Category: Cyberlaw

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Our Federalism Online

A strange story from California:

In what one California official characterized as a case of overkill, U.S. officials disrupted access to all state government Web sites this week after a county Web page was hacked.

The federal government stepped in after learning that a Marin County, California, Web page redirected users to a pornographic Web site . . . Federal authorities, who have ultimate authority over most local and state Web sites, attempted to block all domains ending in ca.gov Tuesday, Hanacek said.

State agencies across California experienced rolling e-mail and Web site outages for about seven hours, and Internet users had trouble pulling up some state Web sites, he said.

The General Services Administration, which shut down the sites, apologized for the inconvenience . . . [but said]

“GSA is responsible for the integrity of all the .gov Web sites it manages,” the agency said in a statement. “The potential exposure of pornographic material to the citizens and tens of thousands of children in California was a primary motivator for GSA to request immediate corrective action.”

Put aside the overkill aspect of the story, if you can. (Let alone the potential for political mischief…) The truly surprising aspect of the story is that it highlights that the several States do not control their electronic destinies. They’ve traded convenience and harmonization for e-sovereignty!

For federalists, this would seem an unfortunate choice. Is the dream of laboratories of democracy a dead-tree idea?

(h/t: Drum.)

GAO on FCC: Trampling on Sunshine . . .

and it doesn’t feel good. A new GAO report has criticized the FCC for permitting certain favored groups to get an “inside line” on upcoming commission action. Here’s my take on it, and here’s Ed Markey:

“When the corporate insiders and the K Street crowd have the inside track on decisions critical to telecommunications, media, broadband or wireless policy, then the public and consumers are at an inherent disadvantage,” [Ed] Markey said. Markey, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said such violations appear to be “a daily reality” at the FCC.

Interesting way of avoiding the Government in the Sunshine Act. Larry Lessig proposes an elegant solution:

[This] needs to become a bigger issue for the candidates in this election. Let’s hear a promise by the presidential candidates that they will only appoint FCC commissioners who promise not to work for those they have regulated for at least 5 years after their term is over. That would be real change.

The Lessig Wiki on corruption in general is a great resource. But one has to wonder, given the corporate campaign money at stake, can any candidate dare to push an idea like Lessig’s today?

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The Right to Bear Ar–, Or Is It Access the Internet?

scissors2.JPG CNET reports that the government of Burma a.k.a. Myanmar has apparently cut-off Internet and cell phone access as a way to suppress information about the protests occurring there right now. The claim is that an undersea cable is damaged but given the convenience of such a coincidence that claim is being viewed with suspicion. As many know the information that has come through has been via cell phones, blogs, and text messages. Apparently some have even used FaceBook or e-cards to get messages out.

All of these events make we wonder whether the Bill of Rights would explicitly state that there is a right to free access and distribution of information over the Internet had the American Revolution occurred today. Now before everyone gets into a dither about the nature of the free press and what the First Amendment encompasses, I am suggesting that the situation described above shows the precarious nature of sharing information given the choke-points in place today. In other words, it seems that the benefits of technology also offer a much easier way to clamp down on society. Many have made this observation in the privacy context. Neil Richards’s post about the First Amendment gets to this point as well. We must consider what is at stake in today’s context. Put differently, could it be that the individual’s ability to access and use the Internet is now one of the key ways individuals serve to balance the power of the state?

Cross posted at Madisonian

Cell Phone Gag Rule

gag.jpgThere is big news on the net neutrality front today: Verizon Wireless has decided to block one group’s political speech from its text-message program:

Saying it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.

Note that this is not a pro-life policy, but one of blandless and depoliticization. As the Catholic Church realizes, it could well be the next to be censored or suffer degraded quality of service:

With no safeguards for net neutrality, religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, fear that Internet service providers will discriminate against them and charge them if they want to get the same level and speed of service they now receive for their online sites when someone types in their Web address.

This latest development should put net neutrality opponents on the defensive, at least in academic circles. Brett Frischmann and Barbara von Schewick have already called into question the economic foundations of the most sophisticated defense of a laissez-faire position on the matter. But Verizon Wireless’s new policy shows that the cultural consequences of untrammeled carrier control over content may be far worse than its potential to stifle the types of efficiency and innovation economists usually measure.

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