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Internet governance issues

A cryptographic solution to securely aggregate allegations could make it easier to come forward

Nobody wants to be the first person to do or say a risky thing. One recent example of this is the revelations that a number of powerful figures, like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and Bill Cosby, had a long pattern of sexual harassment and even assault, and many people were aware of it, but nobody came forward until much later.

People finally come forward when one brave person goes public, and then another, and finally people see they are not alone. They might be believed, and action might be done.

Eleven years ago, I proposed a system to test radical ideas, primarily aimed at voting in bodies like congress. The idea was to create a voting system where people could cast encrypted votes, with the voter's identity unrevealed. Once a majority of yes votes were cast, however, the fragments of the decoding key would assemble and the votes and the voter identities could be decoded.

This would allow, for example, a vote on issues where a majority of the members support something but few are willing to admit it. Once the total hit the majority, it would become a passed bill, with no fear in voting.

I still would like to see that happen, but I wonder if the approach could have more application. The cryptographic approach is doable when you have a fixed group of members voting who can even meet physically. It's much harder when you want to collect "votes" from the whole world.

You can easily build the system, though, if you have a well trusted agency. It must be extremely trusted, and even protected from court orders telling it to hand over its data. Let's discuss the logistics below, but first give a description of how it would work.

Say somebody wants to make an allegation, such as "I was raped by Bill Cosby" or "The Mayor insisted I pay a bribe" or "This bank cheated me." They would enter that allegation as some form of sworn legal statement, but additional details and their identity would be encrypted. Along with the allegation would be instructions, "Reveal my allegation once more than N people make the same allegation (at threshold N or less.)"

In effect, it would make saying "#metoo" have power, and even legal force. It also tries to balance the following important principles, which are very difficult to balance otherwise:

  1. Those wronged by the powerful must be able to get justice
  2. People are presumed innocent
  3. The accused have a right to confront the evidence against them and their accusers

How well this work would depend on various forms of how public the information is:

  • A cryptographic system would require less (or no) trusting individual entities or governments, but would make public the number of allegations entered. It would be incorruptible if designed well.
  • An agency system which publishes allegation counts and actual allegations when the threshold is reached.
  • An agency system which keeps allegation counts private until the threshold is reached.
  • An agency system which keeps everything private, and when the threshold is reached discloses the allegation only to authorities (police, boards of directors).

There are trade-offs as can be shown above. If allegations are public, that can tell other victims they are not alone. However, it can also be a tool in gaming the system.

The allegation must be binding, in that there will be consequences for making a false allegation once the allegations are disclosed, especially if the number of existing allegations is public. We do not want to create a power to make false anonymous allegations. If it were public that "3 people allege rape by person X" that would still create a lot of public shame and questions for X, which is fine if the allegations are true, but terrible if they are not. If X is not a rapist, for example, and the threshold is high, it will never be reached, and those making the allegations would know that. Our system of justice is based important principles of presumption of innocence, and a right to confront your accusers and the evidence against you.

Replacing the FCC with "don't be spectrum selfish."

Radio technology has advanced greatly in the last several years, and will advance more. When the FCC opened up the small "useless" band where microwave ovens operate to unlicenced use, it generated the greatest period of innovation in the history of radio. As my friend David Reed often points out, radio waves don't interfere with one another out in the ether. Interference only happens at a receiver, usually due to bad design. I'm going to steal several of David's ideas here and agree with him that a powerful agency founded on the idea that we absolutely must prevent interference is a bad idea.

My overly simple summary of a replacement regime is just this, "Don't be selfish." More broadly, this means, "don't use more spectrum than you need," both at the transmitting and receiving end. I think we could replace the FCC with a court that adjudicates problems of alleged interference. This special court would decide which party was being more selfish, and tell them to mend their ways. Unlike past regimes, the part 15 lesson suggests that sometimes it is the receiver who is being more spectrum selfish.

Here are some examples of using more spectrum than you need:

  • Using radio when you could have readily used wires, particularly the internet. This includes mixed mode operations where you need radio at the endpoints, but could have used it just to reach wired nodes that did the long haul over wires.
  • Using any more power than you need to reliably reach your receiver. Endpoints should talk back if they can, over wires or radio, so you know how much power you need to reach them.
  • Using an omni antenna when you could have used a directional one.
  • Using the wrong band -- for example using a band that bounces and goes long distance when you had only short-distance, line of sight needs.
  • Using old technology -- for example not frequency hopping to share spectrum when you could have.
  • Not being dynamic -- if two transmitters who can't otherwise avoid interfering exist, they should figure out how one of them will fairly switch to a different frequency (if hopping isn't enough.)

