This Brink Feels Different

A brief addendum to my post yesterday:

First, so these proxy servers also have IP addresses, right? Do users then simply show up as the proxy’s IP? That is, can you determine who the proxy is by virtue of what IP is sent?

In any case, I’ve been thinking more about Verizon. Verizon receiving a mountain of subpoenas conjures up privacy concerns for me. I don’t worry about Verizon bearing too much cost; not that it’s insignificant, but I think they’ll still be around at the end of the day.

The further I move away from examining Verizon, the more my concerns change, shifting to more fundamental concerns about Internet architecture. I understand proxy servers are a part of privacy, too, even though I can’t say I totally understand how they work, who runs them, and how they’re created. But my impression is that they’re a much simpler service than Verizon’s.  Their operators don’t seem to need the same resources to create one. Many have no account holders or subscribers in the commercial or organization sense. If they’re doing it for anonymity, they probably keep no records or paper work. They don’t control their users, and they don’t communicate with them in any way. All these server operators are doing is plugging in a computer that routes some packets.

Are we really comfortable with these people receiving a mountain of subpoenas? Service operators probably won’t have the resources to deal with them. And thus we’ve eliminated proxy servers.

Creating too much of a slippery slope argument here would be an oversimplification or at the very least would be incomplete. This analysis could be applied to other services. Hell, it could be applied to the OpenNap servers (and, as I’ve said before, I’m not sure if I’m even comfortable with eliminating them). All of this is admittedly quite complex with many grey areas.

So let me make some simpler statements and claims. These subpoenas make me feel like we’re really on the brink now. Before, the Napster ruling and the DMCA had the potential to cause real harm. And slowly but surely, potential has proved all too real.  The copyfight is now affecting Internet issues that were once (and should still be) totally irrelevant to copyright. Letting copyright bleed into and overwhelm the politics of proxy servers is silly, just as it would be if we let it dominate search engine politics or the design of web browsers.

I know we’ve all had that sense for awhile and that this isn’t new. Why do these subpoenas feel different?  Because of how quick the P2P services are employing their counterattacks, and how quickly people are looking to P2P services with more anonymity.  The arms race is quickening. It feels like if we’re not careful, it’s going to go nuclear.

So, I should take this opportunity to applaud the EFF’s new Let the Music Play campaign. It is clearly a change in stance and tactics for them and perhaps that makes it a little disingenous. After all, the EFF did tell the RIAA and MPAA to go after the users, the ones actually infringing, rather than service providers. Well, now they’re doing that, albeit in a privacy invading way, but in a way that doesn’t target technology creators. The EFF has recognized that’s not enough - it will not end the arms race. Even going after users wouldn’t solve copyright’s ills and its unintended impact on the Internet. The EFF is trying to come up with a better solution to the problem, one that is lasting and can benefit all involved. I’m glad they shifted their stance in this direction, and I hope they’re successful.

Free Speech and Code

Today I read David McGowan’s “From Social Friction to Social Meaning: What Expressive Uses of Code Tell Us About Free Speech” which goes through Corley, Elcomsoft, Bernstein, and other interesting code cases. It’s a great article, discussing how courts classify code on the basis of its function, expressive content, and context. His recommendations seem quite reasonable. Here are my notes, but it’s worth reading for yourself.

Click here to read my notes on this article.