German censorship of the Net
See also TBTF for 1999-12-16, 1997-04-04, 1996-08-08, 05-31, 02-04, 01-31, 01-22, 01-14, 1995-12-31
If you thought the debate over cyberporn was rough, just wait. Last week the Simon Wiesenthal Center -- a large and well-respected Jewish human rights organization -- called for Internet service provider (ISPs) voluntarily to refuse service to groups promulgating messages of hate. ISPs have reacted coolly to the call. The president of Community ConneXion in Berkeley, CA, Sameer Parekh, said "The answer to hateful speech is more speech." Banning hate groups from the Net "[promotes] the idea that they might actually have something valuable to say," Parekh said.
Time Magazine ran a story about Internet hate groups in its issue dated January 22. The URL of one such group is visible in a photo showing their home page: <http://www.trend1.com/~phoenix/>. The ISP hosting that page, Trend I in suburban Philadelphia, is now the center of a free-speech controversy. After the Time story hit, Trend I took down the group's page and cancelled their Internet account. The organizer of the "fight-censorship+" mailing list, Declan McCullagh <declan at well dot com>, wrote to Trend I's Matthew O'Brien <obrien at trend1 dot com> to ask why. O'Brien replied:
> This account was pulled because of concerns over overwhelming un-
> anticipated volume of traffic. We reserve the right to pull any
> material that may bring down our system. Put up your own server.
> Put up a freenet if you want. You and your buddies get together
> and do what you want. I'll do what I want with my server.
This explanation is disengenuous. ISPs who wish to regulate the traffic on a suddenly popular page have recourse to both pricing and technical solutions. McCullagh invited Jef Poskanzer <jef at acme dot com> to describe his "throttling" HTTP server to the list, which he did as follows:
> I spent a few months last summer writing a new web server from scratch.
> It's extremely efficient, extremely fast, and it implements throttling.
> Pages which exceed the traffic limit specified by the sysadmin are
> actually slowed down. It doesn't just put up a "try again later" note,
> which is really obnoxious for images; it delivers the bytes slower...
> Anyone with a page shut down supposedly for traffic reasons should point
> their ISP at <http://www.acme.com/software/thttpd/>.
(Those unfamiliar with Jef Poskanzer's works might want to scrutinize <http://www.acme.com/software/> for an object lesson in how to feed the Internet gift economy. This page lists 41 software packages that Jef has donated to the public domain over the years, good code all, some much loved and some much used -- for example the pbmplus package of image-format converters.)
Further undermining Trend I's explanation of its action, the ISP posted an advertisement for its services at the address formerly occupied by the now nationally publicized hate group. Correspondents characterized this move as adding opportunism to first-amendment affront.
In my view free speech must prevail on the Net or it can't remain a viable place to conduct the people's business. The Net is not being ruined by child pornography, nor by Scientologists, nor by skinheads. In a free medium they throw the sand against the wind and the wind blows it back again. The Net will indeed be ruined if well-intentioned people push governments and corporations into de facto and de jure limits on free speech.
[Note added 1996-01-26: see comments from Ed Blachman, <edb at ileaf dot com>.]
On 1/16 the news broke that Microsoft has acquired Vermeer Technologies, the startup company based in Cambridge, MA that arguably won the race to develop an industrial-strength Web-site editing environment. Its FrontPage application, running under Windows NT and Windows 95, makes the design of Web pages and of entire sites simpler for non-expert users -- see TBTF for 1995-11-29 and for 1995-11-19. The New York Times for 1/16 claimed that Microsoft intended eventually to include FrontPage in the "category killer" Microsoft Office suite, but the Q&A on Microsoft's page says no -- see < http://www.microsoft.com/msoffice/frontpage/PressQ&A.htm>. They intend to market FrontPage to Office customers. FrontPage already speaks fluent OLE and so plays well with the Office applications, recently Web-enabled with Office Internet Assistants technology. The Vermeer staff is to move to Redmond, WA over the next several months, there to be managed by Chris Peters, the VP who now looks after MS Office. An unsubstantiated rumor claimed that Microsoft had won a bidding war against Netscape for Vermeer. If any of you has solid knowledge on this point I'd like to hear about it.
[1995-01-42: from Mark Dionne <md at ileaf dot com> -- I don't know about Netscape, but I heard directly from a Vermeer stockholder that the price was $130M.]
