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The Internet Is Designed for Surveillance

The current implementation of the Internet is hierarchical in that we get IP addresses from providers and then use a DNS that is rooted. We go even further in requiring that we conform to conditions on our intent (AKA our use) of connectivity in order to get a temporary lease on something so fundamental as our identity in the guise of a DNS name. We go further by accepting the idea that we communicate within pipes owned by service providers who can dictate terms in order to extract a rent.

Once you accept such an architecture and such rules it seems disingenuous to act surprised when those whom we've put in charge take advantage of this control for whatever purpose — whether for advertising or for our safety (real or imagined). We may ask for restraint on the part of those who enforce the rules but every time there is an outrage (often called terrorist attack) we (perhaps not the same "we") demand more surveillance.

The ideas behind the Internet — the use of raw packets that have no intrinsic meaning in transit — should enable us to communicate without having to agree to all of these conditions and without subjecting ourselves to prior restraint. Even if we didn't fully appreciate the idea of raw packets we still have to wonder why we accept a rent-seeking approach for something so vital as our ability to communicate.

Where is the effort to honor the Internet paradigm and move away from the presumption of hierarchy to a distributed approach that doesn't assume that we must declare our intent merely to exchange bits? At very least we should move beyond having rent-seekers in the path.

By Bob Frankston, Member Board of Governors at IEEE Consumer Electronics Society – Bob Frankston is best known for writing VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet. While at Microsoft, he was instrumental in enabling home networking. Today, he is addressing the issues associated with coming to terms with a world being transformed by software. Visit Page

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