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Discussions in Internet Freedom

February 4, 2010

This week the thing top on my mind is in defence of the Internet after reading a Time Magazine blog talking about an expert who suggests Drivers Licences for the Internet. Barbara Kiviat writes on’s CuriousCapitalist blog:

Between individual fraud, organized crime, corporate espionage and government spying, it’s an incredibly dangerous world out there, which, according to one panelist, is growing exponentially worse.

These are incredibly complex problems that even the smartest of the smart admit they don’t have a great handle on, although Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and technology officer, offered up a surprisingly simple solution that might start us down a path to dealing with them: driver’s licenses for the Internet.


What Mundie is proposing is to impose authentication. He draws an analogy to automobile use. If you want to drive a car, you have to have a license (not to mention an inspection, insurance, etc). If you do something bad with that car, like break a law, there is the chance that you will lose your license and be prevented from driving in the future. In other words, there is a legal and social process for imposing discipline. Mundie imagines three tiers of Internet ID: one for people, one for machines and one for programs (which often act as proxies for the other two).

Now, there are, of course, a number of obstacles to making such a scheme be reality. Even here in the mountains of Switzerland I can hear the worldwide scream go up: “But we’re entitled to anonymity on the Internet!” Really? Are you? Why do you think that?

Well I think that I am entitled to anonymity everywhere (online or offline) except for high-security locations such as, what Kiviat goes on to suggest, in a bank vault. You don’t want Joe Anybody walking in to secure locations if he or she is capable of doing damage and would but much less likely to do so if his or her identity were known.

It’s easy to envision the same sort of differentiated structure for the Internet, Mundie said. He didn’t get into examples, so here’s one of mine. If you want to go to and read all about what’s going on in the world, that’s fine. No one needs to know who you are. But if you want to set up a site to accept credit-card donations for earthquake victims in Haiti? Well, you’re going to have to show your ID for that.

It boggles the mind to envision the same sort of differentiated structure for the Internet. Each packet of data needs to be authenticated? Authenticate the LOL you just made me leave in my pants.

Kiviat solves too many problems with “authentication.”Kiviat’s job is to write something interesting, while Mundie likely did not link together the sprawling issues of individual fraud, organized crime, corporate espionage and government spying, and say it would at all be solved by imposing any sort of Web Drivers Licence; that is likely the creative influence of Kiviat’s writing.

I certainly fell for the bait. That shit pissed me off. I felt like this represented an assault on the open structure of the Internet. Another scheme to bring down the freedom of speech and open-sorcery of the web when perhaps it is just the musings of a wouldbe Internet overloard at Microsoft. Yet nevertheless there is the need to articulate the issues.

The first issue is to frame the importance of the debate. We are not talking about defending Internet Neutrality for the sake of social networking or video sharing. For me, this issue does not center around the concerns of the entertainment industry, although that debate needs to be included in the discussion.

I am writing in defence of global liberty in the face of global tyranny.

I ranted recently why it’s so important to keep an eye on the encroaching panopticon of technology…
Because if we let them install a micromanaged panoticon and then the government is replaced in a coup, or the government becomes an evil government, then we’re fucked!
To which I was taunted
So what? They already know who you are, where you live, where you shop, they have a record of your purchases.
I retorted, or contorted
So we should acquiesce and allow ourselves to incrementally be placed inside of a panopticon?
And he said, wisely
I’m not saying to acquiesce but what are you going to do about it?

I see the Internet, as a structure, and the Web, as an interface medium, as being the gateway through which all revolutionary information will flow: not from the mainstream newspapers, televisions, or radio. Your outrage is on your own time now. There’s no such thing as burying a news story on the back page. News networks can’t underplay a story and expect that to keep it from bubbling up. There is a blogosphere and it does weigh into the newscycle, although there is always the consideration of misinformation. This already affects how the world sees the world, and it’s structure prevents it from being censored.

As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, internet neutrality is the revolution. Unlike the other, now-traditional, communications media, the Internet allows self-publishing which drastically changes the way the game is played. No longer can information be silenced simply because editors are bought off (or too afraid of stepping on the toes of the major sponsors). If the web thwarts the propaganda and misinformation efforts of the establishment who reportedly want death and destruction from everyone and everything, then it is worth defending (and it is not surprising that it is under constant reproach).

So I’m thinking about how to defend Internet Freedom and Net Neutrality, and I posted this to my Facebook status.

“Ideas for defending internet freedom. ? A video? A protest? A song? What would you do to defend your ability to log in anywhere and download anything? How do you feel about the idea of a “drivers licence” for connecting – of a passkey for each device?”

The first response, from a friend of a friend

poop on soeone’s head?

Second, from a self-proclaimed Machiavellian

There is no freedom!!! 🙂 Only Chaos!

My reply to both of them

face palm.

Then came a coherant response from someone who cares

Hack the planet.

Um. If it comes to the point of actual implementation (or serious, that is, non-conjectural discussion) of such a policy, then physical on-the-ground action would be necessary. Protests (very probably for more than just a saturday – and seriously organized), letter-writing campaigns (as largely ineffectual as those are), and … See more general things that require effort and make it apparent that business as usual will be disrupted if such a policy is put through. Strikes. Etc. Occupying the Rogers/Bell/Telus offices? I dunno.’

But yeah, really, except for China (okay, and a bunch of other nations, many in Asia), the internet is still basically free. Enough noise was made even just about net neutrality that attempts to ruin it have been stalled or slowed at least. It’s a looong road to travel before we get internet driver’s licenses.

a world traveler feminist contributes to the discussion

passkey = new world order = BOOOOOO!
while Machiavelli responds
Hey, if the government can tax it… why wouldn’t they?
Yesterday I was seeing red but today I’m feeling blue.
“Poop on their faces?” Is that really how the average person wants to respond to this issue? Instead of stomping around and preaching about Internet Freedom I feel more like looking more deeply into the issue.
Perhaps there is something the pragmatic technorealism can offer us by outlining the pros and cons of Internet communications and offering some reasonable concessions in the ways of government responsiblity to web security.
Simply because the Internet remains Open does not mean that it won’t be, or is, used for tyranny. Even if the communication medium of the Internet does remain open that does not prevent it from turning into a panopticon: in fact it requires the population sign-up, and build it. The devices are now part of our lives.  In a free and open Internet we want to bring them into our lives, whereas if the Internet were to be revealed as (yet another) organ of the establishment, perhaps people would recoil from it.
Today the technology grid expands into every aspect of our lives, and that is what we want. It is what we defend, because we feel like we are defending freedom when we defend Internet Neutrality, but it needs to be considered… If I will campaign and lead revolution then I should analyze the real End Game of what I’m fighting for. With the Internet we’re talking about a technology invented by the Pentagon. Do I work for the Pentagon by fighting for the Internet ?
What if technology represents freedom today, and slavery tomorrow?What if shedding technology would neither win nor lose the struggle of freedom (it would ebb and flow for some) but keeping it would ensure permanent bondage for everyone?
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