August 2011

On the podcast this week, Ryan Calo, a scholar at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, discusses his new article in the Maryland Law Review entitled “Open Robotics.” Robots are frequently used in war, manufacturing, warehouse management, and even in surgery. Now, personal robots are poised to be the new explosive technology, and Calo anticipates their social effect to be on par with that of the personal computer. He discusses why he believes personal robots are more likely to thrive if they are built on an open model–rather than closed or proprietary framework–even though robots open to third-party tinkering may be subject to greater legal liability than closed, discrete-function robots. To protect open-model innovation, Calo recommends immunity for manufacturers of open robotic platforms for what end users do with these platforms, akin to the immunity enjoyed under federal law by firearms manufacturers and websites.

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Paul Vixie, a renowned Internet pioneer who runs the Internet Systems Consortium, has written an article in ACM Queue attacking “those who would unilaterally supplant or redraw the existing Internet resource governance or allocation systems.” The publication of this article is a sign of a growing, important debate around the reform of IP address registries in the age of IPv4 exhaustion.

Vixie defends the Regional Internet Registries monopoly on IP address registration services and its current, needs-based policies toward address transfers. I am sure that Paul sincerely believes in the arguments he makes, but it’s also true that Vixie is the chairman of the Board of The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the regional address registry for North America. When Vixie argues that ARIN’s exclusive control over Whois and address transfer services is beneficial and “in the physics” he is also defending the authority and revenue model of his own organization against a perceived threat.

And that takes us to another relevant fact. The argument Vixie makes is cast in generalities, but he is really attacking a specific firm, a holding company known as Denuo. Denuo has formed both a secondary marketplace called Addrex for the legitimate trading of IPv4 number blocks, and an IP Address Registrar company known as Depository. Let’s set aside Depository for the moment (I will come back to it) and concentrate on Addrex, which has become the first end-to-end platform for legacy address holders to sell their IPv4 number blocks. Famously, Addrex scored a major success as the intermediary for the Nortel-Microsoft trade. But Nortel-Microsoft was unusually visible because it had to go through bankruptcy court. Is anything else happening? I spoke to Addrex’s President Charles Lee since then to find out. “We are very busy signing up a growing number of global corporate and governmental customers to sell their unused assets,” he said. I asked him what the buyer side of the marketplace was beginning to look like and he said “Our value proposition to large Asian network operators has resonated quite effectively and we expect to enter into many agreements with them over the coming months.” Surely Vixie and the ARIN Board have gotten wind of this. So when Vixie begins a public attack on this company and its business model, he is signaling to the rest of us that ARIN is worried. Continue reading →

TLF Turns 7

by on August 15, 2011 · 0 comments

The Technology Liberation Front (TLF) turned 7 yesterday. We got underway on Aug 14, 2004 with this post. For more of the backstory of how things got started, see this post upon the occasion of our 5th anniversary. We’re now up to 5,800+ posts and we’ve received almost 34,400 comments on those entries.

The goal of the TLF was to bring together liberty-loving technology policy analysts who were concerned about rising calls for government control of the Internet, digital technologies, and media and communications platforms. While we’ve slowed down a bit here in recent years, I’m quite proud of what we’ve done over the years to advance that vision and want to I thank everyone involved in the effort and all those readers who found it worth their time to stop by.

We’ll keep fighting the good fight for technology and information freedom!

Republished from the Daily Caller

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has declared “everything necessary will be done to restore order” in Britain’s riot-racked cities. With respect to the right honorable gentleman, what distinguishes free from unfree societies is not order, but ordered liberty. As the great Tory philosopher Edmund Burke taught, reconciling liberty and order is the fine art of democratic statecraft. Tweaking that balance as technology evolves requires the most careful and judicious deliberation. Only where cooler heads prevail can ordered liberty thrive.

Cameron’s government has hesitated to escalate physical force with rubber bullets and water cannons, lest they lend moral sanction to the brutal tactics used by China and in the Middle East to suppress dissent. Yet however noble his intentions, Cameron could do more to undermine ordered liberty with “bloodless” measures targeting social media services like Twitter and Facebook, and improperly using photo identification.

Cameron, who championed Internet-driven revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, told Parliament that the “free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill.” His vague response: “We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry whether it will be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services.”

So far, the only clear call for shutting down social media outright came from a Labour MP, not Cameron’s Tories. David Lammy, who represents the London neighborhood where rioting began, has demanded the suspension of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service for “helping rioters outfox Police.” Such a response befits Beijing, not Britain, the birthplace of ordered liberty.

Free societies can and should silence those who incite acts of violence — but not by shutting down speech platforms for all users. Even America’s speech-protective First Amendment allows punishment of speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” That standard protects legitimate expression without preventing prosecution of those individuals stoking and organizing riots. The same standard should determine when government may properly force social media systems to take down seditious posts, photos and videos. Continue reading →

I’m no grammar Nazi. In fact, I’m closer to being a grammar anarchist. I’ve been fighting teachers and editors for years about split infinitives (they rock!), contractions (fine in small doses), and run-on sentence (OK, they are probably right about that one, but I just can’t control myself).  Nonetheless, it makes sense to have some basic ground rules for grammar and good writing. Sometimes, however, those rules just can’t be found.