Phil Agre, author of The Network Observer and proprietor of the Red Rock Eater News Service, recently asked RRE subscribers to write about the difference the Net has made in their lives. You can browse 32 responses to this question (98K in total) at <http://www.proper.com/www/what-good.html>. One respondent swears by the Free Internet Chess Server and another contributes a positively inspiring tale of medical self-help (see Caroline Wagner, <cwagner at rand dot org>). The plurality response cites one or another of the Web search engines and its value to the respondent's research, social life, or mental wellbeing.
Scientology's war against the Net
See also TBTF for 1997-11-17, 1996-01-22, 1995-12-18, 12-10, 12-06, 08-21
The same federal judge who handed the Church of Scientology two defeats in December (see TBTF for 1995-12-10) has ruled in their favor in the case against Arnaldo Lerma of Arlington, VA. Mr. Lerma obtained formerly secret church documents from public records in another court case and published them on the Internet. When he refused the church's demands to desist, Federal marshalls and church officials raided his home and seized his computer equipment. The judge ruled that the documents' public availability in a court proceeding did not void the church's rights as copyright holder.
Sun Microsystems announced the formation of a new business unit (a "planet" in Sunspeak) called JavaSoft to consolidate the ongoing development and marketing of the Java programming language. JavaSoft's new president is Alan Baratz, who comes from Delphi Internet Services.
>>From Edupage (1996-01-18):
> IBM TO PROVIDE GOVERNMENT WITH ENCRYPTION KEY FOR NOTES
> IBM has agreed to provide the U.S. government with a special key that
> would enable government agents to more easily decode electronic mes-
> sages, in exchange for permission to export a version of Lotus Notes
> that includes 64-bit security. The arrangement provides government
> officials with a key to the first 24 bits of security code, meaning
> that they only have to crack the remaining 40 bits to decrypt a mes-
> sage. U.S. Notes customers already use a 64-bit system. "We were
> desperate enough to try to negotiate a short-term, pragmatic solu-
> tion," says Notes developer Ray Ozzie. "But we do not believe this is
> the right long-term solution... Our customers have been telling us
> that, unless we did something about the security, we could no longer
> call it a secure system." (Wall Street Journal 18 Jan 96 B7)
As an indication both of how secure a 40-bit key is, and of the power of the words "Netscape security" to grab headline attention, consider a press release from Integrated Computing Engines of Waltham, MA. ICE makes a computer it calls the Desktop RealTime Engine, "a briefcase-size graphics computer that connects to a PC host to deliver performance of 6.3 Gflops (billions of floating point instructions per second)." How to demonstrate the awesome power of such a device? Why, get an MIT student to crack Netscape's 40-bit encryption with it, using the same algorithm that Damien Doligez used to crack the code in eight days using 112 workstations (see TBTF for 1995-08-21).
> MIT Student Uses ICE Graphics Computer
> To Break Netscape Security in Less Than 8 Days
> Cost to crack Netscape security falls from $10,000 to $584
The flood of new users to the Internet provides fertile ground for the spread of an annoying kind of virus, one that uses people as the vector for infecting new systems. Charles Hymes <chymes at csmil dot umich dot edu> has done the Net a service by putting up a "Don't Spread that Hoax!" page. It details four things you can do to avoid becoming the carrier of a junk-mail virus. Quoting from <http://www.crew.umich.edu/~chymes/newusers/Think.html>:
> There are enough myths, legends, and hoaxes on the net to fill a book; in
> fact one is growing. Check out the alt.folklore.urban Frequently Asked
> Questions list <http://www.crew.umich.edu/pub/cathouse/urban.legends/-
> AFU.faq>. The cookie story (Mrs Fields, Neiman Marcus, etc.) is a myth.
> It has been circulating for at least 10 years. Please do not forward it.
> The kid who wants postcards before he dies is also no longer true, don't
> forward it either. Similarly, the federal government is NOT going to start
> charging for e-mail, or any other use the the Internet. When you see a call
> to arms about this issue, disregard it. The Good Times "virus" deserves a
> page all its own -- <http://www.hr.doe.gov/goodtime.html>. There is ABSO-
> LUTELY NO WAY for an email message to infect your computer with a virus
> just by reading it.
>>Edupage -- mail firstname.lastname@example.org without subject
> and with message: subscribe edupage <your name> .
>>Red Rock Eater News Service -- mail email@example.com
> without subject: subscribe .