Friday, June 23, 2006

Your New Life On The Electronic Reservation

Mojo asks me in the preceding post to explain the problem with the so-called "broadcast flag" now entering the home stretch of its run around the legislative bases. I've linked to Richard Stallman's Right To Read before— a little science-fiction story he wrote to illustrate the nature of the problem we're talking about— but it's been a while. Go read it. Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end, where he explains how all the seemingly silly sci-fi stuff he writes about is already real. It just hasn't yet been taken to its logical consequences.

In the comments to Mojo's post, I wrote about how "the so-called 'broadcast flag' will be as big a deal as the collapse of the Fairness Doctrine." What I meant by that is that liberals and progressives will probably not appreciate how this seemingly wonky little technology policy detail will end up revolutionizing their world until it's too late to roll it back without a bloody war. The Sununu Amendment is a very good idea. It deserves your support. Pay no attention to the fact that John Sununu is the sponsor— it's one of the few things he's not a pinhead about.

On a seemingly [but not really] unreleated note, consider today's news in The Los Angeles TImes about the U.S. Treasury Department using national security letters to vacuum up the entire transaction history of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT as its known in high finance circles. Have a look at what Digby writes today on the intersection of privacy and liberty.

Just like it's extremely difficult today to move anything more than a bit of pocket cash across international boundaries without building a paper trail that you have to worry might be revealed to your competitors for political purposes, it's rapidly becoming impossible to read a book, watch a movie, view a television program, make telephone call, or even order take-out food from a local restaurant without leaving a data trail that people who do not have your best interests in mind have powerful incentives to use to your disadvantage.

And the disadvantage of your children.

We need to understand that the so-called "broadcast flag" is part of a concerted effort literally to destroy the right to read. The people pushing these policies want to make all information into capitalizable intellectual property and charge rent for the usage of it. Moreover, they know perfectly well that the ubiquitous application of digital rights management (DRM) will produce even more valuable data for constructing vast databases full of personality profiles.

If anything, Richard Stallman wasn't sufficiently imaginative.

In his story, written in 1997, he was primarily concerned with the effect of digital rights management enforcement on academic freedom. In those days, even he probably felt comfortable writing like the threat to more basic civil liberties was more remote. Worse, he never mentioned the other major problem with life in a surveillance state: the likely inaccuracy in most of the data collected about you, and the nature of how police states have no regard for the problem of keeping their personal profile databases normalized.

So, yes. The so-called "broadcast flag" is something we should all be paying attention. I've been fatigued from calling out attention to it for years now, but it hasn't gotten any less important. More so, in fact. It's an integral part of a constellation of bad policies designed to undermine public education, social mobility, civil liberties and potentially, even the Enlightenment itself. I kid you fscking not.

Am I optimistic? Fsck no.

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