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[ NNSquad ] Saving the Internet, Ourselves, and the Future

              Saving the Internet, Ourselves, and the Future


Since its birth as the U.S. Department of Defense ARPANET research
project, the Internet has faced various threats -- some technical,
some in the policy realm, and some purely political.

Recently we've seen the SOPA and PIPA legislation.  Make no mistake
about it -- the Hollywood content giants have not given up on their
desires to reshape the Internet in their own traditional images.

We now face CISPA and its cyber-scaremongering, with cyberwar
profiteering threatening to undermine decades of privacy protection

Everything in the vast repertoire of mankind is finding its way onto
the Net in various guises, from wonders sublime and beautiful, to
horrors of the most crass and demeaning.

There are marvels of generosity, cooperation and good will to be found
all over the Net.

But there is also blatant exploitation by those who see the Internet
and its technologies merely as a "gold rush" to be exploited, the best
interests of the community at large be damned -- organizations
explicitly entrusted with the well-being of the Net sometimes joining
the dark side in the enablement of obscene profits.

Our overall unwillingness -- especially as technologists -- to "play
the game" the way the "big boys" play has allowed entities with less
than admirable motives to gain sway over many aspects of the Net.

In the U.S., net neutrality and service quality have languished as a
few dominant ISPs have reached their pinnacles through exploitation of
original monopoly grants, cherry picking deployments of broadband, and
outright lying to communities -- not to mention outright political
chicanery to help kill off effective competition.

We have allowed relatively minor issues such as arguments about Web
cookies to become political pawns, diverting us while governments plan
and deploy vast schemes to control and censor the Internet, turning
the Net from a tool that could greatly enhance individual rights, into
a mechanism to muzzle and control.

Fear that efforts to find new, innovative ways to solve the Net's
problems might not succeed, have resulted in a continuing panicked
embrace of organizations and policies of demonstrated failures,
creating ever broadening wedges between the wide variety of Internet
stakeholders around the planet.

And now, as the United Nations (UN) and International Telecommunications 
Union (ITU) contemplate a horrific takeover of many aspects of the 
Internet, we reap what we have sowed through our long complacency 
and unwillingness to use all tools at our disposal to fight 
for Internet freedoms. 
( http://j.mp/KhOR8m [Vint Cerf Congressional Testimony {PDF}] Lauren's Blog )

We may yet still have time to turn the tide for many of these issues.
But every day the odds loom larger against us, and the image of Don
Quixote stabbing uselessly at windmills is increasingly difficult to
banish from one's mind.

When I started working on the ARPANET decades ago, most of the other
students at UCLA were confined to using keypunches and IBM punch

I've watched as computational power that used to fill rooms has been
vastly outstripped by a tiny box hanging on my belt, and even smaller
devices still.

Communications capabilities hardly even dreamed of decades ago are now
commonplace.  Even the masters of classical science fiction mostly had
a blind spot to coming technological magic like smartphones and other
personal communications devices.

To see so much of what we have jointly created being put at risk
today, for the sake of government suppression and the almighty dollar,
is frankly nothing short of being quintessentially depressing.

I'm not one of those persons who had an organized "plan" for my life.
I never intended to become deeply involved in technology policy issues
as I am now, and I morphed into that role gradually from a more
traditional code hacking environment.

In retrospect, I might well have been happier if I had stayed more
completely in the software engineering realm.  Conceptual
"satisfaction" seems much easier to derive from deployed system
metrics than from seemingly intractable public policy dilemmas.

And yet, one does what one can, and I've endeavored to be scrupulously
honest in the process.  Over the years my various attempts at
commentary and analysis have at one time or another upset just about
all points on the spectrum.  Perhaps this means I've struck an
appropriate balance in the long run.  Perhaps it means I struck out
entirely.  All I've ever tried to do in these regards is call the
issues as I see them, suggest where I thought matters were awry and
how they might be improved, and let folks make their own judgments.

But as the saying goes, all that plus a dollar will buy you a cup of
cheap coffee these days.

The future will look back on what we're doing now -- right now --
towards protecting Internet freedoms.  They may peer back with
gratitude for what we achieved, or they may curse us in our graves for
opportunities lost.

That aspect of the future is still ultimately under our control, today.

I grew up along with the Internet, and I like to think helping it in
my own small ways -- watching it evolve into the technology
infrastructure and communications foundation of the world.

We are now at a moment, a crossroad in history and time, where the
decisions we make about the Internet, and its importance to our lives
and freedoms, will have lasting effects for many years, decades, or
perhaps far longer.

Will the Internet be sucked completely into the pit of oppression,
censorship, and greed, or will we have the moral fortitude to say,
"No! Not to our Internet. Not to what we worked so long and hard to
achieve in the name of freedom, humanity, and community."

Quixotic or not, the quest for the best possible Internet for everyone
is an effort in which I've been honored to be engaged.  To lose this
battle, this war, is potentially to lose so much else that will matter
to your children, and to their children, and potentially to many more
generations yet to come.

It's about so much more than bits and bytes, disks and fiber, CPUs and
JavaScript.  The Internet is humanity.  We are the Internet.

If we lose the Internet, we lose ourselves.

Take care, all.  And thanks.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com
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