Looking forward by looking backward

What will you think were the big Internet-related stories of 2003 looking back at it a year from now? I’m not sure they will be much different, other than in degree, than the major stories of 2002.

The copyright mafia will continue to strive mightily to make all of modern technology into a glorified CD player; courts and governments will continue to try to make the Internet into a global force while, at the same time, trying to compartmentalize it into national or subnational chunks; the traditional telecom forces, including standards organizations, regulators, carriers and equipment vendors, will continue to try to protect us from the unpredictability of Internet-based services; and the cops will continue to see the Net as a system for gathering data on citizens.

With Australian courts ruling that a statement on a Web site halfway around the world could constitute libel in Australia, the states in the U.S. individually outlawing spam and China mandating an Internet free of confusing (such as anti-government opinion), it is ever clearer that the Internet presents a serious discontinuity for the world’s laboriously accreted legal system. Will there be anyone interested in civil liberties and individual rights involved as the system is rebuilt?

I’m writing this while doing something that some regulators do not seem to think is possible. I’m listening to Internet radio (bluegrasscountry.org right now, khyi.com a little while ago). But some regulators seem to think that the Internet needs to get a quality-of-service (QoS) injection to make this, and Internet telephony, possible.

I’ve had occasion in the last few days to reread some pundit commentary from the mid-1990s. It was full of the promise of ATM bringing QoS to data networks – QoS that was needed before the Internet could become a success. In spite of the better-than-99 per cent, very-high quality I and others get with Internet radio and on IP-based phones (I also have one of these at home) some folks – mostly those whose businesses are threatened by the Internet as it is – are pushing to get regulations to define IP telephony and to “make sure it is good enough” (as one regulator told me). It’s not broke and does not need fixing.

Far too many governmental authorities and law enforcement folks want to treat the Internet as a testing ground for the removal of all limits on personal privacy. They want to do things with Internet-based communications that would never even be thought about for other types of communications. If this is a prototype, we soon will be required to carry ID cards that broadcast our locations at all times and every word we say or hear. So much easier to protect our freedom this way.

Happy New Year?

Disclaimer: It’s accretion-breaking time at Harvard, which could be interesting. But the above insincere New Year’s wish is my own.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University’s University Information Systems. He can be reached at[email protected].

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