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The Silent Death of Freedom (2)

I am not sure who told me about it but once I googled it I found a number of posts about a plan by France’s prime minister Sarkozy making one step further in the direction of turning Internet Service providers into deputy cops. You can read more about it on Eric Bangeman’s blog on ‘ISP’s as copyright cops.’ The Internet has the opportunity to be the great equalizer but it is used exactly the opposite way.

Well, you might say that it is acceptable  to track Internet usage to catch those nasty people who defraud billions of the record companies, the poor artists and the people who pay for their music. I feel that it is not acceptable because where does it stop? And this is not about the poor artists because they see hardly ever more than 5% of the revenue that their music generates. We could start now a discussion about how acceptable or sensible the current copyright laws still are. Copyright and patent laws were originally made to protect the small artist or inventor but they have turned into a business tool for the global corporations to suppress the individual innovators in arts, science and engineering. Especially in countries with Anglican case law this works perfectly well because you can sue someone and you will not have to pay his legal fees even if you loose. Large corporations don’t have to win the cases on merit, they win because lawyers charge $500 an hour so a court battle that lasts several years costs as many millions. Normal people therefore have to throw in the towel. Only in cases where large corporations stand a chance of being sued for damages because of neglect or discrimination you will find the ambulance chasing lawyers offering their legal advice pro bono.

Which directly leads to a problem with Sarkozy’s plan that is even bigger – privacy. There is no court authorization involved in spying on the Internet user. France is not the first to step into this direction. The EU has adopted a directive that authorizes its members to perform telecommunication data retention. Germany has been on the forefront of this trend. Since 1st of January 2008 all German ISP and telephone providers have to store connection information and also emails for six month. At least has the German Supreme Court decided to put the unlimited use of the recorded data on hold. But they are still recorded! That is much like the post office being instructed to open each letter and keep a copy! Sounds like Communist Eastern Germany doesn’t it? Some in Germany call it ‘Stasi 2.0’. How much longer will it take until each phone call is recorded just in case? Whenever the government wants to spy on its citizens then it is to stop terrorists or catch child pornographers. Strange enough that mostly other people are caught ‘by chance’ for tax evasion. The German government can by the way request a citizens bank details without his knowledge.

The other direction to improve this data collection and correlation effort is a unique identifying number for all aspects of private life. For tax purposes those numbers already exist. In Spain for example you can virtually do nothing without this number, not even get a printed invoice! Well, the US is not much better. My PayPal records (and a few million others by means of data mining) were subpoenaed by the IRS because of my country of residence. There are legislation bills waiting to be approved in the US that will outdo the EU in empowering the government to spy on its citizens.

I can seriously recommend The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind (2008) by Robert B. Laughlin a Nobel laureate in physics. Laughlin proposes that governments and industry are restricting access to knowledge by becoming intellectual property owners, who want ideas to be treated like physical assets with their unauthorized acquisition prosecuted as theft. With the problem being a complex socio-political issue Laughlin has no offhand solutions ready, but then who has when most people don’t even acknowledge the problem. Laughlin – like me – proposes that the huge amount of information that we are flooded with everyday is mostly there to hide the political reality from us. We seem to know but it is so much that all this information produces is more noise and in the end more fear and therefore makes us pretty glad that the people ‘up there’ have a handle on things. That reminds me of the following popular quote:

‘The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre.’ Frank Zappa

Well, your freedom to have an opinion will never be taken away, as long as you don’t say it aloud.

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About Max J. Pucher

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of ISIS Papyrus Software, a medium size software company specializing in communications and process management. I wrote several books and hold a number of patents. My quest is to bring common sense to IT, mostly by focusing in human quality issues rather than cost saving, outsourcing and automation. I am also Chief Architect at VIPorbit software which provides mobile relationship management.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “The Silent Death of Freedom (2)

  1. The flood of information can be ignored, but that does not really help at all. The underlying reasons are what should be addressed, and for that it is necessary to see human nature. The question is whether any of the understanding, not matter on what level, does anything at all.

    How can one get to the political reality?

    Posted by karin | October 8, 2008, 2:55 pm
  2. Unfortunately that is not correct, Karin. The amount of information leaves you wondering what to take seriously and what to ignore. You have the same problem as a spam filter. There are obviously reasons of human dynamics and people just spamming their world, but I think that politicians like management learn that it makes sense to distract the people with an unimportant subject to distract them from something relevant, i.e. create a parking issue while the company is being reorganized. Politicians create for example a discussion in the media about child pornography while new tax legislation is being discussed in the parliament. The political reality is WHAT HAPPENS, so you always get to it. It might just be too late but a lot of people feel that they can not change the system anyway and that is the feeling that politicians want to create. Thanks for the feedback.

    Posted by Max Pucher | October 8, 2008, 4:40 pm
  3. I agree about the general attempts (and not only in politics) at trying to distract people from relevant issues by focussing on highly visible and emotionally charged topics.

    How does (can) one know what is to be taken seriously and what is supposed to be ignored?

    How can one change the system of people being distracted by emotionally charged topics?

    I’m not so sure that “what happens” is even noticed by persons who are impacted.

