Hackers and censorship

Yesterday there was something like a tumult going on around a couple of the most popular tech news sites, as Digg, a site well-known for its populistic-democratic moderation system which allows users to vote stories up or down, almost collapsed under the pressure of hundreds of news stories all featuring the same item: The recently discovered processing key used to decrypt the next generation of DVD discs called HD-DVD and Blue Ray.

The key is a simple 16 digit hex number which can be used to remove regional and copy restrictions from the encrypted discs, and is thus easy to reproduce and almost impossible for the DVD-manufacturers to suppress. They had threatened Digg with a cease-and-desist letter to which the Digg moderators duly obliged, removing links and stories that featured the relevant hex number.

This caused the flood of news stories and posts containing the number, not only on Digg, but also on rival news site Slashdot where no such censorship took place. The number soon got its own song, was represented decimally as well as in hex, as a program, as a web site, even as a flag and in any other way that hackers could think of to represent the number in such a way to avoid censorship.

Soon enough, Digg caved in to its users, as founder Kevin Rose explained it:

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you??ve made it clear. You??d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won??t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

Again, this shows how quickly hackers can mobilize to reroute around any kind of censorship. But for me, the most interesting part of this whole affair was that I came across the original forums thread where the processing key was first exposed. If you’re technically inclined, I can only recommend reading a few pages of this to get an idea of the fervour and excitement with which the key was discovered in the first place (and how the key fits in the bigger system of decrypting the next-generation DVDs.

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That’s definitely interesting reading. I got goose pimples when I finally got to ‘Processing key found’ on the forum. They are right – it’s better than the real movie!


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