In Response to ‘NYT: Do we need a new Internet? 19Feb09’

I saw an article in this gentleman’s blog that made the case for a new internet where users give up their privacy in the name of security,perhaps, by creating a mandatory Internet Driver’s License. I will make the case against this: It would be ethically wrong, expensive, and ineffective.  I propose a better way.

It is ethically wrong: Privacy is necessary for a strong political debate. I would not write this blog under my real name (my industry is extremely conservative and I would have problems in my career). The Iranian protests would not have happened without anonymous tweets (for a while, Twistter changed everyone’s location to Tehran to help provide that anonymity). It is extremely difficult to maintain privacy. Privacy has already been reduced to unacceptable levels, and it is time to regain privacy.

I disagree with the author’s quote of the iconic ‘no one knows you’re a dog online’ cartoon. Things have changed since that was written in 1994. Now, not only do they know you are a dog, but they have a purchase history of your specialty chew toys, know you wear an XXL collar, are taking medication for parasites, and send frequent fan mail to your hero, ‘Snoopy’. Anonymity is difficult, and without anonymity, privacy too is nearly impossible. Don’t take your freedom for granted, not even in the democracies of North America and Europe.

It is expensive and ineffective: The article’s author mentioned the expense would be massive – and I will agree with him on this point. The author notes there are many problems around secure and certain authentication, and I will agree with him on this as well.

The net result would be: that law abiding internet users would be stripped of whatever last shreds of privacy we have. Criminals would find new ways to swindle and steal online almost immediately. Foreign governments who wish to conduct internet-based attacks would not be inhibited. And finally, someone would have to pay for all of this – let me guess an internet-drivers-license fee, to pay for things that work against our own best interest.

I propose a better way:

(1) Individual users can read and apply my Internet Privacy and Security Best Practices

(2) Make an insurance scheme that people can elect to use or not and have banks, merchants and consumers, etc also pay into it. Coverage rates could be based on history and large discounts could be given for using best practice, to the extent that those users have less problems than others. Instead of having a credit report about the consumer, there could be a business report that buyers could check before making transactions. Such a business report could report if a business is reputable, link to the Better Business Bureau to show any complaints against that business. For a small fee to cover cost, they could certify that the business uses privacy and security best practices and so on. Sarbanes-Oxley legislation implicitly requires much of this certification already, so the impact on business would not be very much at all. This would be just as effective way to protect commerce online – and requires users to give up no privacy.

(3) Empower police and companies to effectively investigate, and prosecute crimes that have already occurred. This doesn’t require any new laws (we have a huge amount of racketeering and other anti-mafia laws that already effectively punish exactly these crimes in the offline world). This also doesn’t require any new technology (we have already have a mind-boggling array of technologies that, together, are beginning to remind me of the movie ‘Minority Report’). What is needed is for national police forces, such as the FBI, etc., to hire some trained IT professionals, to investigate crimes so those responsible can be successfully prosecuted. I realize some of the criminals are in other countries, but that is why we have extradition treaties.

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