I recently finished The Internet Police by Nate Anderson. It has the subtitle of ‘How crime went online, and the cops followed’. Mr. Anderson, editor for Ars Technica, is one of the few writers that I actually know by name and look forward to their articles. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy The Internet Police and would have a hard time recommending it to any audience other than lawyers and law enforcement interested in some recent history of the law and the web intersecting.
The Internet Police covers the topics of child porn, sexploitation, privacy, spam, piracy, Tor, and (international) governmental restrictions of the Internet. The topics are explored as detailed case studies. There are interesting facts, perspectives, and historical turning points buried within each chapter but it felt like a lot of work to get to. I think a lot could have been done to make the book more concise or at least better organized. I thought the first chapter opened with some interesting observations of HavenCo hosting servers in Sealand, an unrecognized micronation, but from there dragged on.
Even within the book, it languished for a long time on each topic. The problem with modern history is retelling the story in an interesting way to an audience that has probably heard it before and not that long ago. I think the book had a hard time finding the balance between getting buried in the details and making a point. Arguments about copyright and the time-consuming trials for downloading music felt just as time-consuming. To be fair, the book tries to put everything in context and explain it to a layman. It was not technical in the least and may be more appreciated as time passes.
The book has its gems but buries them too deeply to be thought worth the investment for a technical audience. Here is how I would recommend getting the most out of The Internet Police while not spending too much time on it:
Chapter 1: Introduction – Skim the chapter and read the last page and a half.
Chapter 2: Child porn – Skim the chapter.
Chapter 3: Sexploitation – Skim the chapter.
Chapter 4: FBI’s Carnivore – Read the last section of the chapter (3.5 pages).
Chapter 5: Warrant required – Read the chapter (14 pages).
Chapter 6: Spam by botnet – Skim the chapter.
Chapter 7: Spam from the suburbs and AOL – Skim the chapter.
Chapter 8: F*** the RIAA – Skim the chapter.
Chapter 9: Tor, the Silk Road, and governments – Skim the chapter and read the last section (3.5 pages).
Some people might get more out of The Internet Police or might enjoy it more than I did. Hopefully the above reading guide will allow you to get the majority of the information in the book for a much lower investment of time. Skimming the chapters should still allow you to catch any topics of interest while keeping things from getting bogged down.
I would give The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online, And The Cops Followed by Nate Anderson a 2 out of 5.