Friday, August 08, 2003

Recommended - Exchange between Ernest Miller (Yale) and Fred von Lohmann (EFF)on compulsory licenses and Larry Lessig's lament about's lawyers.

Charles Cooper thinks the Total Information Awareness programme is a good idea. Or, at least, that's what he has written, I suspect to bait the usual libertarians. He's right that DARPA (originally ARPA) was set up during the cold war (by Dwight Eisenhower in response to the Soviet launch of the sputnik satellite in 1957) "to think big about technology". It was essentially the then president's technology fast response agency, to avoid getting caught on the hop by the Soviets again.

As such DARPA shouldn't be castigated for proposing ideas like the TIA or the terrorism futures market, both of which are about using information for particular ends. He's wrong to imply that we should not worry about or thoroughly debate the real utility or specific deployment of such systems, however, because he hasn't seen any proof that TIA will lead an Orwellian future, though he has seen " the smoking hole that used to be the World Trade Tower complex in my hometown of New York City." In response I'm reminded of Ben Franklin's 1759 comment that "Those that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I'm neither a US constitutional scholar nor even a US citizen but even to me there seemed to be fairly fundamental questions raised under the first, Fourth and Fifth Amendments by the proposed TIA as it had been described variously by George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and other members of the current president's administration. There are intuitively obvious reasons to argue that the best available technologies should be put at the disposal of the 'good guys' in targetting and fighting the 'bad guys'. That's no reason to expand the notion to the extent that those same technologies should be deployed in the assumption that the only way to catch the bad guys is to assume everyone is a baddie, until they prove otherwise. The natural outcome of the latter scenario is that so much energy is expended on checking the innocent that the real bad guys find it much easier to get lost in the noise.

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