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.comment: The Digital Millennium Rape Act - page 2

What to Expect

  • July 23, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell
There is no doubt that some readers are incensed by the example I've employed. They've bought into the control argument without giving any thought to its logical conclusions. Those conclusions involve the fact that it's impossible to favor control of one item because of what might happen unless you're prepared to accept that argument for all items because of what might happen.

The "community" gets its undies in a twist whenever it's suggested that legislation is necessary to protect children from the unsavory influences of the Internet or of AOL chatrooms. Anyone who favors controls can point to incidents at least as inflamatory as those employed in gaining acquiescence to laws limiting gun ownership. Children have been lured from virtual chatrooms to real rooms in tawdry motels by predatory perverts. Children who read the -1 comments on Slashdot will be exposed to things that are unfit even for adults. Children can find lots of things on the Internet that no one could favor their finding. All it will take is one really high profile case to put computers in the same class of infernal device to which guns have already been consigned.

(Additionally, the established news media, whose influence has been diluted by the emergence of alternative news sources over the Internet, will be willing promoters of that kind of legislation, believing as they do that the First Amendment is theirs and theirs alone.)

Consider the reports that an Islamic terror master, Osama Bin Laden, was distributing instructions over the Internet and via CD. There was a lot of coverage, and in the back of the minds of many was registered the notion that something ought to be done. The precedent having been set -- that we don't deal with criminals directly, but instead fart in their general direction -- the idea of a system like Carnivore didn't rouse much public outcry. After all, it's there to protect us, right?

Do you suppose there would be much objection to a law offering imprisonment to, and seizure of the computer equipment of, anyone who deliberately tries to confound Carnivore by, say, appending a list of trigger words to the end of email messages?

The cliche is "slippery slope," and it means that once the first, seemingly harmless, little step is taken, the long downhill slide begins, with ever increasing speed, until the bottom is hit. The first step was taken a long time ago.

It's impossible to favor gun regulations and oppose computer regulations and remain philosophically consistent. In both cases, the governing factor is not actual misuse but potential misuse.

Which brings us back to poor Dmitry. (And, paradoxically, to Adobe -- what a month they've had, huh? First the KIllustrator flap, and now this. A German lawyer goes after KDE in Germany, citing potential violation of a U.S. trademark owned by a U.S. company. Then the U.S. arrests a Russian programmer visiting the U.S. for alleged violation of the DMCA with reference to Adobe while in Russia. As I've mentioned before, the application of law on an international scale is a lot thornier than its proponents would have us think.)

What is he charged with? Not actually doing anything wrong, but instead with producing the means whereby people can do wrong. Might as well round up the employees of the brick plant or the rock quarry, because they produce stuff that can be ill-used, too.

It is interesting and ominous to hear, now, that Dmitry helped the FBI come up with ways of cracking passwords. This will pass largely unnoticed, because most people probably think that it's a good thing for the FBI to be able to get past passwords -- after all, it's to protect us, right? The downhill slide picks up speed.

Violation of copyright is a bad thing, but just as anyone who wants to can commit a murder, anyone who wants to can violate a copyright. If a gun is not available, use a knife. If a knife is not available, use a rope. If a rope is not available, use a rock. And if a computer is not available, use a copier. If a copier is not available, use a typewriter. If a typewriter is not available, use pen and paper. If those things are not available, scratch someone else's manuscript into the mud with a stick or your finger.

There are those who think that outlawing computers, copiers, typewriters, and mud would be the appropriate respective responses, because they haven't quite figured out what to do with you, yourself, and your desire to copy something someone else owns. Dmitry gets nicked because that's easier than tracking down actual wrongdoers.

Government is very adept at isolating little communities within the populace and taking away the freedoms important to them, because the rest of the populace just doesn't care. Then, government moves on to the next little group, and does the same thing there. That which cannot be done at once can be done incrementally -- the slippery slope. Pick a group, make it the enemy of everyone else, and you'll get support for whatever you do. History shows us a whole lot of truly reprehensible actions achieved in this way.

But, hey, something needs to be done, right?

Because then we'll all be protected.

We're picking up speed. Enjoy the ride.

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