John Perry Barlow (1947- 6Feb2018) Tried to Save the Internet for the Century that Needs it Most
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Barlow's "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 Tuesday, 6Feb2018.

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.

But Barlow 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 totalitarianism.'”

Protecting the 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.


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.


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 country.

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 specific mission.

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?")


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 interference.


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
McLean, VA
JohnPerryBarlow - BusCard 700
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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