Internet governance issues
A frequent lament is that the design of the US constitution has created a system where voters are highly unequal. Most of all this is seen in the Senate, where the nearly 40 million residents in California have 2 seats in the Senate, and so do 550,000 in Wyoming. Indeed, if you take the 20 smallest states, they have fewer people together than California and get 40 seats in the Senate compared to the two. That same fact also means a smaller but real bias in the electoral college, with the smaller states having a bit more say in how the
What if you give somebody a disease that harms them? It is legal to sue over this, and to have wrongful death lawsuits by the survivors. Wrongful death lawsuits, according to one recent North Carolina study, fetched about $1.4M on average, though they are going to vary a lot. They combine lost income with pain and suffering by the survivors.
Recently, we had a day of extremely clear air here in Silicon Valley, so we made our first trip up to Mount Umunhum, the high peak to the south of San Jose, and the former site of a SAGE radar station. Recently it was opened to the public. Close as it seems, it's an hour drive, but fun in the Tesla.
Evidence mounts that sea level rise can't be avoided now, absent some miracle of geoengineering, and maybe not even with that. Even if you're one of those who insists human pollution isn't the cause, the planet is getting warmer, the ice sheets are melting at extreme rates.
Various sources suggest that just 3-5% of inmates in prison are there because of a trial. The vast bulk of them got there due to a guilty plea, part of a plea agreement.
This seems shocking, but in fact it is to be expected. Trials are long and expensive and risky. The vast majority of commercial disputes are settled out of court.
I have many things to discuss on the problem of "fake news" (which is to say, deliberately constructed false reports aimed to be spread to deceive) and the way it spreads through social media. This hot topic, seen as one of the largest threats to democracy to ever arise -- especially when combined with automated microtargeting of political propaganda -- is causing people to clamour for solutions.
Nobody wants to be the first person to do or say a risky thing. One recent example of this is the revelations that a number of powerful figures, like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and Bill Cosby, had a long pattern of sexual harassment and even assault, and many people were aware of it, but nobody came forward until much later.
People finally come forward when one brave person goes public, and then another, and finally people see they are not alone. They might be believed, and action might be done.
Eleven years ago, I proposed a system to test radical ideas, primarily aimed at voting in bodies like congress. The idea was to create a voting system where people could cast encrypted votes, with the voter's identity unrevealed. Once a majority of yes votes were cast, however, the fragments of the decoding key would assemble and the votes and the voter identities could be decoded.
This would allow, for example, a vote on issues where a majority of the members support something but few are willing to admit it. Once the total hit the majority, it would become a passed bill, with no fear in voting.
I still would like to see that happen, but I wonder if the approach could have more application. The cryptographic approach is doable when you have a fixed group of members voting who can even meet physically. It's much harder when you want to collect "votes" from the whole world.
You can easily build the system, though, if you have a well trusted agency. It must be extremely trusted, and even protected from court orders telling it to hand over its data. Let's discuss the logistics below, but first give a description of how it would work.
Say somebody wants to make an allegation, such as "I was raped by Bill Cosby" or "The Mayor insisted I pay a bribe" or "This bank cheated me." They would enter that allegation as some form of sworn legal statement, but additional details and their identity would be encrypted. Along with the allegation would be instructions, "Reveal my allegation once more than N people make the same allegation (at threshold N or less.)"
In effect, it would make saying "#metoo" have power, and even legal force. It also tries to balance the following important principles, which are very difficult to balance otherwise:
- Those wronged by the powerful must be able to get justice
- People are presumed innocent
- The accused have a right to confront the evidence against them and their accusers
How well this work would depend on various forms of how public the information is:
- A cryptographic system would require less (or no) trusting individual entities or governments, but would make public the number of allegations entered. It would be incorruptible if designed well.
- An agency system which publishes allegation counts and actual allegations when the threshold is reached.
- An agency system which keeps allegation counts private until the threshold is reached.
- An agency system which keeps everything private, and when the threshold is reached discloses the allegation only to authorities (police, boards of directors).
There are trade-offs as can be shown above. If allegations are public, that can tell other victims they are not alone. However, it can also be a tool in gaming the system.
The allegation must be binding, in that there will be consequences for making a false allegation once the allegations are disclosed, especially if the number of existing allegations is public. We do not want to create a power to make false anonymous allegations. If it were public that "3 people allege rape by person X" that would still create a lot of public shame and questions for X, which is fine if the allegations are true, but terrible if they are not. If X is not a rapist, for example, and the threshold is high, it will never be reached, and those making the allegations would know that. Our system of justice is based important principles of presumption of innocence, and a right to confront your accusers and the evidence against you.
