Freedom of Press on the ‘Net

I try to think of myself as an advocate for freedom of speech. I’ll admit that I stumble all the time while trying to live up to this ideal, but I think the ability to say what you think, even when it’s not something I agree with, is very important to society, and an ideal I strongly believe in.

As you may be aware, trusted computing is being pointed to by many as the end of freedom of speech on the Internet. I’ve known about the danger for quite a while (it’s why my next computer will be a Mac, assuming Apple doesn’t botch up and start thinking about DRM).

John Walker, eloquent as always, has managed to make me aware of a fundamental trend in technology that I hadn’t noticed before. “The Digital Imprimatur,” a reference to the old English requirement of requiring printing presses to be licensed, points out that NAT devices, like my Linksys router, are a catalyst toward a fundamental distinction between publishers and consumers.

His argument, which is admirably solid, caught me completely off-guard. I’m exempt from Walker’s warning because I can and do open ports to my internal network, but at the same time, I can see how this would affect the ability of many to originate content. An argument he didn’t address, but a relevant one, is the increasingly common practice of restricting broadband Internet service to a single computer, or preventing servers from being run.

I don’t expect the implications from these problems to stop the march toward Internet tolls, however, which makes me increasingly nervous as we approach 2006.