Posts tagged ‘internet neutrality’

Support the EFF!

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a small group of lawyers and techies who are sort of like the ACLU, but only for technology-type stuff. Because the EFF is so small, they don’t have the resources to take on every case that comes along the way the ACLU does. Consquently, they wait for the perfect case, and then kick ass. The EFF was behind the class action lawsuit over Sony BMG’s rootkits (I don’t think I ever posted the resolution of that, but the EFF won and if you bought one of these CDs, you can get some money and a way to remove them from your machine and stuff). The EFF was behind the landmark case about the broadcast flag that finally gave you the right to record what you want on your TiVo or VCR (again). They were the ones who got the electronic voting company Diebold kicked out of North Carolina for their unethical business practices and intentional security problems. The EFF are all-around awesome people!

Anyways, they’re now battling AT&T over the warrantless wiretapping thing (the ACLU is also suing AT&T, but the two cases are, at least for now, separate). At DEFCON, I got to see a panel of 5 EFF people discuss this case with the audience. AT&T has been completely assy about every point, arguing ludicrous things, such as the claim that the address of their main datacenter is a trade secret (despite the fact that it’s registered with the city of San Francisco and is in the phone book). Time after time, the judge has come down on the EFF’s side. The EFF has even managed to work around the State Secrets issues that right-wing pundits expected would bring the entire trial to a standstill (the EFF’s arguments here were amazingly clever. Post a comment if you’re interested in hearing more). Earlier this week, the judge in the ACLU’s suit ruled that AT&T must stop their practices, though they plan to appeal this to the 9th circuit court of appeals (though knowing the 9th circuit, the decision should stand). The EFF’s judge has already made a similar ruling, and by now should have decided whether AT&T can continue the wiretapping while they appeal (though I don’t know the outcome of that edit: they can continue re-edit: that was for the ACLU case. I still don’t know what happened to the motion to stay in the EFF case). As usual, Fox “News” is using intimidation and straw-man arguments to say that the ruling is the work of a foolish, activist, outsider judge. The Washington Post is taking a more reasonable, moderate stance.

In the meantime, there’s a scary bill looming on the horizon. This bill, if passed into law, would specifically legalize warrantless wiretapping, thereby stripping away all congressional oversight. Personally, I feel this is ridiculous, because FISA (the secret court that is supposed to oversee wiretaps) has never once in its entire 30-year history turned down a wiretap application. Moreover, the Arlen-Cheney bill would move the ACLU’s and EFF’s legal battles from the normal courts over to FISA, where no one would ever be able to find out what occurred or why. If you want to keep your Fourth Amendment rights and not have a chilling effect set over all of America, please, please call or write to your Congresspeople (note that that link is secure and any data you put in that form will be encrypted; yet another good thing the EFF does).

A couple minor points about the EFF: EFF’s stance on net neutrality →

Internet Neutrality – A Good Thing?

There seems to be a whole lot of talk all of a sudden about net neutrality recently, with editorials from both sides as well as grassroots websites on both sides. The basic debate is whether or not ISPs should give priority to certain packets of data getting to/from your computer, based on certain characteristics of the data (its source/destination, the type of application that is sending/receiving it, etc). A bit of an anti-regulation overview can be found here, including a quote from the head of the Center for Democracy and Technology, Alan Davidson. I’m tentatively leaning towards the pro-net neutrality side, but I think there are good arguments on both sides of the debate here.

On the anti-neutrality side,

  • It would be nice if VoIP and streaming video were given priority over, say, email, since they need to be received in realtime, while my email can arrive half a second late and I won’t really notice. This would make realtime applications run better on hardware that can barely support them, and shouldn’t make a significant difference on hardware that can easily support them or hardware that can’t do it at all.
  • This sounds silly, but it is the ISPs’ hardware that delivers the internet to you. They can really do anything they want with it. If you don’t like what they’re doing, switch ISPs. I can’t think of any legal argument that really prevents ISPs from doing this kind of thing.
  • Tiers of service have worked in many other businesses: airline tickets have first class, coach, economy, etc. Shipping has 2-day delivery, 3-day delivery, ground delivery, etc. This would be a similar system, and is likely to operate at a similarly useful level.
  • As a general rule, free markets work better than ones that have been regulated by the government. If ISPs want to start partnering with certain websites to deliver their content faster than their competitors, I suspect a lot of business could grow around such a concept, and lots of people would make lots of money. This isn’t necessarily good for the consumer (it has the potential to not be bad for the consumer, however), but it’s great for lots of businesses, and probably good for the economy.

On the pro-neutrality side,

  • There have already been past incidents (most notably in Canada) of abuse of this system, in which things like VoIP service from the ISPs’ competitors had its quality intentionally degraded.
  • We’re already paying ISPs for broadband internet access; we shouldn’t have to pay them again for the same broadband internet access to websites that aren’t affiliated with them. Such tiering would divide the internet into many different clusters and make inter-cluster communication more difficult.
  • Giving preference to packets of one sort of application over another will likely discriminate against any new form of application that tries to run over the internet, making innovation harder.
  • The internet is sort of like a public good, and from an economic standpoint, government regulation (in the form of a regulated monopoly) often is best for the consumer.

This next is a very weak argument and should not be persuasive at all, but a lot of people I would consider “good,” including Google and the creators of TCP/IP are in favor of net neutrality regulation. A lot of groups I would consider “bad,” such as large telecom companies, are against net neutrality. The one exception is that Jim Sensenbrenner, creator of the PATRIOT Act and general foe of civil liberties and privacy, is pro-net neutrality and even introduced the legislation about it (though it was voted down for the moment).

What do other people think of the issue? I imagine I’ve missed some important points in the debate somewhere, and if you know which ones, I’d like to hear about them. Other opinions are always welcomed.