Category Archives: Law

Do We Need a New Internet?

The New York Times recently asked, Do We Need a New Internet?

…there is a growing belief among engineers and security experts that Internet security and privacy have become so maddeningly elusive that the only way to fix the problem is to start over.

A new Internet might have more security, less anonymity.

As a new and more secure network becomes widely adopted, the current Internet might end up as the bad neighborhood of cyberspace. You would enter at your own risk and keep an eye over your shoulder while you were there.

Stanford’s Clean Slate Project intends to “reinvent the Internet” to “overcome fundamental architectural limitations,” including security.

I’ve previously asked, Is the Internet broken? One place it might be broken is in the ability for parents to protect their children, and interested people to protect themselves, from pornography.

If the university most associated with the invention of our current Internet is willing to reexamine its underpinnings and reinvent it, more incremental changes like CP80 or Larry Lessig’s H2M seem worthy of consideration.

Of course, anonymity can be a virtue. Anonymity allows seekers to learn about a new religion in a low-pressure way or protestors in Iran to orchestrate protests.

The tech-savvy, often libertarian-leaning people you find at Slashdot.org tend to dismiss proposals like CP80, considering them antithetical to the nature of the Internet. I like that one Slashdot user offered a thoughtful counterproposal: “The people who want a ‘cleaned kid friendly Internet’ can establish an alternate port where such a thing would be delivered….” (read more)

I think Bill Cosby’s adage applies: “I brought you in this world, and I can take you out.” We built the Internet. If it’s not suiting us well, we can change it. I think the Internet has already been a great tool for good, and will continue to be, but I don’t mind considering proposals that might improve it.

Is the Internet broken?

As amazing as the Internet is for commerce, communication, and education, it might have been better. Imagine opening your email and not finding any spam. Imagine your children or your little brother not happening into any pornography.

Pete Ashdown spoke at the Utah Open Source Conference earlier this year. He touted the virtues of the Internet for open communication and open government. He said the Internet is the “only working anarchy” and we “shouldn’t change it.”

At the same conference, Phil Windley quoted Vint Cerf, one of the inventors of the Internet, as saying he would have liked it different. “Vint wishes that the original design of the Internet had required that each endpoint…be able to authenticate [itself]….”

Vint is saying every computer on the Internet should identify itself. Anonymity allows bad actors to go unregulated. If authentication and identity were built-in, perhaps we might reduce Internet maladies like spam, phishing, and predatory porn.

Pete, Phil, and Vint are smart people. But they seem to disagree about whether the Internet needs change.

The H2M and CP80 proposals imply that something is broken about the current Internet. If so, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine changing it. People built the Internet and people can change the Internet. It’s supposed to serve us, not the other way around.

I tend to agree that we can do a better job of protecting children from pornography. I’m not sure what the solution is. Perhaps it’s H2M or CP80, or maybe something else. But if we believe the Internet is broken and can be better, we have every right to fix it. To quote Bill Cosby’s father:

You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, I’ll make another one look just like you. (Wikiquote.org)

Harmful to Minors

Even the libertarian and most ardent proponent of free speech should care that we continue to allow pornography to run rampant on the Internet. Here’s why.

A proposal by Larry Lessig called H2M (“Harmful to Minors”) would help parents protect children from pornography. Professor Lessig argues that if government doesn’t help parents block unwanted pornography, the loss of freedom of speech will be even greater because parents will turn to private companies for help:

Parents won’t wait for the government to figure out how best to filter harmful-to-minor speech. They will get what they can to block harmful-to-minor speech even if what they get is private and blocks more speech than necessary. For them it’s better than nothing.

After you watch this video, I think you’ll understand the H2M proposal:

H2M is similar to the CP80 initiative. Each is a proposal for 1. a new law which 2. codifies a technology which 3. allows parents to choose whether to block or allow pornography. Ralph Yarro of CP80 has repeatedly said that Internet filters don’t work. I infer that Larry Lessig thinks filters work well enough that parents will use them but not well enough to protect free speech.

I’ve previously written that the role of proper government is to stay small and allow nonprofit companies to compete for social change. In that light, perhaps I shouldn’t favor any legislation that would regulate the Internet. However, I see Professor Lessig’s point: a well defined law may serve all constituent groups better than no law.

The Patriot Act and Customer Service

I. Mac and Linux computers come with a command called “rsync” that makes backup and synchronization easy. Every morning before work I synchronize my 4 year old dying Powerbook to my iMac at work. When I get home, I synchronize back. This way, I get my same mail, documents, and music wherever I am, and if something were to happen to one computer, I’d have a backup. I synchronize over the Internet, but I know a local guy that synchronizes to his iPod so he can physically carry his updates in and out of the office.

canaries.jpg
Photo by quimby

II. At work, we’ve begun using a service called rsync.net for backup. We synchronize our files to their service and pay them $1.60 per gigabyte per month. It’s a pretty inexpensive way to do backup, and it’s nice to have the backup offsite. The rsync.net engineers with whom I’ve spoken have been top notch.

For privacy, we actually use a derivative of rsync called “duplicity”, which encrypts our data before storing them at rsync.net. Their website explains how to use duplicity and other encryption techniques, but I thought it was particularly interesting to find they publish a “warrant canary”. Because the Patriot Act allows the service of secret warrants for the search and seizure of data, and criminal penalties for failing to maintain secrecy, rsync.net publishes a weekly declaration that they haven’t been served a warrant:

rsync.net will also make available, weekly, a “warrant canary” in the form of a cryptographically signed message containing the following:

– a declaration that, up to that point, no warrants have been served, nor have any searches or seizures taken place

– a cut and paste headline from a major news source, establishing date

Special note should be taken if these messages ever cease being updated, or are removed from this page.

Source: rsync.net Warrant Canary

If the “canary” dies, you’re supposed to close shop and get out.

I don’t know the legal implications of a warrant canary, but it seems like a particularly unique example of putting the customer first!

Berkeley Course on Open Source

If you’d like to learn more about “open source software” — what it is and how it fits into society — Berkeley has a new course entitled Open Source Development and Distribution of Digital Information: Technical, Economic, Social, and Legal Perspectives. Course lectures are available online as a podcast.

I think these will be great lectures to follow. Downloading now…

Via: OpenContent.org