- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

The Internet appeared almost overnight, spread across the earth like kudzu on a Georgia road cut, and now intrudes everywhere with seditious potential. It lets anybody say anything to anyone, something that not all governments regard with gratitude.It lets digital information as for example music move around the world effortlessly. It threatens the existence of copyright. Consequently many would like to control the 'Net.
This we need to think about. If permitted, they will make it as tame and controlled as television.
A few examples:
The entertainment industry is desperate to impose controls on the copying of music CDs and DVD movies. One sees why: When people can burn a perfect copy of a CD in a few minutes on almost any computer shipping today, they aren't going to buy as many.The result is that the industry pushes for anything that will prevent unauthorized copying.
The rub is that it is hard to control digital data.Consequently attempts are made, for example, to mandate that all computers have built into them measures to prevent piracy.There was a furor in the computer press over CPRM (Content Protection for Removable Media), which sought to do just this.Building morality into computers makes them difficult to use for legitimate purposes (we'll look at this in future columns).It also sets a precedent of letting someone other than the computer's owner decide what he may write on his drives.
Further, governments want to restrict, watch, and control the flow of information on the Net.The more tyrannical the government, the greater the desire. China tightly controls its citizens' access to the 'Net. Other governments can creep in the same direction, almost imperceptibly, and with the best of stated intentions.
Much has been written about Carnivore, the FBI's software for monitoring e-mail. In a sense, it is nothing new. The police have always been able, when equipped with a warrant, to conduct searches, tap phones, intercept mail, and so on.
The difference is that surveillance by Internet is undetectable, requires little expenditure by the police, and most important can be done automatically on a very large scale.Realistically, reading ordinary mail takes a lot of manpower and isn't practical for mass screening.This is not true of e-mail.
I'm not suggesting that the FBI is doing this, or wants to though the current concern over terrorism makes the idea more attractive.Merely knowing that one's e-mail can be invisibly read can be intimidating.As the 'Net becomes more and more the primary way we talk to each other when not in the same room, escaping possible surveillance becomes harder.
The desire to control content on the Internet inevitably arises.So far we have little governmental interference with content.The most conspicuous is the banning of pornography involving children, and few, I suspect, will argue with this.But we live in an age of controlled public expression.There are things one does not say without penalty, subjects one does not discuss. We all know what they are.
On the Internet people may say anything at all, and do.Here, as it does in so many ways, the Net provides a way around the established norms. Practically speaking, the Internet has not shown much potential for inciting revolution.Name a forbidden political view and you can find it articulated, with nice graphics and site design, in 50 different places on the 'Net.Nothing seems to have happened because of this.
Yet there are plenty of people and organizations who would happily block sites operated by what would be called "hate groups." At first these would be just plain hate groups, no quotation marks. But what constitutes a hate group depends on how much political power one has. The desire to impose conformity is not minor.Whether this can be resisted (as seems to be happening) will shape the tenor of discourse for years to come.Sez me, it needs to be watched.
A final issue touching on control of the Net is encryption.Some civil libertarians believe that all Internet traffic should be encrypted to prevent governmental intrusion.The public doesn't agree almost no one encrypts e-mail, though it can be done. Serious use of strong encryption would make eavesdropping much harder, and would be attractive for people who valued their privacy, as well as for the Mafia and terrorists.How best to handle encryption? Not an easy question.We'll worry about it later.
It comes back to the same question: Who should control the 'Net, how, and to what extent?

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