Friday, March 18, 2016

We're the Saudi Arabia of Copyright

American copyright law protects images that are as old as this mouse, for no discernible reason.

"Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand." – Baruch Spinoza

The key problem with policy work in this area has been that the underlying behavior of cyber technology is very weird. When you try to understand Quantum Physics, for example, you run into the massive problem that electrons and photons don't act at all like anything you can see in the real world. A "Wave-Particle" that is a little package of probability is not like a ball or a wave or really anything. The same thing is true in cyber norms. What we think of as two different things turn out to be the same thing a lot of the time.

For example, censorship and copyright are linked as closely as electrons and photons, as is security monitoring and surveillance. Efforts to outlaw one using technology immediately run into problems because there is not technical difference between them. As Ann Ganzer learned this year, the same is true with penetration testing and "intrusion software".

In other words: If you think Saudi Arabia's desire to protect their Creator from being insulted, and America's desire to protect "content creators" from being "stolen from" are any different, you are going to be disappointed with how the Internet works. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a very high level policy meeting and heard from otherwise intelligent people "Why can't we have a driver's license for using the Internet?"

A different America would take a strong and principled stand against censorship in general. But we can't. We are the Saudi Arabia of copyright. More than any other nation we rely on what is essentially a global regime of censorship, full of legal and technological tools, to make our economy run. And it produces an obvious blind-spot in our policy work to the objective viewer. It is no accident that as Secretary Clinton was giving speeches about Internet Freedom, she was also fighting as hard as possible to wipe Wikileaks off the Internet with the law.

Corporations (Google/MS/Apple in particular) have not missed this obvious facet to our policy work. They can see that the United States Government and the Chinese Government are directly aligned against them on this (and many similar) issues. To illustrate it, a segment from the book released yesterday by Nato on cyber norms (page 106) is below:

President Xi engaged with a different conception of freedom to that used by Neelie Kroes. He linked freedom to order by saying that ‘order is the guarantee of freedom’ and therefore, it is necessary to respect sovereign law in cyberspace ‘as it will help protect the legitimate rights and interests of all internet users’.58 In a similar effort to justify exercising domestic law (and thereby infringing the norm of de-territorialised data), US Senator Patrick Leahy made the following comments when introducing a bill designed to prevent ‘foreign-owned and operated’ websites from facilitating intellectual property theft: ‘We cannot excuse the behaviour because it happens online and the owners operate overseas. The Internet needs to be free – not lawless’.

And when I last talked to a Nation State policy-maker (not US), censorship was first on the  list of things they wanted to enable on their national infrastructure. "How do we block ISIS from Forums, Twitter posts, etc.?" is a hugely desired ticket item. But what that ticket item requires is more expensive, both in money and Freedom, than any country can afford.

1 comment:

  1. Your driver's license comment made me think about Hobbes and the social contract. Governments seeking to impose social order through rules-based norms do not often look at incentives. This passage is interesting: