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47


L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 47, May 30, 1999

META WORDS
Electronic communications, censorship, freedom of speech
LET FREEDOM RING ... JUST PRAY THERE'S A CARRIER

by Jonathan Taylor
DragonArm@aol.com

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

          Ya' know, I really, really wonder sometimes.
          Last week, I downloaded Netscape Communicator 4.51, from the Internet, from Netscape's home site. Routine deal (I got sick of Internet Explorer), right?
          Well, apparently, it isn't ... to the government. This took me a minute to get over, before I started laughing, even. I won't include the message in its entirety. (You can get it yourself by trying to download the 128-bit encryption software version of Communicator.) Here's a bit of it, though:

Netscape Strong Encryption Software Eligibility Declaration
(This Form Is Included Due to U.S. Government Regulation)
Your Hostname: xxxxxxxx.ipt.aol.com
Your IP Address: 666.666.666.666
Please Read This Important Note
The United States Government considers U.S.-only versions of Netscape software to be tools that could be used by criminals and terrorists. Their distribution may be regulated by 15 CFR Parts 730-774, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration, as the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), and probably other laws and regulations. Encryption regulations as published in the EAR are available on the Internet.

          This might be old news, I know. But the fact that my browser software is being considered a weapon that could be used by terrorists at the same time makes me very happy and totally despondent. I mean, I now had to have that version after that warning. Goodness, it must be nearly as dangerous as an "automatic Magnum assault weapon" after all that nonsense.
          Then again, why do they care?
          Why do they care how strongly I encrypt my emails? Why do they care what type of security I put on my website? After all, browsers don't kill people ... stressing over the quality of their Internet connection kills people. Am I to understand that the type and quality of data I can emit is now considered a matter that needs to be monitored by the government? Why does the government feel the need to be able to break into my email? Oh, wait, I already know the answer to that one. They're searching for the source of all the spam porno ads I receive on AOL. Somehow, I doubt it.
          Speaking of searching for the source of email, how about that Melissa virus? Boy, was that terrible. Glad the FBI was on the case. Did you know that they, with the complicity of AOL, were able to track the perp down through phone records? Not like in the past, where they always caught the hackers because the egomaniacs would imbed their names and measurements in their code, but they caught him by tracing his phone down to his house less than a week after the virus appeared. It was heralded in Time as some sort of massive achievement, some step forward for technology, the first virus writer ever caught by such means, a message to all those other ne'er do wells who would send us tainted porn.
          Not hardly.
          The government didn't get spontaneously smarter, and hackers didn't get spontaneously dumber, either. The case was a bridge, make no mistake about it. It was bridging the gap between what would have once been considered an egregious intrusion on our rights as American citizens, and what we are now to accept as necessary and just in upholding the American way of life. Like so many things occurring these days, it smacks more of a flexing of new-found muscles than any attempt to preserve law and order. The Internet, that last bastion of true free speech, expression, and everything else that is near and dear to the hearts of libertarians everywhere, is also a very prickly thorn in the side of the government. Even if they do not control it, they must have the ability to control our lives ... entirely. Anything less is a threat. Even after CDA, had you asked me what element of my life the government had absolutely no chance of controlling, I would have said, "Electronic interaction." I might have been a fool, but ipso facto the Internet would seem to be very hard to control. Too many sites, too many countries, too many people, too much information. I forgot the lessons I learned as an opponent of gun control. Shutting down the Internet is not their goal, not now. Nor was prohibition of firearms ownership their goal, originally -- maybe not even now. But the slide down the slippery slope has begun, and I've reserved an extra bag of desiccant for the 3.5 inch floppies in that big PVC pipe.


Jonathan Taylor sent the first $45 he ever made to the Libertarian party. He is currently a Sophomore at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, studying Computer Science.


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