I raise this issue because I’m finishing up my next book and I find myself struggling with the proper hyphenation and capitalization of various Internet terms. After much consultation with the Mercatus Center’s grammar czar Jennifer Zambone, I think I have finally grown comfortable with two rules I have long ignored (or just been horribly schizophrenic about using consistently) in my past writing. They are: Continue reading →

States are ratcheting up legislation in order to capture sales taxes from on-line retailers, even as companies like aggressively push back.

A closely-watched bill in the Texas legislature that defines Amazon’s distribution center in Ft. Worth as a physical nexus, thereby obligating the on-line retailing giant to collect taxes on sales to residents of the Lone Star State, passed on a second go-through of this year’s session, overcoming an initial veto by Gov. Rick Perry.

The next move is up to Amazon. Its distribution center is essentially a warehouse that fulfills online orders and employs 200. Amazon previously said it would close the center if the bill passed, but has yet to make good on the threat. However, it is dangerous to dismiss it as a bluff. When South Carolina passed a similar bill, the company closed a distribution center there; only to return once the legislation was reversed.

The collection of taxes from on-line sales has become touchy among even the free-market-minded. Brick-and-mortar store owners have become increasingly vocal as to what they see as a purposeful scheme of “tax avoidance” that puts them at an unfair disadvantage against on-line retailers. Research, such as an April paper from the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and E-Commerce Research, stoke the flames by calling the current sales tax rules a tax subsidy for online merchants.

The heart of the Texas dispute is whether a distribution center counts as a nexus. The case law is Quill Corp. v. North Dakota and National Bellas Hess v. Illinois Department of Revenue, which, as broadly understood, stipulate that a business must have a nexus, that is, brick-and-mortar store, in the state in order to be liable for tax collection. If there is a viable court test to either or both of these decisions, the contention that a distribution center constitutes a nexus may have the most potential.

Continue reading →

On the podcast this week, David Brin, a physicist and Hugo and Nebula award-winning science fiction writer, wrote the prescient 1997 nonfiction book, The Transparent Society, which won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association. He’s written a new essay revisiting the themes of that book and discusses how the ideas presented in The Transparent Society relate to his new essay and to the world today. The government continues to increase its ability to look in on citizens, creating an Orwellian-like society that people may find alarming. According to Brin, reciprocal accountability, which is the ability for people to look back at the government and hold it accountable, is key to minimizing undesirable effects and behaviors. Brin goes on to discuss the benefits of a more pragmatic approach to transparency as opposed to immediate and radical transparency like WikiLeaks.

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Mark Thompson has a new essay up over at Time on “Cyber War Worrywarts” in which he argues that in debates about cybersecurity, “the ratio of scaremongers to calm logic [is] currently about a 2-to-1 edge in favor of the Jules Verne crowd.”  He’s right.  In fact, I used my latest Forbes essay to document some of the panicky rhetoric and examples of “threat inflation” we currently see at work in debates over cybersecurity policy. “Threat inflation” refers to the artificial escalation of dangers or harms to society or the economy and doom-and-gloom rhetoric is certainly on the rise in this arena.

I begin my essay by noting how “It has become virtually impossible to read an article about cybersecurity policy, or sit through any congressional hearing on the issue, without hearing prophecies of doom about an impending “Digital Pearl Harbor,” a “cyber Katrina,” or even a “cyber 9/11.”” Meanwhile, Gen. Michael Hayden, who led the National Security Administration and Central Intelligence Agency under president George W. Bush, recently argued that a “digital Blackwater” may be needed to combat the threat of cyberterrorism.

These rhetorical claims are troubling to me for several reasons. I build on the concerns raised originally in an important Mercatus Center paper by my colleagues Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins, which warns of the dangers of threat inflation in policy debates and the corresponding rise of the “cybersecurity industrial complex.” In my Forbes essay, I note that: Continue reading →

Data-transparent government is still a ways off, but some small steps forward are underway. To wit, my project, which is adding new data going to the costs of bills in Congress.

As detailed in an announcement that went up this morning, many more bills on the site will have cost estimates associated with them, the product of research being done at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. Some bills spend pennies or less per U.S. family. Some spend $5,000 per family and more. Wouldn’t you like to know which are which?

The site has also begun displaying national debt information on a per-family, per-person, and per-couple basis. (Your debt—just for being an American—is about $45,000 dollars.)

I’ll have much more to say on government transparency in the coming months. In the meantime, you might do your part to avoid the next calamitous debt ceiling debate by following the day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year in Congress using things like the weekly email newsletter.

Kembrew McLeod, independent filmmaker and Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, discusses his new documentary with Benjamin Franzen called Copyright Criminals. Digital music sampling is used throughout several genres of music but it is probably most prominent in hip-hop music. Hip-hop artists like Run-DMC began using snippets of other artists’ songs to create sounds of their own. This process, according to McLeod, helped facilitate creativity, but it also brought a flurry of lawsuits within the music industry. Now, as McLeod demonstrates in his documentary, artists are hesitant to use samples of music in their songs because they fear potential legal consequences, and as a result, a lot of musical creations that use sampling may never reach our ears.

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