• Dec. 11, 2003 | 1:46 PM ET
GOOSE CREEK UPDATE
Last month I wrote about the national embarrassment created by the thuggish drug search at Stratford High School in Goose Creek, South Carolina, in which students were forced to lie on the floor while dogs prowled and police aimed guns at their heads. (Start here and scroll up.) To make it even more pathetic, no drugs were found.
Now there’s a lawsuit underway, and reportedly the raid, which targeted mostly black students, has aggravated racial tensions. And video indicates that the Goose Creek police weren’t following their own rules.
In the Drug War, we hear a lot about “personal responsibility.” Kids caught with drugs would likely have been expelled, or jailed, for not following the rules. Will Stratford High School Principal George McCrackin, or Goose Creek Police Chief Harvey Becker lose their jobs? Or is “personal responsibility” just for the little people?
THE GOOD NEWS AND THE BAD NEWS
The good news is that plans to propose a U.N. takeover of the Internet at this week’s World Summit on the Information Society seem to have been shelved for the moment,. Faced with a storm of protest, and difficulty in agreeing on what to do, the governments who favored such a move have backed down for the moment.The bad news is that they won’t stay backed down. The Internet is too much of a threat to the world’s governing classes to go unanswered.The other good news is that the longer they wait to try to set up a regime that will give government officials control over what people read and say, the harder it will be for them to pull it off. And in this game, the delay works very much in the interests of freedom. Bureaucracies — especially international bureaucracies — tend to move slowly. Things on the Internet, on the other hand, tend to move quite rapidly. This means that the Internet is “inside the decision curve” of the bureaucracies.The other bad news is that that’s a huge advantage, but not an insuperable one: The bureaucracies may not have time or technology on their sides, but they do have guns, and access to a lot of (other people’s) money. Despite the brave talk of the world’s cyber-libertarians, if push ever really came to shove, governments could probably shut down the Internet, or at least the parts of it they don’t like.The other other good news is that the longer they wait, the more entangled the Internet becomes with commerce and daily life, and the higher the political costs of shutdown, or even censorship, become. Being an isolated dictatorship like, say, Burma will be possible — but it’ll also mean being impoverished and inconsequential, like Burma.That’s one reason why fighting for Internet freedom is so important — and why it’s especially important right now. The longer that the world’s governments can be kept away from the Internet, the harder it will be to censor, and the more advantage for the forces of freedom.I’ve got a column addressing this topic at more length here.• Dec. 9, 2003 | 9:56 AM ET
WHO WILL CONTROL THE INTERNET?
The Internet is letting people read and say what they want all over the world, to the immense discomfiture of the kinds of people who don’t like that. Now the tyrants are striking back — and, despite all the talk, it’s not in the name of democracy or accountability, as this New York Times report makes clear. The pre-discussions leading up to this week’s Geneva Summit are underway, and it doesn’t sound good. The corporation that currently controls the vital Internet-addressing functions, ICANN, has been criticized often — sometimes even by me — but it looks awfully open compared to the international bureaucrats:An important point of debate will be whether the Internet should be overseen by the United Nations instead of American groups like Icann.
“I am not amused,” Mr. Twomey said via a cellphone outside the conference room Friday evening after he was barred from the planning meeting. “At Icann, anybody can attend meetings, appeal decisions or go to ombudsmen. And here I am outside a U.N. meeting room where diplomats - most of whom know little about the technical aspects - are deciding in a closed forum how 750 million people should reach the Internet.” Mr. Twomey said that others were also kept out, including members of the news media and anyone who was not a government official.They’ve also excluded Reporters Without Borders from the event. Make no mistake about it — this isn’t about opening the Internet up to the underrepresented. It’s about closing it down to people who threaten the power of entrenched bureaucracies, especially in non-democratic countries. It’s no coincidence that some of the most enthusiastic Webloggers, for example, are Iranians anxious to end the rule of the corrupt, tyrannical mullahs who currently control their nation’s government. Not surprisingly, the mullahs aren’t very happy about that. They join the rulers of China, various Arab nations, and other despotisms and near-despotisms — along, I suspect, with the heads of some major media organs — in nostalgia for the old days when it was easier to control what people said and what they read.The good news is that it looks as if they’re not going to get their way this time around. But you can rest assured that they’ll keep trying. • Dec. 8, 2003 | 9:27 AM ET
NANOTECHNOLOGY BECOMES AN ISSUE
Last week I noted that the nanotechnology bill had passed Congress and was scheduled to be signed by the President. That happened (here’s the White House press release), and many people are optimistic. For example, UPI columnist Charles Choi writes that “contrary to many of the grand gestures made by presidents and congresses past, the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act that Bush signed might just live up to its potential.”
Not everyone is happy, of course. While some environmental groups want a moratorium on nanotechnology research until they’re satisfied that it won’t threaten the environment or existing economic relationships (in other words, basically forever), others, like Greenpeace, are taking a more responsible line.
Writing in this month’s Reason, Ron Bailey notes that a moratorium might be dangerous in itself, and I’m inclined to agree. I’ve written more on this subject in an article that will soon appear in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, but for now I’ll just say that I agree with Greenpeace that a moratorium is a bad idea.
If you’re interested in following this subject, there are several good places to look. Small Times magazine covers the nanotechnology industry quite closely. Howard Lovy, a Small Times correspondent, also has his own nanotechnology-related weblog. And Nanodot is a news and discussion site that focuses on nanotechnology, too. And here’s a short piece that I wrote for Legal Affairs on the legal and economic ramifications of nanotechnology, a topic that is also addressed by Berkeley economist Brad DeLong in this blog post, which prompted some further thoughts by Zack Lynch at Corante. The technology may be just taking off, but the discussion is already underway.
MORE FROM COMMUNITY
Add Community headlines to your news reader: