Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Threat to the Internet as We Know It

A United Nations summit has adopted confidential recommendations proposed by China that will help network providers target BitTorrent uploaders, detect trading of copyrighted MP3 files, and, critics say, accelerate Internet censorship in repressive nations. Approval by the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union came despite objections from Germany, which warned the organization must "not standardize any technical means that would increase the exercise of control over telecommunications content, could be used to empower any censorship of content, or could impede the free flow of information and ideas."

200px-Consent_of_the_Networked_book_coverInternet activists are warning that this month’s meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body charged with overseeing global communications, may have significant and potentially disastrous consequences for everyday Internet users. Some of the proposals for the closed door (though leaky) meeting could allow governments more power to clamp down on Internet access or tax international traffic, either of which are anathema to the idea of a free, open and international Internet. Other proposals would move some responsibility for Internet governance to the United Nations.  Things could get scary. Rule changes are supposed to pass by consensus, but majorities matter and can you imagine the internet run by majority rule in the UN?  Not by the world's people, but by the elite rulers of a majority of bordered nations?

To be plain, I consider one of the watershed moments of human history to be a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s when powerful men in the United States of America chose a course of action that, in retrospect, seems completely uncharacteristic of powerful men... letting go of power.  I know some of those -- for example Mike Nelson, now with Bloomberg Government -- who served on staff of the committee under then Senator Al Gore, drafting what became the greatest act of deregulation in history: essentially handing an expensively developed new invention and technology, the Internet, to the world.  Saying: "Here you all go. Unfettered and with only the slenderest of remaining tethers to the government that made it. Now make of it what you will."

Internet_map_1024And oh, what we've made of it! You, me, us... a billion other "usses" around the world. Mind you, there are many ways that I think the design can and must be improvede.g. in order to enhance the effectiveness of argument.  Still the Internet has become a spectacular thing -- the nexus of our rising human intelligence. What could have been a system wrought for the purposes of control (and there were plans afoot to do exactly that) was instead unleashed to become the chaotic and problematic but utterly beautiful thing that empowered private individuals across the globe.  Gore and Nelson and the other visionaries (assisted in the House  by then-Congressmen Newt Gingrich and George Brown, in bipartisan-futurist consensus) proved to have been right. And, by the way, elsewhere I discuss how -- in the struggle between underlying planetary memes - this was also the savvy thing to do.

net-delusionYet, it seems that now we're at a turning point. The world's powers, especially  kleptocratic elites in developing nations where middle class expectations are rising fast enough to threaten pinnacle styles of power, have seen what the Internet can do to all illusions of fierce, top-down control, fostering one "spring" after another.  Responding to reflexes inherited from 10,000 years of oligarchy they seize excuses to clamp down and protect national "sovereignty."

I am reminded of how the film and music and software industries, dismayed by the ease with which people could copy magnetic media, sought desperately for ways to regain control.  As you will see (in my next posting) I am not completely without sympathy for copyright holders! But those industries went beyond just chasing down the worst thieves, or fostering a switch away from magnetic media. They forced hardware makers to deliberately make our DVD players and computers cranky, fussy, often unusable, even when we weren't copying a darned thing!  Capitalism failed and consumers were robbed of choice, leaving us with products that were in many ways worse than before.

And yes, that is what will happen to the Internet. Not just a betrayal of freedom and creativity, but a loss of so many aspects that we now rely upon as cool, as useful and flexible. As our inherent right.

InformationQuoteNor is the threat only from one direction.  As Mike Nelson just commented: "while everyone is fixated on the UN meeting in Dubai, nations are taking independent actions that could have chilling effects.  It is not just the Great Firewall of China and Iran setting up its own easy-to-censor Iranian intranet.  It includes Australian efforts to block certain types of content, the French three-strikes-and-you're-out law, Korea's effort to prohibit anonymity online, and Russia's new Internet law." Worth noting, as an aside; some of these endeavors are being propelled not by brutal dictatorships, but by political correctness on the left. The all-too human impulse for control is ecumenical.

Few know the story of the way the Internet was set free... as, by a miracle, it was indeed freed, for a while. (In my latest novel we ponder: might this have been the fluke opening the way for us - and possibly only us - to take to the stars?)

