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[ NNSquad ] Censoring the Net, Barry Schuler's Synapsis, etc.

The "what if" game is always amusing, but it's also tricky to second
guess history.  What if the Internet had stronger authentication from
the beginning?  A valid question.  But so is "what if the Internet
had strong end-to-end encryption from the beginning?"  Or we might
ask, what if everyone were required to have cameras mounted in every
room of their houses to be enabled by the government on demand?

The point is, the what-ifs get us nowhere now beyond an intellectual

The ARPANET/Internet is in a very real way an experiment that never
ended, and then proceeded to "take over the world," despite the best
laid plans of bureaucrats and committees.

Various of the issues we deal with today, including IPv4 address
exhaustion (Vint gallantly takes responsibility for setting the
critical address length to what seemed a completely reasonable value
at the time), to spam (I remember MSGGROUP discussions that explicitly
discounted this possibility) relate directly to our early experimental

I'm reminded of a James Stewart line from the 1965 film "Flight of the
Phoenix":  "Time was you could take real pride, in just *getting
there* ..."  And "getting there" -- reliably -- was a primary focus in
early networking.

But beyond this, it is not at all clear that a more "buttoned down"
network environment of the sort telephone companies, broadcasters, and
various others were envisioning at the time would have led to the
range of services we enjoy today (most of them "free" from the user
standpoint, in a monetary sense at least).

The "Telefuture" video from 1980 that I posted a few days ago 
( http://bit.ly/bJWGia [Lauren's Blog] ) gives some flavor of what
the big players at the time had in mind.

In any case, as Barry points out, censorship on the Internet is in
many ways a misnomer.  To the extent that the Wikileaks release is
considered a "bad thing" (and that itself is arguable), no effective
means of censoring it, once it reached the Net, is possible.  So what
we have instead is people attempting to blame the Internet for appears
to have been a serious breach of military security -- at the point where
those documents originally moved into "unauthorized" hands.

Similarly, we have people attempting to blame the Net for privacy
failures, journalism standards, and everything else short of bedbugs.
But many of us would argue that some companies are already too happy
to hand over personal information about Net users, and a range of
journalistic quality standards has existed throughout time.  The term
"yellow journalism" dates to the late 19th century.

Blaming technology for failures in human behavior is an old game,
particularly for those who feel they're losing traditional forms of
control due to technological changes -- governments especially tend
to take this tack.  

So anytime someone tells you that fundamental changes are needed in
the way the Internet works, it would be wise to consider who the real
resulting winners and losers would be, and to what extent such changes
would have collateral effects that we'd come to regret.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com)
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR (People For Internet Responsibility): http://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, NNSquad (Network Neutrality Squad): http://www.nnsquad.org
Founder, GCTIP (Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance): 
Founder, PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein
Google Buzz: http://bit.ly/lauren-buzz

 - - -

On 10/24 07:22, Barry Gold wrote:
> Lauren Weinstein wrote:
>> Ex-AOL CEO Calls for Internet Censorship -- Demonstrates His *Utter* Cluelessness
>> http://bit.ly/bSulVb  (Barry Schuler's Synapsis)
>>    Barry Schuler loudly proclaims:
>>    "WikiLeaks is in the news this week and I can assure you this isn't
>>     a 36 hour news story.  This is a big deal and the circumstances
>>     around WikiLeaks might mark be the beginning of the end of the
>>     Internet as we know it."
> I think we can learn something from what's going on in China: it _is_  
> possible to censor the Internet, in the sense that you can block the  
> casual and/or clueless from the sites you don't like.  The more  
> dedicated information seekers (and those who already understand How  
> Things Work) will simply find a way around your blocks.
> What this means for sites like Wikileaks: The government may -- at  
> considerable cost in both money and our freedoms -- be able to prevent  
> information from getting out to the general public, but those who really  
> want it will still get it.  As a consequence, using "SECRET" or "TOP  
> SECRET" to keep embarrassing information private may work (for a while).  
> But the "clueful" will almost certainly include enemy spies, so it will 
> be completely useless for keeping secrets from other countries.
> This is, of course, completely backward from the supposed purpose of our  
> Classification system.  It won't stop the bureaucrats from trying.
> Also, Schuler _does have a point: one of the side-effects of "Web 2.0"  
> (the rise of user-generated content) is that many of our traditional  
> social controls have broken down.  Privacy?  Forget about it -- anything  
> you let anybody else know about may end up on the internet.  Double that  
> if you let somebody take photographs or recordings, but even casual  
> conversations can be recalled, summarized (accurately or in-) and  
> posted.  And once out there, there is no recalling it.
> What he calls Journalistic Integrity: not precisely the right word, but  
> it's true that in the days when it cost money to distribute information,  
> reporters and editors usually
>   a) tried to fact-check things before publishing them
>  b) when something was nominally classified or simply private, editors  
> would stop and think, "is this important enough to justify printing it  
> and letting everybody and his k/i/d/ b/r/o/t/h/e/r/ spy know about it?"
> Similarly, we are subjected to a constant barrage of advertising, scams  
> of various sorts, viri and other malware. Some newsgroups have become  
> completly useless due to spam.  If Vint Cerf and Jon Postel had seen  
> this coming, I wonder if they would have designed more authentication  
> into the Internet.
> And many sites _are_ rather cavalier with what should be private  
> information.  Facebook is a particularly notable bad actor, but it's not  
> the only one or the worst one -- just the biggest.