Long before the Internet, a parallel function was served by the coffee houses of Europe, centers of stimulation, discourse and the exchange of rumour, scandal, banned publications, information, debate and sedition. An article in the Economist, The internet in a cup, sketches the history of coffee houses in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the self-organizing networks that formed there, along with their evolution toward Starbucks with Wi-Fi. Results included the formation of Lloyds', the London Stock Exchange and the French Revolution. A thought provoking article.
Will the RIAA's legal push against music file sharing result in greater security for terrorists and organized crime, by promoting the spread of decentralized networks exchanging encrypted data, sometimes called "DarkNets"? For years, the government has worried about strong public key encryption in the hands of spies and criminals. The Clipper Chip was supposed to make the Internet safe for democracy, but it was quickly cracked and neutralized.
Consumers didn't bother to use strong encryption, because ... hey, its more work, and few folks have much worth the trouble of hiding. The RIAA's new moves, to obtain identities behind "peer-to-peer" file swappers by service of DMCA-empowered subpoenas, then sue those individuals, has dramatically changed the battlefield. As any student of military history and technology knows, the deployment of any new weapon is soon followed by the deployment of a new defense or countermeasure. Sometimes the countermeasure proves more powerful than the weapon: that's how we got the tank, as a countermeasure to the machine gun.
In today's e-letter, Clay Shirky suggests that in this case, the response to RIAA's offensive will be more widespread use of encrypted decentralized "dark nets" like WINW and BadBlue. He compares the situation to that during Prohibition, in which efforts to prevent alcohol consumption failed in their primary purpose, but did succeed in hatching organized crime: a countermeasure that survived the repeal of Prohibition and is a thorn in society's side today. He sees the result as a profound change that goes beyond the realm of music sharing.
"People will differ on the value of this change, depending on their feelings about privacy and their trust of the Government," Shirky concludes, "but the effects of the increased use of encryption, and the subsequent difficulties for law enforcement in decrypting messages and files, will last far longer than the current transition to digital music delivery, and may in fact be the most important legacy of the current legal crackdown." The RIAA Succeeds Where the Cypherpunks Failed, Clay Shirky (December 17, 2003).
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) has been around, but "not ready for prime time," for several years. When it was young and clumsy, the "old boys" of telecommunications disregarded it (as Clayton Christensen would predict) as not a threat to their mainstream business. Now, as Bob Dylan writes, "Things Have Changed." The technology is improving and a critical mass of broadband customers has been reached. Suddenly, it is a viable threat to suck away significant shares of voice revenues in an already cut throat market. Can you say "10-10-NET?"
Today's New York Times article Phone Service Over Internet Revives Talk of Regulation voices the same worries we heard when express package services like FedEx began to offer real competition to the U.S.Postal Service for fast, reliable service. Sucking away revenues will leave less to subsidize services that lose money, but are believed essential. Accordingly, demands to regulate (i.e. tax) the disruptive technology to reduce its competitiveness raise their heads.
Recent court decisions denying state P.U.C. authority to regulate VOIP (see, e.g., Fed Court Bars PUC Regulation of VOIP Provider, Unintended Consequences 10/17/03) are likely to support those opposing regulation. Will the cries of pain from large, established telecom "old boys" result in new federal legislation? Time (and politics) will tell.
Your thoughts? Comments and Trackback, please.
Information Week notes reports that "Legal Research And Back-Office Work To Go Offshore Next" (December 9, 2003). Reporting on a recent study that salaries for legal support workers in India are about one-third those in the U.S., Info Week points to leading law firms considering outsourcing paralegal and legal research work to Indian contractors setting up to do such work. Access to digital law sources over broad-band global connections makes such outsourcing possible.
It provides a classic example of component suppliers gaining share by using disruptive technologies to deliver a "low cost" alternative to existing sources. It also raises serious concerns about security measures necessary to preserve confidentiality, client secrets and attorney-client privilege. The report on the U.C. Berkeley study, "The New Wave of Outsourcing" is online in PDF format. Thanks to beSpacific for the tip on this resource.
Breakthrough campaign methods have brought Howard Dean dramatic success, one largely based on giving up centralized control of the "message" and allowing individual supporters and local groups extraordinary freedom to express themselves via the Internet and local house parties and gatherings. He has also raised a surprising amount of money, primarily from individual contributors giving small amounts. The Washington Post described the campaign today as a "secular tent revival, winning over individual souls one at a time." Washington Post: People Powered (Dec. 9, 2003)
This Sunday, Dean's campaign phenomenon made the cover of the New York Times Magazine. In the article, Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, described the campaign organization as a grid, modeled on the Internet, instead of the conventional structure of spokes surrounding a hub. According to The Times: "Trippi likes to say that in the Internet model he has adopted for the campaign, the power lies with the people at 'the edges of the network,' rather than the center. When people from the unofficial campaign call and ask permission to undertake an activity on behalf of Dean, they are told they don't need permission.' NYT Magazine: The Dean Swarm (Dec. 7, 2003).
With Al Gore's endorsement virtually assuring Dean's nomination as the Democratic Party candidate, the questions now include:
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Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that Diebold has backed down from its suit threats over those publishing or linking to their corporate records that reveal information concerning their electronic voting system. The court had ordered mediation, and Congressman Kucinich had entered the controversy in opposition to Diebold's actions. EFF has a series of links to documents in the case. EFF: Diebold Backs Down, Won't Sue on Publication of Electronic Voting Machine Flaws