John Perry Barlow (1947- 6Feb2018) Tried to Save the Internet for the Century that Needs it Most
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"A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" (1996) defined
cyberspace as we know it today: a community where anyone in the world
can visit, discover friends, and take up residence. John Perry
Barlow felt some regret when the essay's viral success made it many
people's only concept of what his life was all about. He died on
Long ago, Dad and I rode to work together at the CIA. For me, the Internet's dark side was obvious:
"...the Internet and e-mail are the most surveillance-friendly media ever devised."
M.A. Caloyannides, Mitretek Systems, writing in Institute for Electrical and
Electronic Engineers SPECTRUM, May 2000 p. 47.
always hoped the Internet would lift us all. Commenting on his somewhat
rueful, 20-years-later retrospective "Does Cyberspace Exist? Is It
Free? Reflections, 20 years Later, on 'A Declaration of the
Independence of Cyberspace'", he said rosy was the right way to call
everyone's shot at a better future: "I knew it’s also true that a good
way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia,
hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and
Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key
Internet for the century that needs it most is up to all of us, and we
will have to do it without John Perry Barlow.
Jerry Nelson, McLean, VA 23 Feb 2018
John Perry Barlow (1947- 6 February 2018)
Tried to Save the Internet for the Century that Needs it Most
Jerry Nelson, 23 February 2018
The planet is globalizing -- intermarriage and intellectual property,
trade and capital, currency and culture. It seems even an
American election is a global participation event these days.
THREE REVOLUTIONS AT THE BIRTH OF A GLOBAL INTERNET
Globalization was inevitable when the telecom industry changed from
voice to data, from analog to digital, and from electronics to
photonics. These changes disrupted our largest corporations, they
signalled doom for Bell Laboratories, and invited many and their money
to try innovating. Deploying digital SONET transport carried a
$300B price tag (1985-2000). The digital data shift left $500B in 5ESS
voice switches sitting unamortized in central offices across the
country, while voice traffic revenues crumbled.
On this foundation, Netflix disrupted the cable TV industry.
Apple made a fortune on track-at-a-time digitized-and-networked music
and launched the iPhone on 2007 revenues flowing largely (48%) from the
iPod. Amazon was a book seller making only financial losses, but
retailers who decided they too needed webpages would soon discover that
Amazon was a fiber network and data center company, and it was too late
for any product in any market.
Bell Atlantic President Raymond W. Smith would bring the old giants
into the new world, he told us, by spending half a billion dollars to
give Nynex, the Pacific Telesis group and his own Bell Atlantic company
a "video dialtone". A lavish pilot "central office" was built
(1995,1996) in Reston, Virginia -- new from the ground up, because,
from the top down, the telco infrastructure could not do digital data,
and switched nothing with photonics.
For Ray Smith, for the politically powerful, the Internet was a PAUSE
button for passive TV viewing from a central source of dictated
choices. Outraged, I wrote, "The Internet is the means to give
every member of her civilization entertainment, social contact, and
access to the cultural triumphs of her civilization for personal or
professional advancement" --- which probably sums up your own use of
the Internet today.
Unable to get ahead with a "video dialtone", Bell and other incumbents
made sure that innovating insurgents coming up under the
Telecommunications Act of 1996 would not get ahead either. For a
decade at least, data from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and
Development, and from the International Telecommunications Union,
showed that the United States was not the world's number one Internet
nation. We were not even in the top ten, not on the speeds people
could get, not on the prices people paid, not on the number of people
who got or had any chance of getting broadband access. Americans
could not readily access the technology they had given away to the rest
of the world.
1996 is also the date Barlow wrote his "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace", to some later regret.
THEY ARE OMNISCIENT, WE HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE
Today we live our lives online, but there are no lines. If you
tap the Internet, you get packets, and the packets carry everything --
search terms and websites you visited, programs watched, emails
received and sent, even telephone calls that now travel outside the old
phone system on packets as a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
service. Our legal structures for privacy, for balancing
corporate and government power against the rights of individual voters,
were rendered irrelevant in this new world, as powerless as the 25,000
multi-million-dollar voice switches siting in central offices around
The Internet burst upon us with a flash, a power for good or
unimaginable evil, the atomic power of our century, impossible to
understand for many.
Our legal framework was a fiction -- any tap got you everything.
A dream of omniscience floated through surveillance agencies.
Such omniscience is a problem for everyone.
I find this hard and unpleasant to convey to others. Since mail
must be automatically scanned to be sorted, did anyone ever think this
means everyone you get a real letter from or write to is recorded and
stored? There are 62.4 billion pieces of 1st class mail (2015)
that must be physically moved past scanners, but, on the Internet, you
just plug in your cable and get everything. It's already
digitized and readable. And there's more -- the ID card that
tracks you through the metro system, or down our toll roads to a
meeting with someone. There is the plane with a portable ICS2
"stingray" aboard that can log the identity of everyone in the crowd
below whose cellphone is ON, in a single fly-over.
Omniscience is clearly a problem for the intelligence services
themselves, because the phone calls saying "Tomorrow is zero hour" and
"The match begins tomorrow" were not translated until 12 September 2001.
Omniscience is a problem for me also. I find it hard and
unpleasant to convey to someone who is certain they have nothing to
hide that they must oppose the push against privacy.