    And I ask again: what is the resolution to people being distracted?

    So far I only see the lamentation that this is a fact, very few go to the trou

    Posted by karin | October 8, 2008, 7:38 pm
  4. ble of trying to inform factually and have the breadth of mind to see the connections plus the ability of presenting this information in a non-insulting fashion.

    (sorry, pressed a wrong button before)

    Posted by karin | October 8, 2008, 7:39 pm
  5. Lamenting (as you call my discussion) is the first step. If you don’t lament no one will know about it. Everything is always emotionally charged. There is no non-emotional reasoning. All we can do is to invite people to turn off the passive TV and start to act, i.e. to communicate actively. You are lamenting that the are no simple solutions. Does that mean there is no problem or things are as they are? Before we can actually start to act as citizens the power has to be returned from the gigantomaniac state and business organizations to the town hall democracy in a federate state with a free market society of indiviual entrepreneurs. How? You think about it and TELL ME. That is what I ask.

    Posted by Max Pucher | October 9, 2008, 7:59 am
  6. If I were to intentionally misinterpret some of your above writing in some aspects I could say: “I see what you mean, if things are not pointed out to people, they may not never notice, is what you are saying here.”

    Attempting a different tack:

    How do we invite people to turn off the passive TV-set? – yes, absolutely, communication is important. And not only communication about things seen on TV. However, what is important enough to communicate about?

    Yes, I lament the fact that I cannot think of a simple solution. However only because I cannot think of one it does not mean it does not exist.

    Whether there is a problem or not often depends on the definition of what poses a problem. Or the acknowledgement that something may be a problem. Or the agreement between persons that there is a problem. How is a problem defined?

    “The power has to be returned” – who does the returning?

    You may already be on the way of finding what might be the solution to the dilemma of filtering out spam.

    By returning to the “small state” focus is gained but breadth is lost, but herewith less bandwidth is used for spam and with more focus more understanding of specifics is possible and therefore the ability to differentiate between noise and relevance is improved.

    However, in a “global society” such focus is useless, as you also mentioned, because “power” lies in globality of operation (and understanding of selfsame, where specifics are lost).

    The loss of the globality is what might allow the differentiation to improve, and from your other writing you forsee this happening in the not too far future (without anyone returning power to anyone else).

    No anwers, only some of my ideas, which I claim no originality for.

    Posted by karin | October 10, 2008, 8:14 pm
  7. I agree with you about the danger of making ISPs copyright cops. Although it might not seem obvious, I would add that the whole concept of Digital Rights Management (DRM) is closely related. Major Hollywood studios, which are all parts of multi-billion dollar (or Euro) corporations (e.g., GE, Time Warner, Viacom, etc) would not let even their deepest catalog titles be sold as downloads on the Internet (at least legally) without DRM encryption. They say: “Because that would not be secure!” Yet, every one of those movies, if they’re worth anything, are indexed by thousands, perhaps millions, of bittorrent trackers. Most are broadcast over cable networks to hundreds of millions of homes “in the clear” (i.e., unencrypted MPEG2 or 4). Therefore, anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection can get these titles for free without moving their butts out of their chairs. You can spend tens of millions developing “unbreakable” DRM (see Blu-Ray), but when a 17 year-old walks out of the mail room with a USB drive, game over. One copy on a file share can and does turn into millions of copies on what can be millions of file shares as fast as the data can fly around the globe.

    So, why the logical absurdity of DRM? Because it’s about stopping competition, not piracy. The goal of major media is to prevent the Internet from becoming the great equalizer. They will try to do this by getting anti-circumvention laws passed, like the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the EU Copyright Directive. These laws make “innovating without a license” illegal. That’s why it is now a crime in the US (and I believe most of the EU) to, for example, use a DVD decrypter to make a backup copy of a DVD that you paid for! It is also a crime for a company to make a product that lets you do that. The next step is to require DRM be built into every computer (see Microsoft’s “Trusted Computing” initiative). If you combine a DRM mandate, anti-circumvention laws and ISPs as copyright cops, then they can, at least in theory, create a “locked down” Internet. With that, your computer will no longer be in your control; it will do whatever Microsoft and/or Apple and the major media companies want to let you do with it. The wet dream for major media is to preserve, or even increase, their hammer-lock on distribution, and therefore, their billion-dollar revenue streams. Their nightmare is a level playing field.

    Perhaps an even worse result: How long do you think it would take for the situation to be abused? (I was monitoring your political opponent’s computer for illegal copies of “Porkies,” and look what I stumbled upon!)

    I’m not opposed to protecting intellectual property, including copyright; however, that should be balanced with the public interests. Protecting existing business models at the expense of innovation is generally not in the public interests. Right now, I believe the game is rigged in a big way. There are probably many “Sarkozy plans” in the works.

    In the meantime, use Linux 😉

    Posted by Jim | December 5, 2008, 5:38 am
  8. Your quotation from Frank Zappa should be writ large at the entrance to every high school and university.
    We live in an age of information overload. I think it cannot be denied that propaganda and deliberate misinformation makes matters worse.
    Patrick Lockerby

    Posted by Patrick | March 29, 2009, 8:04 pm

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