But no generation can be forgiven for relying excessively on the miracles wrought by the previous one. It is our job to keep the Enlightenment filled with light... by crafting miracles of our own.

Read more at  the Internet Society Web site about the UN conference that is deliberating on these issues, as we speak. Urge the U.S. and its allies to - ironically - exert enough control to keep the Internet uncontrolled. And develop a taste for that thing.  Irony.


locumranch said...

the Internet was set free...

Interesting theory. In what way is the Internet "free"?

It is not "able to act at will".

It does not possess autonomy, "personal rights or liberty".

It is not "exempt from external direction or restriction".

It is neither "provided without charge", nor is it "open or available to all".

That's like saying commercial television is 'free".

We have to buy into an entire political economy in order to utilize the internet.

We have to purchase technology, infrastructure, power grids, hardware, software, bandwidth & political access.

Say instead that it's content is still largely unregulated.


Tacitus said...


Last thread went by so fast I missed a chance to post.

LarryHart, welcome back. Now of course we will worry if we see you here too often!

And you tossed out an interesting point regards your tastes.

Is there a predictable pattern that suggests whether you will prefer a writer's earlier or later work?

I have read most of what our host has done. Some things once, a few more than once, one at least a half dozen times. So yes, I have my preferences too.

In medicine it is generally felt that you are at the top of your game between about 40 and 55. Old enough for experience, young enough for new ideas. Is it the same with writers or for that matter with other professions and creative endevours?

Not knowing the answers here, just looking for opinions.


Narkor said...

You can't have a knowledge based economy without intellectual property.

And the Internet does not exist so that Google can make a profit.

ZarPaulus said...

Those who uphold intellectual property laws have forgotten that they were intended to encourage innovation. They should probably be amended so that copyrights are only valid for so many years after creation rather than the entire life of the creator plus several decades.

LarryHart said...

Tacutus2, concerning personal tastes of an author's work...

It's almost a cliche that Woody Allen fans prefer his "earlier, funnier" stuff. I'm certainly one of those.

For much of my adult life, I was the same way with Kurt Vonnegut, but as time goes by, I've come to appreciate his later works more and more. I've also come to realize that many of his themes remain constant from the 1950s to the 2000s.

Isaac Asimov was a hugely prolific author for decades, and was always consitently interesting, but I can't help preferring his 1930s-1950s Robot and Foundation novels to his revisiting those stories in the 80s and 90s.

I know authorrs and artists hate it when fans prefer their earlier stuff that they (the authors and artists) can barely stand to look at. I also know that I know what I like. I tend to latch onto the first version of a song and think of that as the "real" version, whehter it's the original or not. Thus I prefer The Beatle's "Got To Get You Into My Life" over Earth Wind and Fire's version, but I've got a soft spot for Blue Suede's rendition of "Hooked on a Feeling".

As to our esteemed host, I think I regard his body of work much the same way I do Kurt Vonnegut's. My favorites are "The Postman" and "Earth". I love the Uplift series as a series, but my enjoyment peaks in the middle (The Uplift War and Brightness Reef) rather than at the end, much the same way that my enjoyment of Star Trek TNG peaks in seasons 3-5. I did love "Existence". but I can't help feel the author sees it as an imporovement over "Earth", whereas I liked "Earth" better, probably for much the same reason I prefer 1950s Asimov to 1990s Asimov. But I also think I'll appreciate it more on a second reading. And as with Vonnegut, I notice many themes of Dr Brin's which are consistntly in his work from 1980 to now.

No real conclusion here--just brain dumping while I can.

Michelle Paquette said...

For your amusement... The ITU has warned the TIES committee members of a directed phishing attack designed to obtain their passwords to the ITU site containing the restricted documents for Y.2770.

Jumper said...

Wonder if we have to crank up Fidonet again. Sheesh.

Tony Fisk said...

What was that about the cost of freedom being eternal vigilance? (Remember the Palladium chip?)

The tangled webs of minority government! It seems that the Australian 'internet filter' was a sop to keep the Family First (ie RW religious element) senator happy and on-side. It was hemmed and hawed over until he was removed at the last election. It was quietly dropped about a month ago.

