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TBTF for 1996-02-19: Aftermath of indecency

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Mon, 19 Feb 1996 22:48:07 -0500



Fallout from the Communications Decency Act

On 2/15, a week after President Clinton signed the telecomm reform bill containing the CDA, a Federal judge granted a temporary restraining order against the U.S. government enforcing the vague "indecency" provision of the act. He rejected requests for restraining orders on other provisions of the bill, letting stand bans against "patently offensive" material and against discussion of abortion over a network. (The administration has said that this latter provision will not be enforced, though this assertion lacks the force of law.) Tomorrow a three-judge panel will schedule a full review of the case. If the restraining order is later lifted the government could prosecute for violations that occur while the restraining order is in place.

Also on 2/15 John Perry Barlow wrote a Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. In ringing prose he rejects any role for "meatspace" governments on the Net. Today David Sol Bennahum <davidsol at panix dot com>, author of the newsletter MEME, offers an opposing perspective, one more likely in my view to show us the way out of this forest. Bennahum advances the insight that the Net spans a continuum of communications media from the most public (which will eventually need to be regulated) to the most private (which should remain free). As a Net old-timer, and as an American not completely blind to the resonance Barlow evokes of this country's birth struggle, I sympathize with his plaint that government has no business regulating what it does not comprehend. But I stand with Bennahum in his reasonable call to educate the regulators so that we might eventually and bloodlessly arrive at some workable compromise, which is the mundane glory of democracy.

In the wake of the CDA an offshore Internet service provider has made the first of what I expect to be a minor flood of service offerings directed at U.S. citizens. Vincent Cate <vince at offshore dot com dot ai> from Anguilla offers a $50/month Unix/Web/POP account or an email-only account for $200/year -- see <http://online.offshore.com.ai/>. I would think twice if I were a U.S. citizen intent on going offshore to host a Web site that the CDA might class as "indecent." Could I be prosecuted for transmitting indecent content over a network from Boston to Anguilla as I set up the site? I've read the CDA carefully again and again, and I still can't say for sure.


IBM's Aqui: organized copyright violation

This concern was first raised by Venanzio Jelenic <Venanzio at i-site dot on dot ca> on the apple-internet-authoring mailing list. IBM has been offering a service called Aqui (pronounced "a key") since late last year. Its motto is "Unlock the power of the Internet." The premise is to allow any user with a Web browser to add links to any page on the Web. In fact Aqui does this by making a complete copy of the page in question, wrapping it in new markup, and storing it in a database along with the new links.

Anyone on the Net can cause Aqui to capture and repackage my home page. Visit <http://www.aqui.ibm.com/cgi-bin2/fetch/url=http://www.atria.com/~dawson/> and the deed is done -- my home page has been duplicated in some IBM database as <http://www.aqui.ibm.com/cgi-bin2/fetch/url=_1BABK5A83B>, now bearing IBM copyright notices.

Users around the world, named or anonymous, can now make links from my captured home page to any other pages that strike their fancy; others (through Aqui) can see and follow those links. I wrote at the bottom of my page "Copyright, all rights reserved," and the words persist on Aqui's copy. When I post my home page on the Web I expect the world to read it and to forge links to it. The content of my page, including what is linked from it, I expect to be my decision alone. IBM's Aqui takes that decision out of my hands. If that's not copyright violation I don't know what is.


Validating the standards makers

The W3 Consortium owns and develops the standards that define the Web. Hosted at MIT and chaired by Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented most of the original standards, the W3C invites corporations and organizations to sponsor and participate in its work. The consortium's membership now numbers over 80 organizations.

Ka-Ping Yee <kryee at math dot uwaterloo dot ca> tracks how well the W3C members adhere to their own standards. He applies a strict, SGML-based parser to the home page of each of the consortium's organizational members. The results are updated daily. The two companies that place dead last on Yee's list are Netscape and Microsoft -- their home pages, filled with examples of their own attempts to influence the standards process, contain respectively 139 and 154 errors when measured against strict HTML standards. Only six members' home pages fully comply with either HTML 2.0 or 3.0. Here is the whole sad story:

           30 -              ..
                             :: 
  Number   20 -              ::
  of W3C               ::    ::
  members  10 -        ::    ::    ::
                 ::    ::    ::    ::    ..
            0 -----------------------------
                none  1-9  10-29  30-79  80+

            Number of HTML errors on home page

The validator Yee uses, at <http://ugweb.cs.ualberta.ca/~gerald/validate/>, is called "Kinder, Gentler HTML Validation." This page optionally runs Weblint on a submitted URL, <http://www.khoral.com/staff/neilb/weblint.html>.


Java and JavaScript

Sun is developing the Java language for use on the Web and elsewhere. Netcape Navigator 2.0 (on all platforms but Macintosh) interprets Java code. Separately, Netscape is developing a language called JavaScript. Navigator 2.0 also interprets JavaScript (on all platforms including Macintosh). If you are confused about the differences between the two you are not alone; Netscape is reported to rue naming JavaScript as they did. This summary of the differences between JavaScript and Java is adapted from Netscape's tutorial.

          JavaScript                            Java

 Interpreted, not compiled, by        Compiled on server before exe-
 client.                              cution.

 Object-based. Code uses built-in,    Object-oriented. Applets consist
 extensible objects, but no classes   of object classes with inheri-
 or inheritance.                      tance.

 Code integrated with, and            Applets distinct from HTML but
 embedded in, HTML.                   accessed from HTML pages.

 Variable data types not declared     Variable data types must be
 (loose typing).                      declared (strong typing).

 Dynamic binding. Object references   Static binding. Object references
 checked at run-time.                 must exist at compile-time.

 Secure. Cannot write to hard disk.   Secure. Cannot write to hard disk.
Note added 1996-02-28: But see the next issue, TBTF for 1996-02-27, for evidence against the assured security of JavaScript, prompted by a note from John Robert LoVerso <loverso at osf dot org>.

To see the effect of a simple JavaScript program, view the Electronic Privacy Information Center's page using Netscape Navigator 2.0. The program is downloaded as part of this document, and you can examine it by telling the browser "View > Document Source."


>>Sources:

>>apple-internet-authoring mailing list: mail apple-internet-authoring-
> request@solutions.apple.com without subject and with message: subscribe .

>> MEME: mail listserv@sjuvm.stjohns.edu with message: subscribe meme
> firstname lastname . Web home at <http://www.reach.com/matrix/>.


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______________________________________________________
Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.