- Act Now
- Open Internet
- Promoting Creativity
- Open & Accessible Technology
But I will say that I was once again dismayed this morning, as I have been on so many other mornings, to read in the [New York Times](http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/09/technology/09aol.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin) that some company or another -- this time AOL -- had inadvertently published some personally identifiable information to the Web.
This time, it was 20 million search queries, conducted by more than half a million people. How embarrassing! How irresponsible of AOL! And how stupid of us!
I despair for us ever taking the steps to prevent this kind of stuff from happening, and I include myself in that statement.
I've got a bumper sticker on my car, in the style of the famous 'milk' adverts, that says "Got crypto?" It was given to me several years ago by a world-famous computer security guy. And while it usually makes me chuckle at our little in-joke, today I looked at it with some regret. Because the short answer to the question is, "No, as a matter of fact, I don't got crypto."
And why don't I? This stymies me. I've been writing about privacy issues just exactly like these since, well, 1984. We have the technology to protect our email from being snooped and our Web searches from being tied to our IP addresses. Yet I've never been willing to go to the trouble to do it, and frankly, as far as I know, neither has my computer security guy.
"We were keeping our eye on 1984," writes Neil Postman in the foreword to Amusing Ourselves to Death. "When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves ... But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another -- slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. ... In Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think."
And while perhaps I haven't totally lost my capacity to think, I have spent the last 20+ years ignoring the obvious (and cheap, really) protections when it comes to my online privacy. I certainly resist mightily anything that could possibly slow down the pleasure of the fast click-and-response, or the easy purchase of a book, or the watching of a YouTube clip or anything else I've come to expect from this medium.
In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley remarked that those who are always on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions."
As Postman says, maybe it was Huxley and not Orwell that was right.
The issues that are PK's raison d'etre were part of my beat for many years when I was a technology columnist and analyst for various and sundry publications (most recently, for the New York Times). I was writing about privacy, fair use, free speech and the like before most people even had computers.
I've been a little nervous about doing this gig -- I consciously walked away from technology policy issues in deep and abiding frustration when I started my little boutique research institute, The Hybrid Vigor Institute, in 2000 -- but after sniffing around a little bit at the present state of affairs, I had to chuckle (albeit ruefully) at how very, very little changes, seemingly ever.
To wit: here's a slightly shortened version of the May 19, 1991, "Inside Technology" column I wrote for San Francisco Examiner -- yes, that's 15 YEARS ago. I like to think of it as the proto-Net Neutrality problem statement:
May 19, 1991
BY: DENISE CARUSO
CO: INSIDE TECHNOLOGY
Next week, Conrad Burns , the Republican senator from Montana, will introduce a bill with incentives a-go-go to get a national fiber-optic phone network up and running by the year 2015. At least two other bills on the subject are already pending. ...
Fiber is the highway system for broadband digital services like video teleconferencing, interactive TV, multimedia libraries and other such new information-age media. ...
Burns' proposed [bill] -- dubbed "Destination 2015'' ... wants to give phone companies incentive to install what's known as "fiber in the loop'' (fiber into the home) by allowing them to get into the lucrative and verboten information services (also known as "content'') business.
Since the Modified Final Judgment (MFJ) broke up the Bell system in 1982, Judge Harold Greene has held fast that phone companies can't sell information (such as TV transmission or videotex, depending on the phone company) because it would be too easy for them to monopolize the network.
So regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs), which can install fiber into the home today, are widely believed to be holding back on doing so because they're still hanging a lip about the MFJ restrictions ...
... Nicholas Johnson, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission from 1966 to 1973, believes the phone companies' drive to sell information services is "the No. 1 public policy issue confronting our nation.''
Allowing the phone companies to provide both the conduit and the content is bad both for consumers and business. "It isn't in their shareholders' interest to do this,'' said Johnson. As a public utility, he says, they should only provide the "channels of communication for a democratic society.'' It's hard to sue for libel the companies that make blank videotapes or rolls of newsprint, for example. ...
"They already suck money out of both ends of the straw,'' he said. ""They charge us for getting information out of the system and they charge the supplier for putting it in. They can get rich beyond their wildest dreams of avarice by concentrating on what it is they do best [i.e., renting the conduit] -- the mere fact that doing so also happens to serve the public interest should not deter them.''
So despite the good intentions and safeguards of the Burns bill, the end result is that if passed, it may wrongly drive the first of many wedges into the MFJ, reopening the door for the kind of behavior it was supposed to squelch.
Brice Dustman of Sen. Burns' office said, "Once you've given them the power, you can always take it away.'' But as we've all seen so many times before with technology, it's hard to jam the lid back down on that Pandora's box.
We need a national fiber-optic network. ... But Destination 2015 makes me question whether the end justifies the means.
Well, with the poor beleaguered Modified Final Judgment long since gone the way of all flesh -- pecked to death by policy ducks at the behest of the network providers -- and from the vantage point of hindsight, I also question whether those of us who care about these issues are using the right means to make the Net Neutrality case.
I mean, it's 15 years later. No matter how we get our broadband, whether we ever got around to interactive TV or think of YouTube as the same thing, the question of who controls the network has more serious consequences and higher stakes today than ever -- for free speech, for consumers, for information providers who aren't fortunate enough to own their own. And yet, and yet ...
So: how can we kick this debate out of Wonkville and into the Zeitgeist?
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