Something Changed on the Internet

by Maria on November 19, 2013

It’s only been five weeks since the organisations that manage the Internet’s technical infrastructure dropped the bombshell that they want the oversight of ICANN and IANA to be done by all governments and stakeholders, and not just the US. In a statement made in Montevideo, ICANN, ISOC, the IETF, all the world’s regional Internet registries, the Internet Architecture Board and the World Wide Web Consortium all called out the Snowden revelations as having ‘undermined the trust and confidence’ of users so much that it’s now time to get on and build truly ‘global multi-stakeholder Internet cooperation’.

What does all that mean? Basically, the people who built and run the global Internet no longer trust the US government to be its sole public-interested global steward. Despite a six-month scrum of self-satisfied lobbyists falling over each other to say ‘everyone knew what was going on’ and nothing fundamental has changed since Snowden; everyone only thought they knew what was going on and something fundamental has changed since Snowden.

Whether you think real ethical and legal issues are raised by mass surveillance or that the uproar is just an opportunistic response to one country spying merely too successfully on all the others, it is very clear that the US security services stepped far, far over the line when they took part in IETF technical working groups to purposely undermine the security of the Internet. It’s one thing to play an ‘all’s fair in love and war’ game to exploit networks and business relationships to surveil the population, quite another to knowingly introduce vulnerabilities that your enemies can also exploit. This, and disquiet at how some large US corporations act – forced or willingly – as arms of that state, is the basis of the breach of trust.

You don’t get to invent the Internet, export it around the world as a force for free markets, innovation and human progress, oversee the volunteer organisations that make it work, host the most important companies that deliver and use it, and then say it’s not fair that other countries think you are unfairly exploiting a home advantage. You also don’t get a pass on what Milton Mueller calls out as a strange blindness to the privileged role of your own government when you go around the world proselytising that ‘governments should stay out of running the Internet’.

Before Snowden, Russia’s and China’s paranoia and distrust of Internet freedom as a merely tool of US foreign policy designed to weaken their states could be dismissed as the kind of twisted thinking you expect from authoritarian states that simply can’t imagine not abusing a global common pool resource under their control. That’s how they would behave, so of course they think it’s how we would.

After Snowden, we live in a world where country after country has taken steps to distance itself from the current status quo on who oversees the Internet, and to condemn the US for abusing its role. But neither the US nor its junior partner in electronic surveillance, the UK, has made a concerted public effort to counter the claims of moral equivalence made by our rivals in the battle for Internet control; Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The silence of what are, after all, democratic governments about what legal constraints the UK and US’s spying systems operate within – and how those frameworks can and should be improved – means that rival states are controlling the narrative. Controlling the narrative means getting to decide its ending. Lots of us saw this coming. At a national meeting in September we urged the UK to develop a positive response to its role in global surveillance. Snowden wasn’t even on the agenda. But our governments seemed to slope off to the annual global Internet Governance Forum in Bali with no story to tell about itself, merely the plan to slip a few words in the right ears in the corridors outside public meetings, and to hope for the best.

Meanwhile, the business lobbyists swarmed everywhere repeating the mantra that ‘everyone knew; nothing has changed’, hoping their claim of knowing and worldliness would make anyone who disagreed feel like an ignorant rube, hoping repetition would drown out incredulity. That was both stupid and wrong.

By September, there was a fundamental breach of trust between the US government and the global technical communities, between the US and UK and pretty much every envious middle-income country on earth. But instead of facing up to the problem, the West and its international business community put their fingers in their ears and pretended everything was the same as before, or, at worst, just a little bump on the yellow brick road.

Let’s look at what happens when parts of a powerful institutions go bad and the whole institution ignores, denies and then attacks the accusers; for example, the Catholic Church. First, the people who accused the Church of systematically protecting abusers were written off as kooks. Remember the response to Sinead O’Connor ripping up the picture of the Pope. (Tinfoil hat brigade, anyone? How smoothly those ‘in the know’ transition from laughing at conspiracy theorists to claiming everyone always knew what only paranoids used to claim. But of course we’ve always been at war with Oceania.)

Then came the denials – refusals to cooperate with investigations, claims of special privilege, attacking the victims and accusers and writing them off as ne’er do wells, misfits, the terminally damaged. All that was predictable enough. But the point where the Church really lost its flock – and I’m thinking here specifically of the moment church attendance in Ireland dropped right off the cliff – was when, even though they seemed to be facing up to the need for due process and redress, they just couldn’t fathom the depth of the breach of trust. There was and still is a complete disconnect between what the Church did wrong and what it thinks it did wrong. Many elements of the Church still feel truly hard done by because they fundamentally do not understand why they lost the trust of the people they served. And now it’s too late. People voted with their feet and they’re never coming back.

What the US did to the Internet isn’t the same as the Catholic hierarchy protecting paedophiles, not even remotely. But what is eerily similar is its utter refusal to face up to the fact it they lost the people, it lost the battle, it may just have lost the war.

Getting proxies to run around international meetings saying nothing had changed – and that everyone who thought it had was either knavishly opportunistic or ridiculously naive – was a stupid mistake, a tactical error rooted in an inability to accept that the strategic environment had fundamentally changed. It was a car crash in slow motion. Someone had to do something. Someone did.

More on that anon.

In Addition to Being Racist, Everyone is Pro-Infanticide

by Belle Waring on November 19, 2013

What I am curious about in the Singer/infanticide/ending the life of the disabled vein is, what do those who are totally opposed to every form of infanticide think about anencephalic babies (and babies who have similarly non-survivable, severe birth defects)? I don’t think that, as a formerly pregnant person who has given birth to healthy children, my opinions on these questions have any extra merit, but I do think others not so situated may share my opinions without feeling so strongly about them, or in the same way. Perhaps the situation calls for some epistemic humility? The terrifying prospect to me, and to many mothers, of “late-term” abortion bans, is that pregnancies which are terminated after 20 weeks are almost all wanted pregnancies in which something horrible has occurred or been discovered. (And, in those cases where the baby is unwanted, there are almost certainly serious problems in the woman’s life that have led to the delay in getting an abortion sooner.) So, in a situation of supreme horror, the fetus might die, but the mother might be forced to carry the dead fetus inside her and have labor induced, to struggle in pain and blood to bring her dead baby into the world. She would feel the liquid inside her, and the lax ligaments, and all the other things she felt in pregnancy, but she would know the baby was dead. I have heard of mothers knowing right away. So close to you then, infinitely close, but infinitely far, and a rotting thing now, a poison for the rest of your body. So awful.

My first pregnancy was easy and wonderful. I felt and looked glowing, and although I was in labor for more than 40 hours (remind me not to do that again) I gave birth vaginally to a healthy girl who latched onto the breast just a few minutes after she was born, and fed well and naturally. In my second pregnancy I had unexplained bleeding starting at 19 weeks. Bright pink fresh blood in the toilet bowl. I thought my heart would stop. I thought her heart had stopped. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was in terrible pain (I often am; but it seemed like she was tap-dancing on the worst bit of me.) I kept bleeding on and off. I knew how many movements she was supposed to make in an hour and I counted, and counted, and counted, hour after hour, so scared, and then another hour. The doctors were determined to deliver her surgically as soon as they felt she was cooked up right, so, 37 weeks. It turned out to be nothing serious, placenta previa (the organ grew over the cervical os, the opening to the birth canal, blocking the baby’s egress.) She was fine.

But sometimes when the doctors check, they find that the fetus, which has appeared to be developing fine, has no brain at all, that the blackness inside her skull on the scans is only water. This is not even a fetus, really–certainly not a future infant. It will never feel pleasure at a mother’s touch, or pain from being pinched by a crib mattress, or see anything, or hear anything. It is empty. Laws that would force a woman to stay pregnant and nourish and grow that wrongly-made creature inside her, and to suffer the agonies of childbirth, and to bring forth this…not-baby–laws like that are torture. I would go mad. I would try to abort the fetus myself. I would try to kill myself. I would want to be put to sleep then, there, in the doctor’s office, and wake up, not pregnant, and with a little coffin to bury my hope and love inside. With ashes inside, only, because I would want not to look, but I would look, and I would always wish I had not.

But let us say an unjust, oppressive, Christian regime forces me to endure, and to deliver this severely deformed baby. Does anyone think we should use artificial life support to keep the baby alive? Almost all fetuses of this type are stillborn, and those that are not usually die on the first day of ‘life.’ Even the Catholic Church has some hand-waving about letting God’s will take its course. That is, they are not insistent on providing hydration and nutrition–no one even considers artificial respiration. Reading on it, three children have lived a year or so. There are pictures of course, and now I wish I hadn’t looked at them, and I am so sorry, the poor little things, and so sorry for the parents. For the mothers! When I think of those oscillations inside you, feeling movements you didn’t make, the mysterious gliding of blood-wet surfaces over each other in the absolute black, the not-you inside you…what if you knew in the end there was nothing? Some kind of seasickness of death? At the last you would be holding a newly hatched chick, naked and grey and dead, grey and jerking with dying? But back to the matter at hand, we all think a form of infanticide is appropriate here, right? No one’s on team ‘drastic measures for resuscitation?’ Artificial respiration for 80 years, for something that can never feel you hold his hand? A rough golem on whose forehead no glyph has been inscribed? So isn’t there a small number of real-world, continuously-occurring cases in which we are all pro-infanticide?

UPDATE: so misinterpreted! Obviously my fault also. I didn’t jump in to give Singer crucial moral support. I’m not totally sure how I did…I guess I’m implying all his critics are disingenuous and have parked themselves at the top of a slippery slope with some dubious wedge. I apologize to sincere Singer-critics for insulting their position in this way. That wasn’t actually what I was trying to do at all. I was genuinely curious. There was a case maybe eight years ago now, but I can no longer find it in the welter of anti-abortion and pro-abortion articles, in which a woman’s 24 or even 26-week-old fetus died, and the laws of her state required a waiting period before you could get a late term abortion (Texas IIRC?). The removal of a dead fetus is done via dilation and curettage, i.e., via abortion. So she had to go talk to some doctor, and then go stay by herself in a motel with her dead baby inside her for two days. She wrote about her experience and I remember thinking, I don’t know if I could live through two days of that. A responsible, thoughtful doctor would have deemed the dead fetus a threat to her health and her ability to have future children and had it removed on those grounds, but in this particular case, it was a Catholic hospital and none of these things happened. So I did mean to say, I think there are a number of infants born each year whose lives everyone agrees cannot go on in any way. That doesn’t mean that–HAHA! now everyone is obliged to accept all Singer’s positions; I was honestly curious, not mock-curious, and I honestly don’t know what all Singer’s positions are. But I also meant to describe to people who haven’t been pregnant the terror of something going wrong, and how you hope you would be a good enough person to accept your baby any way she came, but you fear you’re not brave enough, not really, not truly brave enough. And that as long as she was inside maybe you could pretend it would be alright somehow? But even then there is only one feeling that is ever like this, of having something inside you that is alive, that isn’t you, that you are waiting for, and how would it be if you were waiting for nothing? That’s all. I really don’t know enough about Singer’s positions to arbitrate on any of these questions; I was just thinking, we need to hear from severely handicapped people who were written off as a total loss before we know whether he can be right. We might also be interested to hear from mothers. And I’m only the mother of perfectly healthy babies! That’s it. I’m not laying down my life for in-group sacrifice.

Lysander: Proceed, Bushwick Bill

by Belle Waring on November 19, 2013

All that I have to say, is, to tell you that the
lanthorn is the moon; I, the man in the moon; this
thorn-bush, my thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog.

‘Ah, so it’s come to this, I see! Ms. Waring wishes to share with us her love of Geto Boys. This is a bridge too far. Really, though. These are the Let a Ho be a Ho people here. Is this some sort of feint after which other marginally less implausible opinions will seem more plausible?’ (hint: ish.) Oh look everyone! It’s Unsung, a Behind-The-Music style show about black musicians, with a whole episode about Geto Boys!

What’s that? You say that it is, possible worlds and all, conceivable that I might have found something you were less likely to watch/listen to, but I would have had need to strive hard? Look, you goobers listen to podcasts about Alan Greenspan’s tragic and shamefully-lauded legacy in US monetary policy. Multiple podcasts of such wise. You listen to podcasts with Dan Drezner in them! (Sorry Dan, but you’ve never laid down beats like this.) It would hurt you real bad to hear about a concrete way in which racism in American society is applied to obscenity and threats of violence, would it? And hear some killer tracks? Scroll on, then, one wouldn’t want you to dirty your hands. SIKE! No, motherf%*#kers! Just open a tab and listen; it ain’t like it’s going to kill you. Though you will be missing interesting and humorous visual effects. “But Belle, I hate all rap music!” OK, this is nonetheless rather historically interesting, you may find, about the spasm of violence in the late ’80s and mid ’90s in the US that seemed like it would never end, and the real fear that hip-hop induced in white listeners. This white dude who was covering the hip-hop beat at Source magazine at the time is probably the single whitest person who has ever lived, including Immanuel Kant. His last name is Soren! When he tells you, “people were scared of this music!” you think, “you wet your pants when Paul Anka came on the oldies station!” Nah, but, in fact he’s extraordinarily well-informed etc. “But Belle, I only care about the history of Neolithic Northern Africa!” Oh really! How fascinating! Well, you’re off the hook then, but you should be getting about your business, I must say. This is rather a lot of slacking already. Oh hey five minute version!
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