Things that Go ‘Bump’ in the ‘Net

At ten A.M. Pacific this morning, CNET asked if I could write an article unraveling the legal implications of a rumored deal between Google and Verizon on net neutrality. I didn’t see how I could analyze a deal whose terms (and indeed, whose existence) are unknown, but I thought it was a good opportunity to make note of several positive developments in the net neutrality war this summer.

Just as I was finishing the piece a few hours later, another shocker came when the FCC announced it was concluding talks it had been holding since June with the major net neutrality stakeholders. It’s possible the leaked story about Google and Verizon, and the feverish response to it, whipped up by the straggling remnants of a coalition aimed at getting an extreme version of net neutrality into U.S. law by any means necessary, soured the agency on what appeared to be productive negotiations. Or maybe they’ve just gone as far as they can for now. Continue reading →

Declan McCullagh of CNet News reports (“Congress May Roll Dice, Legalize Net Gambling“) that some in Congress are reconsidering the wisdom of prohibitions on Internet gambling, which we have discussed here many times before. Declan notes there’s another hearing on the issue today and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) will be discussing his continuing effort to allow Internet casinos to obtain licenses from and be regulated by the federal government:

Frank, who will be testifying during Wednesday’s hearing, says that because nearly all states already permit some form of traditional gambling–including lotteries, betting on horse and greyhound racing, and sports wagering — the federal government should legalize and regulate the online equivalents. Instead of a blanket legalization, his legislation would require the Treasury Department to police the industry and ensure that it takes adequate steps to identify minors and compulsive gamblers.

My TLF colleague Tom Bell has done seminal work in this field and you will definitely want to check out his recent essay, “The UnInGEn-ious Act’s Non-Impact on Internet Gambling” and his classic 1999 Cato white paper, “Internet Gambling: Popular, Inexorable, and (Eventually) Legal.”  What Tom has done better than anyone else is to show that, as is the case with almost every “market activity devoted to the pursuit of happiness,” eventually the law will adjust to accommodate these activities.  It may take some time for the law to adjust, but it will.

Incidentally, I loved this little gem of a quote that Declan included in his story from the activist group Focus on the Family, which argues of this effort to legalize online gambling: Continue reading →

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' First Amendment Handbook, twelve states forbid the recording of private conversations without the consent of all parties. Maryland is one of them.

And now a guy who was recording his own antics on a motorcycle is facing a felony charge because he continued recording during a traffic stop. David Rittgers has more on the Cato@Liberty blog.

Laws that ban all surreptitious recording to get at wrongful recording are overbroad and damaging. Laws that prevent the recording of police officers are particularly wrongheaded. Maryland needs some technology liberation.

San Antonio too.

The headline strikes fear: “House Takes Steps to Boost Cybersecurity,” says the Washington Post.

What boondoggle are they embarking on now?

Cybersecurity is hundreds of different problems that should be handled by thousands of different actors. The federal government is in no position to “fix” cybersecurity, as I testified in the House Science Committee earlier this year.

But this is a good news story. Realizing that its own cybersecurity practices are not up to snuff, the House of Representatives will be ramping up training for its staff.

Better awareness of the ins and outs of securing computers, data, and networks will disincline Congress to undertake a rash, sweeping “overhaul” of the systems and incentives that produce and advance cybersecurity.

I wrote here a couple of months ago about the shady practice among a few Internet retailers of handing off customers who accept a “special offer” to a company that charges people a monthly fee for some kind of credit monitoring service. And I argued hopefully that maybe technologists and the Internet community could generate a response to this problem:

Being a smart, informed, and aggressive consumer is each person’s responsibility if a free market is to operate well. The alternative is a negative feedback loop in which government authorities protect us, we rely on that protection and stop policing retailers. Thereby we abandon the field of consumer protection to government authorities, who—try as they might—can never do as good a job for us as we can for ourselves.

The Senate Commerce Committee is having a hearing today on “Aggressive Sales Tactics on the Internet and Their Impact on American Consumers.”

PFF summer fellow Eric Beach and I have been working on what we hope is a comprehensive taxonomy of all the threats to online security and privacy. In our continuing Privacy Solutions Series, we have discussed and will continue to discuss specific threats in more detail and offer tools and methods you can use to protect yourself.

The taxonomy is located here.

The taxonomy of 21 different threats is organized as a table that indicates the “threat vector” and goal(s) of attackers using each threat. Following the table is a glossary defining each threat and providing links to more information.Threats can come from websites, intermediaries such as an ISP, or from users themselves (e.g. using an easy-to-guess password). The goals range from simply monitoring which (or what type of) websites you access to executing malicious code on your computer.

Please share any comments, criticisms, or suggestions as to other threats or self-help privacy/security management tools that should be added by posting a comment below.

Adam Thierer has been named the new president of the Progress & Freedom Foundation.

TLF readers don’t need to be told that he’s a tireless advocate for technology policies that preserve freedom and innovation. He was the driving force behind creation of this blog, for example, and he is a prodigious writer and commentator.

Adam will do even more to advance those goals and protect the Internet from stifling regulation from his new perch. Congratulations, Adam!

Last night, thanks to Craig’s List and a Web-enabled cell phone, I unloaded two extra tickets to tonight’s World Cup qualifying game between the U.S. and Costa Rica in under an hour. (8:00, ESPN2 “USA! USA! USA!”)

Wanting to avoid the hassle of selling the tickets at RFK, I placed an ad on Craig’s List offering them at cost, figuring I might find a taker and arrange to hand them off downtown today or at the stadium tonight. Checking email as I walked to the gym, I found an inquiry about the tickets and phoned the guy, who happened to live 100 feet from where I was walking. A few minutes later, he had the tickets and I had the cash.

This quaint story is a single data point in a trend line—the high-tech version of It’s Getting Better All the Time. Everyone living a connected life enjoys hundreds, or even thousands, of conveniences every day because of information technology. Through billions of transactions across the society, technology improves our lives in ways unimaginable two decades ago.

Before 1995, nobody ever traded spare soccer tickets in under an hour, on a Tuesday night, without even changing his evening routine. If soccer tickets are too trivial (you must not understand the game), the same dynamics deliver incremental, but massive improvements in material wealth, awareness, education, and social and political empowerment to everyone—even those who don’t live “online.”

Sometimes debates about technology regulation are cast in doom and gloom terms like the Malthusian arguments about material wealth. But the benefits we already enjoy thanks to technology are not going away, and they will continue to accrue. We are arguing about the pace of progress, not its existence.

This is no reason to let up in our quest to give technologists and investors the freedom to produce more innovations that enhance everyone’s well-being even more. But it does counsel us to be optimistic and to teach this optimism to our ideological opponents, many of whom seem to look ahead and see only calamity.

Not So Fast, Cloud

by on October 12, 2009 · 7 comments

The cloud won’t grow quite the way Berin notes, at least not if I can help it.

As the ongoing T-Mobile Sidekick failure shows, if you release your data to “the cloud,” you give up control. In this case, giving up control means giving up your data. (Speculation about what happened is here.)

When you combine that with the privacy consequences of delivering your data to god-knows-where, and to service providers that have heaven-knows-what data-sharing agreements with governments and corporations, the cloud looks a lot more gray.

There will always be a place for remote storage and services—indeed, they will remain an important part of the mix—but I think that everyone should ultimately have their own storage and servers. (Hey, we did it with PCs! Why not?) Our thoroughly distributed computing, storage, and processing infrastructure should be backed up to—well, not the cloud—to specific, identifiable, legally liable and responsible service providers.