January 2012

Over at TIME.com I write that if you didn’t like SOPA because it threatened free speech, then you probably won’t like the new “Right to be Forgotten” proposed in the EU. Prof. Jane Yakowitz contributes some great insights to the piece. What I dislike most about the rule is that it subordinates expression to privacy:

>[T]he new law would flip the traditional understanding of privacy as an exception to free speech. What this means is that if we treat free expression as the more important value, then one has to prove a harmful violation of privacy before the speaker can be silenced. Under the proposed law, however, it’s the speaker who must show that his speech is a “legitimate” exception to a claim of privacy. That is, the burden of proof is switched so that speakers are the ones who would have to justify their speech.

Read the whole thing at TIME.com.

On the podcast this week, Reuben Grinberg, a recent Yale Law School graduate now in private practice in New York City, discusses his paper, published in the Hastings Science & Technology Law Journal entitled, Bitcoin: An Innovative Alternative Digital Currency. Grinberg first gives a brief overview of Bitcoin, the decentralized, digital currency. According to Grinberg, Bitcoin can maintain sustainability, even though it is not backed by an institution or commodity, but it must overcome several hurdles. Grinberg then discusses the potential security problems and legal issues Bitcoin faces. He also describes some of the unique qualities of Bitcoin, including the ability to conduct transactions anonymously. Grinberg ends the discussion with his thoughts on what Bitcoin could potentially become.

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A new report says the opposite, though perhaps “legacy” entertainment companies are failing to keep up.

By any measure, it appears that we are living in a true Renaissance era for content. More money is being spent overall. Households are spending more on entertainment. And a lot more works are being created.

Good news! Check out: “The Sky is Rising.”

[Cross-posted at Reason.org]

This week Google announced that it is grouping 60 of its Web services, such as Gmail, the Google+ social network, YouTube and Google Calendar, under a single privacy policy that would allow the company to share user data between any of those services. These changes will be effective March 1.

Although we have yet to see it play out in practice, this likely means that if you use Google services, the videos you play on YouTube may automatically be posted to your Google+ page. If you’ve logged an appointment in your Google calendar, Google may correlate the appointment time with your current location and local traffic conditions and send you an email advising you that you risk being late.

At the same time, if you’ve called in sick with the intention of going fishing, that visit to the nearby state park might show up your Google+ page, too.

The policy, however, will not include Google’s search engine, Google’s Chrome web browser, Google Wallet or Google Books.

The decision quickly touched off discussion as to whether Google was pushing the collection and manipulation too far. The Federal Trade Commission is already on its back over data sharing and web tracking. With this latest decision, although it’s not that far from how Facebook, Hotmail and Foursquare work, just more streamlined, Google, some say, is all but flouting user and regulatory concerns.

Continue reading →

On Forbes yesterday, I posted a detailed analysis of the successful (so far) fight to block quick passage of the Protect-IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). (See “Who Really Stopped SOPA, and Why?“)  I’m delighted that the article, despite its length, has gotten such positive response.

As regular readers know, I’ve been following these bills closely from the beginning, and made several trips to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to think more carefully about some of the more half-baked provisions.

But beyond traditional advocacy–of which there was a great deal–something remarkable happened in the last several months. A new, self-organizing protest movement emerged on the Internet, using social news and social networking tools including Reddit, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter to stage virtual teach-ins, sit-ins, boycotts, and other protests. Continue reading →

President Obama’s third full year in office came to an end last week, and I’ve reviewed how well he’s doing with one particular campaign promise on the Cato@LIberty blog. “Sunlight Before Signing” is the moniker for the president’s campaign promise to post online the bills Congress sends him for five days before signing them.

As we start the fourth year, he’s at just over 50% on fulfillment of the promise. Far less if you measure based on the number of pages that got the sunlight he promised.

