geert lovink on Tue, 22 May 2001 19:09:04 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Gary Chapman: Protecting the Net From Private, Political Interests

From: "Gary Chapman" <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 22, 2001 12:57 AM


Thursday, May 17, 2001

Protecting the Net From Private, Political Interests

By Gary Chapman

Copyright 2001, The Los Angeles Times, All Rights Reserved

For most consumers sitting down to use the Web or e-mail, global 
governance of the Internet is probably the last thing to come to 
mind. But, increasingly, how the Internet is "governed"--or how it 
isn't governed--will shape everyone's experience of using the Net. 
And how the world adjusts to this new supranational form of 
communication and commerce will have far-reaching implications for 
politics and democracy in general.

This was one of the main topics of a discussion in Los Angeles two 
weeks ago at a meeting organized by People for Internet 
Responsibility, a small group of veteran technologists and Internet 
pioneers. About 25 people discussed the future of the Internet for 
two days. This was a group with a panoramic view of the Internet's 
past--the average attendee had 20 years' experience using the 
Internet, and some people had taken part in the network's earliest 

Many of the old Internet hands at the meeting see an intensifying 
free-for-all over "real estate" on the Internet, which they say is 
leading to bad public policy decisions, dubious technologies, 
international friction and a sense that a network once ruled by 
dedicated and altruistic technicians has been taken over by greedy, 
reckless and selfish people, governments and businesses.

Barbara Simons, past president of the Assn. for Computing Machinery, 
the world's oldest society of computer professionals, pointed out 
that powerful interests in the copyright-holding industries, such as 
music recording and film, persuaded Congress to pass the Digital 
Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. That law makes it illegal to 
attempt to circumvent, or to actually circumvent, any method or 
device used to protect digital information from unauthorized copying. 
As Simons noted, computer security experts typically advance the 
state of the art by trying to break into things; now that's a crime 
because of DMCA, and those at the conference warned that the nation's 
computer systems will be far less secure than they should be as a 
result of these limitations.

Meanwhile, Simons said, the FBI and the White House constantly beat 
the drum for increased computer security, recently elevating this 
rhetoric to something reminiscent of the Cold War era. "This is 
crazy," Simons said.

There are similar problems in the way the Internet addressing system 
is developing, which is producing a Gordian knot of conflicting 
trademark claims, dilemmas over limited address names and heated 
controversies over how many variations of .com or .org we should 

Critics of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or 
ICANN, which oversees the issuing of Internet addresses, have 
complained that this organization is the captive of wealthy interests 
who are determined to protect their individual address names and 
intellectual property no matter what that does to the rationality or 
coherence of the addressing system. There's something unfair and 
unsatisfying about a system that gives Ford Motor Co. automatic 
rights to "," for example, instead of Ford's Corner Grocery 
Store or Ford's Mortuary.

It's not always private interests that threaten the Internet. Foreign 
governments increasingly are meddling in how the network works, what 
information it conveys and who can use it. France and Germany are 
trying to keep the Internet free of Nazi-related merchandise and 
ideas. China is bent on delivering an Internet to its citizens that 
is nonthreatening to the government.

We're in a strange conundrum. True global governance of the Internet 
may be impossible--the Internet probably is beyond governability 

"Attempts to control the Internet risk breaking it," said Bob 
Frankston, one of the inventors of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet 
program for PCs. However, this axiom hasn't stopped people and 
institutions from trying to control the Internet. The question is how 
we can protect the Internet from these people. Through global 
governance? And thus impose another set of risks? We need a new 
political theory to break through this logjam.

Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the 
University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: