A bug in the legal code?

By Damien Cave



Salon Staff
September 18, 2000 11:08PM (UTC)

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Touretzky hits the nail on the head. Perhaps the Internet's most powerful potential is its ability to offer near-instantaneous access to vast amounts of information that before sat only on dusty bookshelves in far-flung locales. Where before information had to be tracked down by an expert -- say campaign finance data or product safety reports -- this information is now at the fingertips of millions of people sitting in their homes.

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DeCSS is but the first battle in a skirmish over access to information. Not being able to watch a "Lion King" DVD on your Linux machine is one thing, but what if manufacturers decide that the safety data they give to the government shouldn't be on the Internet? Or what if politicians decide that databases like opensecrets.org that compile campaign finance data should be shut down? The Internet's ability to give citizens access to the raw data of power is only beginning to emerge. But if folks don't wake up and pay attention to these still-obscure skirmishes, politicians and corporations may bury it before it ever gets the chance to flower.

-- Sean Sullivan

At first blush, it sounds absurdly farfetched. But this is absolutely the threat which exists. A Big Industry consortium, the Trusted Computing Platform Association, has just released specifications for a "secure PC" that is truly scary in its ability to hide secrets from the owners and users of machines, while at the same time verifying its trustworthiness to outsiders on the Net. And Nat Semi has promised to quickly produce a reference implementation and sell motherboards to do this. Intel, MSFT and other major players participate in the TCPA. (Check out Wave Systems -- NASD: WAVX -- as a company dedicated to this vision.)

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ICANN and its ARIN offspring are now planning to rent IP numbers by the year. So there is a quasi-governmental organization that can cancel your access to the Net at the most basic level of your address number, even though with IPv6 there is truly an abundance of available numbers. There is no market economical need for rationing addresses, only reasons of power and control.

Responsible Net citizens must become familiar with the tools of electronic freedom. That means understanding and using encryption technology, anonymizers, remailers, etc. Having Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) installed and sharing your public key with your community is going to become the kind of basic civic hygiene that registering to vote, or having a musket in the house have long been: Weapons in the continuing fight against tyranny.

-- Paul Harrison

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