Even so, I pointedly placed the Minister in charge of implementing the filter at the bottom of my ballot paper.

To the current crop of proposals. Yes, they are a concern. I wonder, though, how much more of these things we are glimpsing because of increased internet sousveillance?

Commercially, my pet peeve of the moment is the explosion of downloadable apps to enhance the viewing of specific websites. I would have thought it simpler to provide the CSS and javascript flavours appropriate to the viewing medium.

Hank Roberts said...

> Fidonet

Yes. Just the exercise of getting it cleaned up and ready to re-deploy on need would be worth doing.

Packets don't care how they travel. And the web doesn't need a backbone, to run slow and lean.

Doing more with fewer, though, takes practice. Old coders will need to teach the young ones.

Hell, the advertisers would still pay to support it, if all they got was "this 32K brought to everyone by IPv6#_______________"

"If you want, I'll ASCII ..."

Paul451 said...

I suppose, given the last-plus-one thread, there's a particular irony that the US will likely be saved from UN-internet control by the same knee-jerk UN hate that just scuttled the convention on the rights of the disabled.

Here in Australia, I rely on the second and third largest ISP being run by people who strongly oppose such controls, and who have gone to court to defend themselves against being made into somebody else's gate-keepers.

Ian said...

I'm sorry but this has all the signs of a fake-indignation beat-up.

We don't know what's in the standard but certain self-proclaimed activists speculate about what it MIGHT contain and how it MIGHT be abused and you if it MIGHT be bused you know it WILL.

So, of course, all well-meaning souls who love freedom (and want others to know how much they love freedom) are appropriately outraged.

The amusing bit is that when exactly the same thing played out on the American Right over the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Disabled it was obvious to everyone here that it was a hysterical beat-up

Me, I'll stick to worrying about the FDA wanting to ban vitamins.

(Finally, David, depicting the UN as a cabal of third-world dictators requires that you ignore the spread of democracy in South America, South East Asia; Eastern Europe; Africa and most recently the Middle East.)

Ian said...

On a different note:

This is at least a colorable plan on how to prevent catastrophic global warming.

Tacitus said...

I am a little skeptical that the internet could be controlled easily. I think the information will just continue to well up like samizdat-springwater. Of more concern is the extent to which we could be watched filling buckets, or to which dedicated pipelines could be snuck in to replace the groundwater with Koolaid.


Acacia H. said...

Actually, the question is this: would efforts to "regulate" the Internet by the UN and nations which consider it a threat result in the destruction of its effectiveness? Think of that: what makes the Internet so great is the free flow of information across the world. The UN and various nations want to "regulate" that flow which would impede on this aspect... and also result in the creation of National Intranets each of which are barely connected and through which information is strictly controlled.

This would impede on the advancement of democratization and the global diffusion of cultures. It would also damage business efforts (though some people would see that as a good thing, I'm sure).

For instance: if Iran had never allowed for global internet access (which it is busily trying to eliminate now) then would reform efforts have taken place? What would have happened in the Soviet Union if Western culture hadn't been smuggled in... and if the Internet had existed 20 years earlier and advanced at its current pace, would the Soviet Union have collapsed a decade or more earlier?

Hell, if the Internet (and technology to use it) had existed 50 years earlier... how would it have impacted on such things as the Holocaust or even the World Wars?

Might part of the reason international conflicts have declined be because of the free diffusion of ideas and cultures... and the slow decay of the Other? After all, it's hard to hate someone who you realize is as human as you are.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Ian, bah... when you set up a straw man, check to see if it is already falling apart. I have more than enough anti-right-wing cred to make it foolish to paint me as one of that crowd... nor "depicting the UN as a cabal of third-world dictators." Um... where did you get that?

Indeed... the SPREAD of "the spread of democracy in South America, South East Asia; Eastern Europe; Africa and most recently the Middle East" is precisely the reason that oligarchic clades are running scared and insisting on greater internet control. And if you look at a map and include Russia, China and Ukraine, Congo, Iran in the color of tyranny... then there's a Looooong way to go.

