Tuesday, 19 February, 2002

Peek-A-Booty

I ran across the Peek-A-Booty site today.  (By the way, that's www.peek-a-booty.org, not .com—the .com site is a porn site.)  The .org site is something totally different—a way around Internet censorship.  Peek-a-Booty is a distributed Web application that circumvents some types of DNS filtering.  Think of it this way:  Say your employer or your government blocks your access to a particular Web site—you can't get to it from your PC.  But the Peek-A-Booty site isn't blocked and you really want to get to the blocked site.  Instead of going directly to the blocked site, you contact Peek-A-Booty and ask it to contact the blocked site and return the contents to you.  The idea is to have a very loose collection of these servers—similar to the Napster model—so employers couldn't shut you down just by blocking the main Peek-A-Booty site.  This would render almost every current type of filtering ineffective.

Discussing this with some friends, we hit upon the not-original realization that the only effective means of censorship (or security, for that matter) is the granting model.  That is, to say that you can visit only approved sites.  Any model that attempts to perform censorship based on a restrictive model (i.e. you can visit all sites except those on the restricted list) is doomed to fail because there's always another site with unapproved content.  That's not to say that the granting model is perfect.  Nothing prevents somebody from changing the content on an "approved" site such that the new content is inappropriate for whatever group you're trying to restrict.  Still, it's much easier to restrict access to approved sites rather than prevent access to unapproved sites.

I'm not sure where all this is going.  I have to think that any organization that is performing Web censorship based on a restrictive model is, for the most part, just covering its butt.  The people actually implementing the blocking model have to be smart enough to realize that they'll never win.  But no organization that I'm aware of has the audacity to implement the truly effective granting model because of the inevitable controversy that would ensue.  It's an intriguing mental exercise, though, and I'm interested to see what innovations the Internet blocking software industry comes up with to solve the Peek-A-Booty problem.