pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Tue May 22 19:35:50 EDT 2001
Mail*Link® SMTP Internet Governance
Dear Colleagues -
This is one of those out-of-the-way topics, like the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, that for the non-specialist are
hard to engage, but whose cumulative effect on your relation to the
Internet is likely to be great. So I do not think it out of place
on our list.
Thursday, May 17, 2001
Protecting the Net From Private, Political Interests
By Gary Chapman
Copyright 2001, The Los Angeles Times, All Rights Reserved
For most consumers sitting down to use the Web or e-mail, global
governance of the Internet is probably the last thing to come to
mind. But, increasingly, how the Internet is "governed"--or how it
isn't governed--will shape everyone's experience of using the Net.
And how the world adjusts to this new supranational form of
communication and commerce will have far-reaching implications for
politics and democracy in general.
This was one of the main topics of a discussion in Los Angeles two
weeks ago at a meeting organized by People for Internet
Responsibility, a small group of veteran technologists and Internet
pioneers. About 25 people discussed the future of the Internet for
two days. This was a group with a panoramic view of the Internet's
past--the average attendee had 20 years' experience using the
Internet, and some people had taken part in the network's earliest
Many of the old Internet hands at the meeting see an intensifying
free-for-all over "real estate" on the Internet, which they say is
leading to bad public policy decisions, dubious technologies,
international friction and a sense that a network once ruled by
dedicated and altruistic technicians has been taken over by greedy,
reckless and selfish people, governments and businesses.
Barbara Simons, past president of the Assn. for Computing Machinery,
the world's oldest society of computer professionals, pointed out
that powerful interests in the copyright-holding industries, such as
music recording and film, persuaded Congress to pass the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. That law makes it illegal to
attempt to circumvent, or to actually circumvent, any method or
device used to protect digital information from unauthorized copying.
As Simons noted, computer security experts typically advance the
state of the art by trying to break into things; now that's a crime
because of DMCA, and those at the conference warned that the nation's
computer systems will be far less secure than they should be as a
result of these limitations.
Meanwhile, Simons said, the FBI and the White House constantly beat
the drum for increased computer security, recently elevating this
rhetoric to something reminiscent of the Cold War era. "This is
crazy," Simons said.
There are similar problems in the way the Internet addressing system
is developing, which is producing a Gordian knot of conflicting
trademark claims, dilemmas over limited address names and heated
controversies over how many variations of .com or .org we should
Critics of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or
ICANN, which oversees the issuing of Internet addresses, have
complained that this organization is the captive of wealthy interests
who are determined to protect their individual address names and
intellectual property no matter what that does to the rationality or
coherence of the addressing system. There's something unfair and
unsatisfying about a system that gives Ford Motor Co. automatic
rights to "ford.com," for example, instead of Ford's Corner Grocery
Store or Ford's Mortuary.
It's not always private interests that threaten the Internet. Foreign
governments increasingly are meddling in how the network works, what
information it conveys and who can use it. France and Germany are
trying to keep the Internet free of Nazi-related merchandise and
ideas. China is bent on delivering an Internet to its citizens that
is nonthreatening to the government.
We're in a strange conundrum. True global governance of the Internet
may be impossible--the Internet probably is beyond governability
"Attempts to control the Internet risk breaking it," said Bob
Frankston, one of the inventors of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet
program for PCs. However, this axiom hasn't stopped people and
institutions from trying to control the Internet. The question is how
we can protect the Internet from these people. Through global
governance? And thus impose another set of risks? We need a new
political theory to break through this logjam.
Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the
University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at
gary.chapman at mail.utexas.edu.
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