Tacitus said: "Iam a little skeptical that the internet could be controlled easily. I think the information will just continue to well up like samizdat-springwater."

And I very tentatively agree. Indeed, the US State Department is developing 'internet in a box" systems that can be sold and then smuggled into countries allowing side-stepping state control... with US deniability. I was pleased to see that as an element of actual policy.

Still, you are too sanguine. Look at human history. Human (oligarchic) nature holds most of the cards, still. And these new technologies could still be Big Brother's dream.

Anonymous said...

To the people making noises about "intellectual property":

Property law includes the principle of nuisance. Intellectual property law does not. The inescapable conclusion, then is that intellectual property law is not property law.

sociotard said...

To resurrect a meme from a few threads ago . . .

Somebody mentioned a Glider-nventor in old china who was given a day of pleasure and an execution.

That is incorrect. It was Turkey, and the man got a bag of gold and exiled to Algeria.

Ian said...

"And if you look at a map and include Russia, China and Ukraine, Congo, Iran in the color of tyranny... then there's a Looooong way to go."

Except in the UN voting isn't based on either geographic extent or population.

David Brin said...

Ian, Russia and China and Iran are the leaders of the movement to make the Internet wholly subsumed under national sovereignty.

Sociotard, it was China and death in the fictional version.... by Ray Bradbury.

David Brin said...

I am told (cannot vouch) that a petition aiming at 1 million folks objecting to increased state control over the internet is gathering signatures.

David Brin said...

I am told (cannot vouch) that a petition aiming at 1 million folks objecting to increased state control over the internet is gathering signatures.

Paul451 said...

Re: Nuisance laws on property.

Interesting idea. How would you define a basic "nuisance" law for intellectual property like copyright/patents/trademarks?

Looking at the simpler examples from around the world, the land-property version is usually...

A nuisance is doing, or allowing through negligence, anything which,
(a) annoys, injures or endangers;
(b) is offensive to the senses;
(c) is offensive to decency;
(d) interferes with the use of any commons (waterway, park, or street);
(e) restricts another's free use of their own property, or makes uncertain/unsafe that use.

I can see how IP laws currently fail in many of these areas, but how do restrict "IP nuisance" without just eliminating IP?

[The blogger Turing test is now showing me pictures of spray painted numbers. If it starts on full graffiti murals, I may not be able to post.]

locumranch said...

Just realized that I probably missed the main assumption of DB's internet post:

The literal acceptance of Marshall Mcluhan's electric-age analogy.

So, I put it to the group:

Do you believe that the internet (along with our other electronic gadgets) represents the de facto extension of our human central nervous system?

And, if so, do you then believe that your internet-based interconnectedness somehow makes you larger, smarter and more globally relevant?


David Brin said...

Said it frequently. The internet MIGHT make us smarter... if we add tools of discourse, Twitter is not the direction.

locumranch said...

Thought so.

I love Mcluhan & the other logical positivists, but here's where you & I differ.

I see the internet more along the lines as a better tool whose use will not necessarily make me a better (or bigger) man, analogous to the little man who buys a compensatory big car.

Despite the big car, the man remains the same literal size, uncompensated.



locumranch said...

That comment was not person-specific & it came off too harsh.

We are like little weak twigs, and like the Roman Fasces, the internet binds us together & makes us a strong bundle even though (individually) we remain little twigs.


duncan cairncross said...

"I see the internet more along the lines as a better tool whose use will not necessarily make me a better (or bigger) man, analogous to the little man who buys a compensatory big car."

But man is the tool using animal - its his tools that sets him apart
My library - or the internet - is like an external brain - If I want to know something - its there - I have used the internet to find things out and to make things that I would not have been able to without

I am a "better" man because of the internet - I can make a lot more things

Last Thursday my DIY electric car actually went - I highly illegally drove it down the road
Among other things it has an open source power controller - $600 as opposed to a $4000 store bought one

Paul451 said...

The proposal to the ITU to take over the internet has been withdrawn by its sponsor nations (mainly Russian and China). So it may have just been a tester.

The fact that they put their name to it (previously the idea would be floated by a single nation), suggests they think they're getting close to the numbers, but not this year.