Rebecca MacKinnon’s new book, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, is well-researched exploration of the forces driving Internet developments and policy across the globe today. She serves up an outstanding history of recent global protest movements and social revolutions and explores the role that Internet technologies and digital networks played in those efforts. She also surveys some of the recent policy fights here and abroad over issues such as online privacy, Net neutrality regulation, free speech matters, and the copyright wars. The Consent of the Networked is certainly worth reading and will go down as one of the most important Internet policy books of 2012.

A Call to Action

Of course, it’s not just a history lesson. MacKinnon has also issued a call-to-arms here. As a well-known web activist, MacKinnon has emerged as a leading force in the broad-based, if loosely-defined, “Net freedom” movement. The term “Net freedom,” she notes, means very different things to different people. It’s “like a Rorschach inkblot test: different people look at the same ink splotch and see very different things.” (p. 188)  Nonetheless, on the global stage, the Internet freedom movement is fundamentally tied up with efforts to hold both governments and corporate actors more accountable for their actions toward the Netizens, digital networks, and online speech and expression. Continue reading →

My latest Forbes column is entitled “Why Doesn’t Society Just Fall Apart?” and it’s a short review of Bruce Schneier’s latest book, Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive.  It’s an interesting exploration of the societal pressures that combine to ensure that (most!) societies don’t go off the rails and end in anarchic violence. In particular, he identifies and discusses four “societal pressures” combine to help create and preserve trust within society. Those pressures include: (1) Moral pressures; (2) Reputational pressures; (3) Institutional pressures; and (4) Security systems. By “dialing in” these societal pressures in varying degrees, trust is generated over time within groups.

Of course, these societal pressures also fail on occasion, Schneier notes. He explores a host of scenarios — in organizations, corporations, and governments — when trust breaks down because defectors seek to evade the norms and rules the society lives by. These defectors are the “liars and outliers” in Schneier’s narrative and his book is an attempt to explain the complex array of incentives and trade-offs that are at work and which lead some humans to “game” systems or evade the norms and rules others follow. Continue reading →

In the wake of last week’s big SOPA showdown, a lot of people are talking about the expanded presence and power of the Internet, online operators, and digital Netizens in Washington policy debates. I certainly don’t mean to diminish the importance of this particular episode. It certainly is historic, regardless of how you feel about the specifics of SOPA. What does concern me, however, is the way this episode is prompting questions about how much more “engagement” Internet companies need to consider inside the Beltway. For example, today’s Wall Street Journal features an article on “The Web’s Growing Muscle” and notes:

The Internet industry has found a rare sweet spot in Washington. With Google in the lead, the companies have begun building a strong traditional lobbying force in Washington. And, to complement that inside game, websites’ millions of users have become a powerful outside weight on Congress. What’s more, in a rare Washington double play, the concerns of Internet companies have found a sympathetic ear both in the Democratic White House and among Republican presidential candidates who otherwise can’t agree with Barack Obama on anything.

The piece concludes with a quote from an anonymous media executive saying “People are looking at what Google spent on lobbying and wondering, ‘Can we match that?’ It has to be a big spend.”

I cannot possibly think of anything more demoralizing than that. Continue reading →

From Cato’s “Job Opportunities” page:

Policy Analyst, Telecommunications and Internet Governance

The Cato Institute seeks a policy analyst to work on telecommunications and Internet governance issues. The suitable candidate will have several years of work experience in the field of telecommunications and Internet law and policy. An advanced degree in law or economics is preferred

Sought-after qualifications include: familiarity with or practice before the Federal Communications Commission; familiarity with the technical and governance bodies of the Internet; familiarity with and/or work experience on Capitol Hill; a solid background in the First Amendment and other civil liberties; familiarity with classical liberal history and scholarship; strong analytical reasoning skills; the ability to simplify complex issues in oral and written communications; and good interpersonal skills. Responsibilities include monitoring developments in government regulation and oversight of telecommunications and Internet governance at all governmental levels; researching and writing on these topics in all formats (research papers, policy briefs, editorials, blogposts, etc.); and public speaking. Candidates must support Cato’s mission of promoting individual liberty, free markets and limited government.

Information on how to apply here.