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How Free Press breaks the citizens' network

Inside the mind of Ben Scott

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This is how I pointed it out to Scott (apologies for quoting it at length):

The internet gives citizens control over the tools of communication in quite an unprecedented way. This, obviously, threatens institutions which depend on scarcity of information for their authority. I think this is a pretty unique moment in the history of communications.

But I think I'm beginning to see the problem, and it's a classic information cascade. The "experts" tell you something you want to hear; you provide something the "experts" wouldn't otherwise have. You get "evidence of abuse". They get media prominence and social relevance. It's a dependency cycle. But is it real, or fictional?

The question you must answer is - is the network you / I / we propose one that is sustainable ? One that citizens can use as a template for the future?

In other words, would a temporary injection of RTS packets ever be permissible, or not? We'd soon find out. Joe Public goes to make a VOIP call, and then discovers that Bittorrent has grabbed all the available bandwidth and sockets. And it's completely out of his control. He can run one application or the other, but not both. We've outlawed intelligent and benign network management.

The precedent to remember is The Anarchist's Cookbook. This was lauded as the ultimate recipe book for creating disruptive stuff - like bombs. But The Anarchist's Cookbook was created at the CIA. It contained so many bogus instructions that it destroyed far more readers than intended targets. It was designed to fail.

Are you sure you're not creating a network that's designed to fail too? If the citizen's network fails - who benefits?

So far, I haven't heard a reply.

With its campaign to "Save The Internet", Free Press may achieve two goals that I fear are the opposite of what its biggest backer, George Soros, intended when he financed the outfit.

One is that it makes the job of genuine free speech activists - who work to promote cases of real repression - much harder.

The other is that it mandates a broken network as the default technical standard for citizens.

You may recall the "Stuckist Net" arguments here several years ago, when readers discussed how feasible it would be to evade lockdown technologies and create computer platforms that remained free and open. That was in the aftermath of CPRM, when it looked like Vista would be a tightly controlled system. That nightmare never came to pass, but the internet retains the ability to be a genuine "citizens' network", with even the domain name system open to alternatives.

But for the public to adopt such a system, it must offer a genuinely compelling alternative to AT&T and Comcast. It's no good advertising yourself as "citizen owned" if your offering falls over as soon as people use P2P. Similarly, selling a network with important features missing - such as VoIP - hardly makes it more attractive. You might get the odd politically-correct masochist, but Joe Public will stay away.

So in banging the drum for the virtual campaign, Free Press makes the big guys even stronger. That's an odd result for an outfit that says its goal is "to promote diverse and independent media ownership".

And a hell of a legacy to leave behind. ®

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