Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Notes on Lessig (part one)

I'm pleased that students seem to be finding Lessig's main arguments straightforward to understand (even if the tiny print is ruining all your eyes). Elissa put it well in her Critical Response Journal:

Lessig’s most significant point was the idea of regulation in cyberspace and if it was possible to regulate something so liberating and if so how to regulate it. He believes, and I agree, that the net will be regulated through architectures that enable identification to enable commerce. Commerce has its own incentive to regulate the internet and it will be successful through providing authentication, authorization, privacy, integrity, and non-repudiation. Lessig then continues with how government can help commerce and this I find very interesting. Even though the government can’t regulat[e] the net, it can regulate the architecture of the net through code. As he stated in his first chapter, code is law and the control of code is power. So as long as we can control the code of the net, the net will be regulated.

I'm also pleased that Lessig's specific examples and suggestions are raising some critical doubt. For example, over at Joe E.'s Musings on J676, Joe writes:

I also have serious qualms about some of the talk of identification and verification through digital IDs that Lessig seems to be hinting at as a strong candidate for reform in this Internet age. The categorization that comes with all of the information that would be present on a strictly-regulated PKI system comes with dangerous ramifications, in my opinion, and runs counter to the idea of e-democracy that is so en vogue at this moment in time. Although this sort of authentication would be helpful with examples like illegal gambling , this would open the door to other instances where whomever happens to be controling the power would be able to allow only individuals with certain characteristics to view certain content. It's all a little too '1984' to me.

For a concrete example of some of this, Lisa discovered that 60 Minutes aired a report on Internet gambling the other day. She describes the connection to Lessig on Lisa Bu's J676 Blog:

Internet gambling is illegal in the United States, but millions of American do it on hundreds of web sites, often from the comfort of their homes. Usually those web sites are served from computers somewhere overseas. Because there's so much profit to make online, American gaming industry is crying for legalizing yet regulating Internet gambling. And it's definitely regulable using the constraints described in the "Code" book:

Law: punishment (e.g. fine, jail term) for illegal Internet gambling providers, licensing legal providers. Technology makes it easy for law enforcement to tell if a online gambling site's server sits in U.S. or overseas.

Norms: this is a bit hard to do because people can gamble online from their privacy of home, and keep their activity a secret. But at workplace, employer can post a warning that employees' online activities will be monitored. That will deter some people from visiting gambling sites.

Market: online gambling sites usually use credit card as transaction method. To control access to online gambling, credit card companies can be asked to refuse transaction if cardholder is American. If online gambling becomes legal, credit card companies can be asked to charge extra fee or tax for online gambling transactions, thus to discourage gamblers.

Architecture: online gambling sites can build in its code to deny access to people who are underage or from the United States. American Internet service providers can add a filter to block out online gambling sites to their subcribers. Families can set up filters and blocker on their computers to restrict their children's access to online gambling sites.

These are all good things to talk about today. One more I might add is ... what kind of cyberspace is this little interconnected web of blogs that we've constructed for our class? What kind of regulation on our speech -- for better and for worse -- does the "code" of Blogger (and the way we're using it) mandate?


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Lisa Bu said...

Since we know that our blog will be read by classmates and professor, social norms will affect much what and how we say in the blog.


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