This morning, someone called to ask me for images I'd used in a presentation a year and a half ago. Time was, I would have had to search my hard drive or archived files for the slides, if I'd saved them at all. Now, instead, I've let the web be my filing system, and Google serve as index. I could find the presentation in minutes, and email off a URL in seconds more. With the whole thing under a Creative Commons license, I'd also given the caller an easy set of terms on which to use it.
...but at least great folks like these are wearing the EFF hat:
Howard Rheingold, David I, James Roberts at O'Reilly ETCon. via isen.blog
I've been thinking about anonymity lately, in the context of RIAA subpoenas and lawsuits, ICANN's WHOIS task forces, and most recently, proposed HR 3754. I've heard from many people, lawyers and technologists alike, who don't seem to recognize that our rights to anonymous speech have deep roots. Many see anonymity as a bug of Internet architecture, to be eliminated in the next revision; or at best a feature of limited value readily traded off against other costs and benefits.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held otherwise, finding that a constitutional right to anonymous speech is derived from the First Amendment. Requiring a speaker to identify him or herself, after all, "abridg[es] the freedom of speech". Thus the State of Ohio couldn't require campaign literature to be signed with name and address of its distributor (McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission); the Village of Stratton couldn't force canvassers going door-to-door to register first, despite strong local government interests in preventing fraud (Watchtower Bible & Tract Society v. Village of Stratton). Even significant government interests in protecting their citizens can't be met with restrictions on anonymous speech.
Declan McCullagh's latest column points out some of the historical uses of anonymity, from the days when "Publius" authored the Federalist Papers. More currently, whistleblowers use anonymity to expose company wrongdoing; human rights activists use anonymity to report human rights abuses; uncertain teenagers and adults use anonymity or pseudonymity to discuss their sexuality; and citizens of all political stripes still use anonymity to debate politics and governance without being judged on their personal atributes.
Granted, not everyone is using anonymity for such laudable purposes, but some people are, and that's enough. Plenty of laws that don't burden anonymity already address the misuses. The others are entitled to use anonymity up until the point that they are found to have misused it, not to have this fundamental right stripped on mere accusations.
VeriSign characterizes SiteFinder opponents as anti-innovation ("an ideological belief by a narrow section of the technological community who don't believe you should innovate the core infrastructure of the Internet") but that couldn't be further from the truth. Most technologists strongly support innovation, they just don't believe that VeriSign should be able to parlay its monopoly on the .com and .net naming hierarchies into a monopoly on innovation. As Paul Vixie puts it:
"What they're saying is, 'We want to shift cost to the community to increase our profit,'" Vixie said. "This is a form of theft by most legal definitions, if you're going to shift costs unilaterally toward another group of people to increase your own profits. It's certainly unethical and immoral and it would be illegal if you were to do it with physical goods."I've said it before and will say it again, keeping the center simple best promotes innovation overall.
Here's an MP3 of yesterday's fantastic oral argument in MGM v. Grokster, before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It's public domain, so share freely on the peer-to-peer networks whose legality Fred von Lohmann and Mike Page eloquently defend.
Talk about false and misleading identification information, the recently introduced Fraudulent Online Identity Sanctions Act should really be called the "Slam the First Amendment Act." It bumps the penalties for trademark or copyright infringement to "willful" levels -- that's up to $150,000 in statutory damages per copyright infringement -- for the mere connection of the infringement to a domain name registered with false information. Never mind that using false information in the address or telephone number fields may be the only way for individuals to protect their privacy; or that the First Amendment rights to anononymous speech may depend on the ability to register a name with "false" pseudonymous contacts. Would Publius be slammed as a willful infringer if someone claimed that the Federalist Papers took a few too many quotations from other sources?
The maximum imprisonment other- wise provided by law for a felony offense shall be increased by 7 years if, in furtherance of that offense, the defendant knowingly provided material and misleading false contact information to a domain name registrar, domain name registry, or other domain name registration authority in connection with a domain name registration.