Tom W. Bell on Sat, 21 Feb 1998 09:58:00 +0100 (MET)

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

<nettime> Netcom faces Usenet Death Penalty

As a "Usenet Death Penalty" ("UDP")looms against Netcom, reporters continue
to mischaracterize the UDP as an automatic process.  See Michael Stutz,
"Netcom Issued 'Death Penalty,'" Wired News, 2:55pm, 19.Feb.98.PST, at
<>:  "One of the
most dreaded tactics the Net community has at its disposal, a UDP means that
all posts to Usenet originating from Netcom will be automatically canceled
and deleted."

In fact, the UDP represents an entirely voluntary process, one which Usenet
site administrators participate in or ignore at their pleasure.  As I wrote
when analyzing an earlier UDP against UUNet, "[T]hird parties can generate
metadata . . . that Internet access providers (under the UDP, Usenet site
administrators . . .) choose to use or ignore.  Intended recipients of
filtered messages must, if they want more open access to the Internet,
either find another channel, persuade the responsible access provider to
implement a less restrictive filter, or implement some sort of hack around
the access provider's barriers." "Usenet Death Penalty Coalition PICS a
Fight with Spam," Telecom. & Elect. Media News, Fall 1997, at 1, 4,
reprinted at <>.

Michael Stutz hints at the voluntary nature of the UDP later in his story,
when he writes that "While [Paul] Vixie does not directly participate in
UDPs by canceling messages, he does honor the UDP 'cancel messages' that are
generated elsewhere."  But Stutz then goes on to muddy the message--and the
responsibility of site administrators, by writing: "Cancel messages--the
technical tool of a UDP--are administrative commands that travel between
news servers, canceling out offending messages.  Should the Netcom UDP
occur, most of the world's news administrators will be honoring the 
cancels--whether they realize it or not.  'Most news admins don't know 
what a cancel message is,' Vixie said."

In fact, as I wrote about the UDP against UUNet, "Site administrators should
recognize that a request for a UDP represents a severe measure, and would
arguably act with negligence if they honored a UDP without due
consideration.  According to the Net Abuse FAQ, "[T]he general consensus
among participants is that [a] UDP . . . should
only be employed after every other method has been tried and failed."
Usenet site administrators should thus bear the responsibility for carefully
evaluating UDPs.  Willing ignorance of the reasons behind a UDP provides no
excuse for automatically implementing it." (footnotes omitted).

The UDP represents self-regulation at its best:  Informed and dedicated
parties cooperating to inhibit anti-social behavior by exercising the
rights--and shouldering the responsibilities--of refusing to associate with
those who violate customary norms.  Reporters who mischaracterize the UDP as
an automatic process fail to appreciate that it offers a viable alternative
to political command-and-control approaches to spam.  Worse yet, such
mischaracterization invites political interference by letting irresponsible
site administrators off the hook for failing to review UDP requests.

Tom W. Bell
Director, Telecommunications and Technology Studies
The Cato Institute

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