The person who says they have nothing to hide has chosen to be on the
winning side. This is a pact for life with a possibly difficult partner.
The Nothing-to-Hides did not know the mail was scanned. Not
knowing is OK, but powerlessness is not. A single government data
center (Bluffdale, UT) could store a thousand years of mail data before
the disk drives got full, using the least efficient means
possible. The person on the winning side has scant power now to
force the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program to erase the data
after what is only a non-statutory six month policy time has expired.
The rest of us learned long ago we had no power to make the legislature
enforce its own laws, the post-Watergate Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act, FISA's Section 222, with fines of $130,000 per day
(capped at $1.325M) for wiretaps without a warrant. The
warrantless wiretapping scandal broke at a time (Dec 2005) when the
complicit Bells controlled 162M lines, potentially liable at $1.325M
each. I did not choose the winning side when retroactive immunity from
punishment was granted the telecom industry by Congress in 2008.
My childhood was in Germany, I was Bar Mitzvahed there, and it's a joy
to think that four generations of my family are bilingual in German and
have ties there. I took it upon myself to learn some Holocaust
literature and to make my peace with it. Faced with death,
painful choices for life were made in those camps. The worst
choice was to curry favor with the rulers and become a Kapo --
prisoners who meted out brutality against their own and met death in
the end anyway. They had chosen the winning side.
When you say, "Nothing to hide" you're on the winning side, and you
should discover as soon as possible whether you can find out if the
information stored about you has been erased, or if anyone who broke
the law violating your rights can be punished for it. When you say,
"Nothing to hide", you're stuck for the ride.
Having realized the Internet's potential, John Perry Barlow turned his
attention to helping civic society protect the Internet with the
Electronic Frontier Foundation he co-founded July 1990 with fellow
libertarian John Gilmore, employee #5 at Sun Microsystems and wealthy,
Mitch Kapor, who drove past VisiCalc and SuperCalc to wealth with Lotus
1-2-3, and Steve Wozniak of Apple. Why not take out a year's
membership yourself, just to watch the action? Barlow also
co-launched the Freedom of the Press Foundation, more oriented to that
A delusion of omniscience was first achieved by demanding criminality
from the telco industry that served us all, and then blocking
punishment when that industry violated laws that had taken years of
Watergate turmoil and President Nixon's own humiliation to get
established in the first place.
Back then, omniscience meant storing and making searchable what
everyone does on the phone, then online. Now, omniscience has
metastasized. We make particular people transparent through
hidden control of their computers, and, from there, we enter the
industry, or government, or defense organizations where they log on at
work. Omniscience means getting the identity of a person's current
cellphone so that they can be assassinated. It is easy. It is popular
because it is so easy. Drones carry the electronics of a
cellphone tower; when the plane becomes the closest "tower", the phone
logs in and can promptly be blown up. ("Robin, look, I found this
phone at the airport! Why would anyone throw it away?")
BREAK IT TO BREAK IN
Being able to break into any computer means developing tools to break
the Internet -- fool the protocols, break the encryption. You may
not think you encrypt your emails, but encryption is invoked for you by
Internet protocols, and Amazon, eBay, stocks, banking, commerce and
money exchange would be impossible otherwise. In the 21st
Century, civic society will have to decide whether governments' role is
to protect the foundation of the century's globalization, or destroy it.
When our government destroyed the protocols and protections of the
Internet, someone, a Russian state actor most likely, stole the entire
suite of break-in tools from the National Security Agency, then offered
them for sale on the Internet to humiliate us, but they likely did it
also as a shot across the bow of our intel community, lest they
continue with announced plans to retaliate for Russian election
WHO ORDERED THIS?
Atomic power reactors were built to convert relatively quiet natural
uranium into a zoo of highly radioactive species, some not seen on the
face of the earth for billions of years, all because among the new
rogue elements was plutonium, the basis of the nuclear bombs Man was
certain that He needed. Now we are drowning in radioactive waste,
squabbling again over Yucca Mountain, a storage site too small to hold
it all. The radioactive waste never had to be created in the first
place. But society never sat down to discuss a different path to
civilian nuclear reactors, reactors better suited to commercial power
generation -- a path without plutonium, without the slow neutrons that
create the radioactive zoo, without an 18- to 24-month refueling
schedule and pools of spent fuel rods glowing blue with radioactivity
and boiling away the water when the power fails at Fukushima.
We are at the same point with the "atomic question" of our new century,
with our Internet. The Internet cannot be a weapon deployed at
"enemies" around the globe, and also be the foundation of our new,
globalizing, one-world civilization. There is a choice.
John Perry Barlow was a distant star in my universe because of his
clarity at the creation; he showed me a community, a small, special
one, of people comfortable crossing the worlds of social humanism vs.
technology, even technology at a disturbing, disruptive time.
Now, before the ice is gone and waters 60 meters higher erase cities
and drive populations across collapsing nation states, the social units
we see our species forming are bigger, more powerful, and never before
seen, because of technologies our species creates. This
creativity can save us, and its destruction by the intelligence
communities sets our course to a desolate and diminished future.
This is not a movie, and there is no PAUSE button.
J. I. Nelson
Reflections, 20 years Later, on "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" John Perry Barlow, February 8, 2016
Barlow's original 1996
"A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace"
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