Radio technology has advanced greatly in the last several years, and will advance more. When the FCC opened up the small "useless" band where microwave ovens operate to unlicenced use, it generated the greatest period of innovation in the history of radio. As my friend David Reed often points out, radio waves don't interfere with one another out in the ether. Interference only happens at a receiver, usually due to bad design. I'm going to steal several of David's ideas here and agree with him that a powerful agency founded on the idea that we absolutely must prevent interference is a bad idea.
My overly simple summary of a replacement regime is just this, "Don't be selfish." More broadly, this means, "don't use more spectrum than you need," both at the transmitting and receiving end. I think we could replace the FCC with a court that adjudicates problems of alleged interference. This special court would decide which party was being more selfish, and tell them to mend their ways. Unlike past regimes, the part 15 lesson suggests that sometimes it is the receiver who is being more spectrum selfish.
Here are some examples of using more spectrum than you need:
- Using radio when you could have readily used wires, particularly the internet. This includes mixed mode operations where you need radio at the endpoints, but could have used it just to reach wired nodes that did the long haul over wires.
- Using any more power than you need to reliably reach your receiver. Endpoints should talk back if they can, over wires or radio, so you know how much power you need to reach them.
- Using an omni antenna when you could have used a directional one.
- Using the wrong band -- for example using a band that bounces and goes long distance when you had only short-distance, line of sight needs.
- Using old technology -- for example not frequency hopping to share spectrum when you could have.
- Not being dynamic -- if two transmitters who can't otherwise avoid interfering exist, they should figure out how one of them will fairly switch to a different frequency (if hopping isn't enough.)
As noted, some of these rules apply to the receiver, not just the transmitter. If a receiver uses an omni antenna when they could be directional, they will lose a claim of interference unless the transmitter is also being very selfish. If a receiver isn't smart enough to frequency hop, or tell its transmitter what band or power to use, it could lose.
Since some noise is expected not just from smart transmitters, but from the real world and its ancient devices (microwave ovens included) receivers should be expected to tolerate a little interference. If they're hypersensitive to interference and don't have a good reason for it, it's their fault, not necessarily the source's.
People ask me about the EFF endorsing some of the network neutrality laws proposed in congress. I, and the EFF are big supporters of an open, neutral end-to-end network design. It's the right way to build the internet, and has given us much of what we have. So why haven't I endorsed coding it into law?
If you've followed closely, you've seen very different opinions from EFF board members. Dave Farber has been one of the biggest (non-business) opponents of the laws. Larry Lessig has been a major supporter. Both smart men with a good understanding of the issues.
I haven't supported the laws personally because I'm very wary of encoding rules of internet operation into law. Just about every other time we've seen this attempted, it's ended badly. And that's even without considering the telephone companies' tremendous experience and success in lobbying and manipulation of the law. They're much, much better at it than any of the other players involved, and their track record is to win. Not every time, but most of it. Remember the past neutrality rules that forced them to resell their copper to CLECs so their could be competition in the DSL space? That ended well, didn't it?
New York, March 22, 2006 (CW) Bell South and AT&T, two of the remaining Baby Bell or "iLec" companies announced today, in conjunction with GoodPackets Inc., a program to charge senders for certified delivery of internet packets to their ISP customers.
William Smith, CTO of Bell South, together with AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre, who will be his new boss once the proposed merger is completed, made a joint announcement of the program together with Dick Greengrass, CEO of GoodPackets.
I wrote an essay here a year ago on the internet cost contract and how it was the real invention (not packet switching) that made the internet. The internet cost contract is "I pay for my end, you pay for yours, and we don't sweat the packets." It is this approach, not any particular technology, that fostered the great things that came from the internet. (Though always-on also played a big role.)
Of late there's been talk of ISPs somehow "charging" media-over-IP providers (such as Google video) for access to "their" pipes. This is hard to make sense of, since when I download a video from a site, I am doing it over my pipe, which I have bought from my ISP, subject to the contract that I have with it. Google is sending the data over their pipe, which they bought to connect to the central peering points and to my ISP. However, companies like BellSouth, afraid that voice and video will be delivered to their customers in competition with their own offerings, want to do something to stop it.
To get around rules about content neutrality on the network that ILEC based ISPs are subject to, they now propose this as a QOS issue. That there will be two tiers, one fast enough for premium video, and one not fast enough.