the plaintiff's lawyer, Stephane Lilti, and told him that he had created an allegedly new technology that could identify and screen Internet content on the basis of its geographical source. It's reported that Houri, a pioneer in Internet geo-location technology, concluded in 1999 that the conventional wisdom about the Internet and territory was erroneous. But the idea of locating internet surfers in real space was not new. Since the early 1990s, Internet firms tried to discover the geographical identity of their customers.

Although Internet IP addresses do not direcly divulge the user's physical location, the information packets that make up Internet communications travel via computers whose location in real space is easy to identify. A "tracing" packet can repeort the list of computers through which a communication travels, thus permiting computers to determine the path that the packet traveled and identifying the closest source node, the computer closest to the computer from which the packet originated--usually servers of certain organizations, such as universities, quite often commercial ISPs. When cross checked against other IP databases that offer different data about the geographical locations and analyzed by sophisiticated computer algorithms, the location of Internet users can be determined with over 99 percent accuracy at the country level, but with less accuracy at the state and county level. A web operator can use this system to automatically identify the location of computer users seeking access to a web page and can display content that's customized according to the location of the web surfer. The process is invisible to the internet visitor.

Further, with AAA (adaptive antenna array) technology, which greatly increases the bandwith of wireless communications systems, wireless internet activity will doubtless increase, thus making it possible to identify the exact location of an internet user in real time using the same triagulation techniques used to pinpoint cell phone users. Wi-Fi will make it easier to track people geographically through radio signals and satellites while making Internet activity on portable devices, such as web-enabled phones or wear-cams, much more pervasive, thus allowing easier geographical tracking of more web users through the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that are built into such devices, in which case all the hype about the anonimity of Internet access and the untrackability of web surfers (via their computers) in real space in real time seems a red herring.

SOURCES:

* Cookoo's Egg, Clifford Stoll, 1989, Pocket Books
* Net Spies, Andrew Gauntlett, 1999, Vision Paperbacks
* The Fugitive Game, Jonathan Littman, Little Brown & Company
* Who Controls the Internet, 2006, Tim Wu, Oxford University Press
* "Computer Rebels Seek Data Haven", John Markoff, NYT, June 4, 2000

"Does the Brotherhood exist?" "That Winston, you will never know. If we choose to set you free when we have finished with you, and if you live to be ninety years old, still you will never learn whether the answer to that question is yes or no. As long as you live, it will be a riddle in your mind."
-- 1984 by George Orwell



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