August 10, 2004

Online Principles

Susan Crawford proposed to create Online principles, and I quickly commented, mainly about "Been there, done that, doesn't work". John Palfrey replied noting the "doesn't work", and further, "That does not suggest to me that it's not a worthy exercise, necessarily, especially if it's possible to come up with a set that are agreeable to a broad and influential enough community.)". Then Ed Felten responded, "But Seth is right that past attempts to define online principles have often gone off the rails ... We need to focus instead on specific things [the Internet] does change, and devise principles for dealing with them."

It's important to remember the "been there and done that" part of my comment. I don't mean to be harsh, but many, many, statements have been issued over the years.

To take one notable recent example, consider the Center for Democracy and Technology's Library Censorware Wish List (formally "Principles for the Implementation of CIPA-Mandated Filtering in Public Libraries"). It's not a bad document, as such things go. It just has absolutely no utility as far as I can see. I'm particularly fond of the item where "Users and communities should have access to ... lists of blocked sites ...". That won't happen. All the major companies keep their blacklists secret, and they sue to prevent exposure. I don't know of any major censorware company which cares that it doesn't comply with the CDT censorware principles. Why would they? And CDT isn't the first organization to issue this sort of censorware statement.

Anybody can make up a wish list: Peace on earth, goodwill to all, freedom, democracy. That is, I mean, End-To-End, User Control, Innovation, etc. Then what?

The issues facing the evolution of the Internet are ones where there are heavily conflicting and mutually incompatible interests. The obvious response of someone on an opposite side of an issue is perhaps "I don't share those principles", or maybe "The principles don't mean what you think they mean, instead I am the true interpreter of The Way".

And this is seen very contentiously in the spam debate, where the arguments over principles there resembles the intensity of the political arguments over abortion.

I should stress I believe I understand the perspective which drives these proposals. What I'm attempting to convey is that, in practice, the ideas have very well-known failure-modes. If they worked, there wouldn't be so many opportunities to repeatedly propose them.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on August 10, 2004 12:28 AM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


savvy hotspot! the future (don't you hate it when people use "future" without the article: e.g., "in future" -sheesh) of internet freedom depends on this kind of thing, especially the number one principle--freedom, but it may be well beyond our little independent hands to keep up, as are most things the rich eventually strangle.

Posted by: bw at August 10, 2004 08:35 AM

You're right in that constructing a set of principles is absolutedly independent from getting any of them considered or enforced. And when we just sit around and dream up what we think the principles should be, we get things like the Library Censorware Wish List, pure impractical dreams.

However, in every area of politics, it often seems as if the liberal side has far more trouble organizing themselves than the conservative, for whatever reason (and several could be offered). The democratic party in the current election is far from focused on a single policy platform; they've achieved tremendous unity only because of the shared goal of removing Bush from office.

I think an attempt to define reasonable principles is an attempt to fix this, to construct an organization, a movement, a group of like-minded individuals who want to try to change the world. There are two separate steps to the process of changing the world. The first is getting a group of people together and deciding what to try to change it into. The second is fighting for those goals, and it's in this process that the impossible dreams (such as open blacklists) are removed.

Now none of this argues against the 'been there, done that, doesn't work' claim. It's possible that beginning by debating a set of principles is not the best way to try to form a unified movement. It's also possible that we liberal 'netizens', to use an overused buzzword, are incapable of organizing ourselves. But we ought to try, through any and all means.

Posted by: Chris Riley at August 10, 2004 10:14 AM

oops..I posted this yesterday in the wrong it is again...

Seth wrote"I'm particularly fond of the item where "Users and communities should have access to ... lists of blocked sites ...". That won't happen. All the major companies keep their blacklists secret, and they sue to prevent exposure. "


For your continued amusement Seth...

How did this slip below your radar ?

There is even an add for you on the left....

although you might have to load a page or two because they are outputed at random....

As Kojac would say "Who loves you baby"

Best Regards

Posted by: Bob Turner at August 10, 2004 12:29 PM