Paul451 said...

Syrian rebels have been watching an awful lot of The A-Team between firefights...

David Brin said...

And they emerge from the Sham II vehicle with gleaming hair. Sham-poo? Needs some conditioner.

locumranch said...

If the internet is "like" an external brain, then a big car is "like" an external phallus.

Easy access to information isn't "like" being smarter. Intelligence comes from the application of information rather than its possession.

As in the case of the freedom fighters, a man is defined by what he does rather than what he owns and/or possesses.

Just like owning a full-sized truck does not necessarily make me, like, so virile.

Duncan makes himself a better man by applying his internet info.


Alfred Differ said...

The internet can't be an extension of our nervous system. I don't see how that analogy can work. What it can do is extend the reach of behaviors we already manifest and support social institutions that were previously too expensive to be worth building and maintaining. I am no better or worse, but I am more successful when embedded in powerful processes.

I think of the internet more as an environment for us than as an extension of us. We shape it and the activities that occur within it to our desires and the successful structures grow and propagate. The demarcation between the landscape and the structures on the landscape is murky, though. Since those structures are built from our memes I can see why some see it as a personal extension, but I argue that we are already that large. It's just that previously prohibitively expensive behaviors are now emerging.

When we start integrating or adapting our physical selves to these structures, that's when I'll see the internet as an extension of us.

d said...

"The internet can't be an extension of our nervous system. I don't see how that analogy can work."

It is! In the same way that a club was an extension of our arms and claws in the early hunter gatherer days

duncan cairncross said...

d - was me

On an entirely different subject Amazon seems to have changed a bit and now I find it will let me buy the books (Kindle) that I wanted
no more
The book you requested is not available in your region
(not so far)

Paul451 said...

I'm not saying anything, I'm just saying...

Tom Crowl said...

Slightly off this topic... but I know an interest of yours:

Sociophysicists Discover Universal Pattern of Voting Behaviour

Not sure where it leads or the implications... but it should indicate that the 'design' of a representative system has a lot to do with its operation.

Alfred Differ said...


Oh. Maybe I'm being too literal then? 8)

Hmm... A hammer extends what a person can do, but it doesn't extend them. A few generations (genetic or memetic) later after a few adaptations have occured within us, then we have been extended... I suppose.

Is a bird extended by a better-built nest?

When I hold a rock that is roughly the size and shape of a old stone axe, I feel a sense of completion. Is that extension? 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Sociophysicist?! What manner of strange beast is that?

Physicists like to play in other people's sandboxes all the time, but retaining our subject name makes me laugh at them. It is as if they want to give their new interest a science patina.

Acacia H. said...

Back when I was in college in the early 1990s, I had a physicist teacher who felt that any science ending with an -ology wasn't a real science, and any "science" ending with the word Science was a fraud. He was fun. (Though he handwaved away my comments on "geology" by claiming it was an offshoot of physics. As was astronomy.)

Rob H.

RandyB said...

"Indeed... the SPREAD of "the spread of democracy in South America, South East Asia; Eastern Europe; Africa and most recently the Middle East" is precisely the reason that oligarchic clades are running scared and insisting on greater internet control. And if you look at a map and include Russia, China and Ukraine, Congo, Iran in the color of tyranny... then there's a Looooong way to go."

Remember that whenever any U.N. supporter pretends to care about human rights.

As Bruce Willis said in Die Hard, "Welcome to the party, pal!"

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Adifer

I think a man (person) is (at least partially) described by what he does or achieves,
I describe myself as an engineer - I don't have spanners grown on the end of my arms

"A hammer extends what a person can do, but it doesn't extend them"

By extending what he/she can do it does extend him/her

As an engineer I am acutely aware of how many generations of shoulders I am standing on - if engineers didn't plagiarize we would be sitting outside our cave wondering what type of stone to make our axes out of.

With the ability to make more things I am a different person than I was ten years ago - not better just different

Alfred Differ said...

I think that confuses the person with the products of their behaviors. Ah well. No doubt the philosophers will debate this for generations.

In the mean time....
Look at what we can DO!


Time to go read the next post.