1993-03-05 - You Aren’t [I’m Not]

Header Data

From: Eric Hughes <hughes@soda.berkeley.edu>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: cde02ee8b88cf80ed59927e33199d1aa70fa217ed9dc39f5f1a7d4d6f579066f
Message ID: <9303052041.AA05452@soda.berkeley.edu>
Reply To: <9303040426.AA24707@SOS>
UTC Datetime: 1993-03-05 20:44:36 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 5 Mar 93 12:44:36 PST

Raw message

From: Eric Hughes <hughes@soda.berkeley.edu>
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 93 12:44:36 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: You Aren't [I'm Not]
In-Reply-To: <9303040426.AA24707@SOS>
Message-ID: <9303052041.AA05452@soda.berkeley.edu>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

>Perhaps the real problem is that there are a large number of people who
>are currently using mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups with the
>expectation that there are currently existing controls on the
>signal-to-noise levels 

Existing controls on the signal-to-noise ratio?

However such postulated controls might function in practice, they
don't function well enough to make Usenet useful to as many people as
its bandwidth is capable of.  I don't read Usenet any more.  I can't
find enough useful information in a short enough period of time.  
I have _no_ expectations about any controls of content on Usenet.
Ted postulates that standards of accountability provide a control over
the signal-to-noise level.  I grant that.  It does prevent the very
worst excesses from occurring.  It does provide an upper bound on noise
in discussion groups.

Yet this upper bound is ineffectual.  Let us take the widely used
analogy of Usenet as a sewer.  Reading Usenet is like wading chest
high through the muck.  But am I reassured that there is an overflow
valve so that it never gets past my chin?  Hardly at all.  I won't
drown, to be sure; what a _slight_ comfort.  (For those of you who
want a much more graphic depiction of walking through sewers, read the
relevant chapters in _Les Miserables_.)

>and protection against mail bombs, 

I had thought that we had pretty clearly established that attacks on a
system of content and of volume were of different natures.  Lack of
robustness in mail software makes a mailbomb possible, not lack of

>As an artifact, certainly that can be changed; and you are proposing
>that we change them.  But then, who should bear the cost of this change?

The structures need to be changed for much better reasons than to
prevent anonymous attacks.  I infer from your arguments that you think
that our current communications fora, newsgroups and mailing lists,
are not fundamentally broken.  I do think they are fundamentally broken.
(This doesn't mean that they are completely non-functional.)

I think they are fundamentally broken because they do not facilitate
human communication as they were intended.  They did when they were
small, I grant, but they did not scale well.  They even continue to
work when small and focused, but very few things with wide interest or
large import remain small.

We already have most of the features of anonymity and pseudonymity
already online, in the system that already exist.  I've made this
point before; I'll make again now.  I have never met most of the
people I've conversed with online.  I expect that I will never meet
most of them.  The personal responsibility that comes with personal
contact is mostly not present online.  The negative feedback loops
that are normally present in face-to-face conversation are not present
online, and it shows.

One of the greatest lacks in online life is the lack of restraint.
How many people online do you know who continue to rant about their
own positions without engaging in dialectic with another?  How many do
you know who, even given FAQ's, continue to ask newbie questions?  How
many do you know who jump to answer with the conventional
net-foolishness about whatever issue is at hand.  (For a concrete
example, consider patent legalities.)  Lack of restraint causes far
more problems that lack of accountability.

We have most all of the disadvantages of pseudonymity, but hardly any
of the advantages.  Our correspondents are able to be determined
readily by anyone with the ability to monitor (and that's quite a few
people).  We therefore cannot conduct our affairs online with the same
amount of privacy we can create in the physical world.  There is no
assurance, when exposing the corruption of a powerful figure, that
one's identity cannot be determined and punitive actions taken.  Those
who have some sort of taint imputed them by certain sections of
society do not out of fear speak freely.

The virtues of technically secure anonymity outweigh the negative
effects.  You can flame impersonally as much as you want right now,
and there is no recourse.  Yet you cannot keep private from your own
sysadmin the identities of those with whom you communicate.

Anonymity in communciations is fundamentally consistent with an open
society dedicated to free speech.

>To bring this back to the house/anonymous bull horn analogy, that would
>be like deciding cease considering sound (or rather lack of sound) a
>commons, and expecting each home owner, who up until now enjoyed the
>relative peace and quiet of their neighborhood, to pay the cost of
>losing their sightlines, and needing to put up expensive shielding.

I will not press the point further than the following.  Whereas we
cannot change the physics of wave propagation in air, we can change
where the cables are laid.

>Maybe there are good, sound, policy reasons for making this change.  But
>out of fairness, one would think that the agents of change should be
>prepared to bear some of cost of that change.  

Were there silence before in the neighborhood, I would agree.  

>   And again, no one requires a carrier to carry anonymous messages.
>   Practically speaking, you might easily end up with a situation like
>   the alt.* hierarchy, where only certain subnets agree to exchange
>   anonymous traffic.  I suspect this is inevitable in the short term.

>Well, this really can only happen if a carrier can easily distinguish
>anonymous messages from non-anonymous messages.  

The simple expedient of a standard header line has already been agreed

Re: crank calls
>   But the phone company is not held liable when the call was made from a
>   pay phone.

>True; but the phone company is a common carrier.  The networks today
>aren't.  This could be changed by legislation, and that's something I
>would support, for networks.  

I think that networks will be common carriers, for the same reasons
that phone companies became such: that having a common carrier is
consistent with freedom of speech in an open society.

>However, I doubt that such legislation
>would actually extend as far as protecting hosts on a network, such as
>remailer sites.

You can't protect the network unless you *do* protect individual
sites.  The network as a whole is not a legal entity, only the
companies and individuals that run them are.

I have left off a reply of the libel issue for such a time after I
have read up a little on the subject.