As noted, some of these rules apply to the receiver, not just the transmitter. If a receiver uses an omni antenna when they could be directional, they will lose a claim of interference unless the transmitter is also being very selfish. If a receiver isn't smart enough to frequency hop, or tell its transmitter what band or power to use, it could lose.

Since some noise is expected not just from smart transmitters, but from the real world and its ancient devices (microwave ovens included) receivers should be expected to tolerate a little interference. If they're hypersensitive to interference and don't have a good reason for it, it's their fault, not necessarily the source's.

Remaining neutral on network neutrality -- it's the monopoly, stupid

People ask me about the EFF endorsing some of the network neutrality laws proposed in congress. I, and the EFF are big supporters of an open, neutral end-to-end network design. It's the right way to build the internet, and has given us much of what we have. So why haven't I endorsed coding it into law?

If you've followed closely, you've seen very different opinions from EFF board members. Dave Farber has been one of the biggest (non-business) opponents of the laws. Larry Lessig has been a major supporter. Both smart men with a good understanding of the issues.

I haven't supported the laws personally because I'm very wary of encoding rules of internet operation into law. Just about every other time we've seen this attempted, it's ended badly. And that's even without considering the telephone companies' tremendous experience and success in lobbying and manipulation of the law. They're much, much better at it than any of the other players involved, and their track record is to win. Not every time, but most of it. Remember the past neutrality rules that forced them to resell their copper to CLECs so their could be competition in the DSL space? That ended well, didn't it?

Read on...

Baby Bells announce new "GoodPackets" program to charge for access

New York, March 22, 2006 (CW) Bell South and AT&T, two of the remaining Baby Bell or "iLec" companies announced today, in conjunction with GoodPackets Inc., a program to charge senders for certified delivery of internet packets to their ISP customers.

William Smith, CTO of Bell South, together with AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre, who will be his new boss once the proposed merger is completed, made a joint announcement of the program together with Dick Greengrass, CEO of GoodPackets.

The true invention of the internet, redux, and Goodmail/Network Neutrality

I wrote an essay here a year ago on the internet cost contract and how it was the real invention (not packet switching) that made the internet. The internet cost contract is "I pay for my end, you pay for yours, and we don't sweat the packets." It is this approach, not any particular technology, that fostered the great things that came from the internet. (Though always-on also played a big role.)

On the two-tier internet

Of late there's been talk of ISPs somehow "charging" media-over-IP providers (such as Google video) for access to "their" pipes. This is hard to make sense of, since when I download a video from a site, I am doing it over my pipe, which I have bought from my ISP, subject to the contract that I have with it. Google is sending the data over their pipe, which they bought to connect to the central peering points and to my ISP. However, companies like BellSouth, afraid that voice and video will be delivered to their customers in competition with their own offerings, want to do something to stop it.

To get around rules about content neutrality on the network that ILEC based ISPs are subject to, they now propose this as a QOS issue. That there will be two tiers, one fast enough for premium video, and one not fast enough.

Today I've seen comments from Jeff Pulver and Ed Felten on possible consequences of such efforts. However, I think both directions miss something... (read on)

WSIS and the splitting of the root

There's talk that in the battle between the USA and Europe over control of ICANN, which may come to a head at the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, people will seriously consider "splitting the root" of DNS.

I've written a fair bit about how DNS works and how the true power over how names get looked up actually resides with hundreds of thousands of individual site administrators. However, there is a natural monopoly in the root. All those site admins really have to all do the same thing, or you get a lot of problems, which takes away most of that power.

Still, this is an interesting power struggle. If a large group of admins decided to switch to a new DNS root, different from ICANN, they could. The cooperation of Microsoft, which includes the default root list for IIS, and Paul Vixie, who puts that list in BIND, would play a large part in that as well.

In fact, many times in the past people have split the root by creating alternate, "superset" roots which mirror the existing .com/.org/.net/etc. and add new top level domains. Some of these have been "innocent" efforts frustrated at how slowly ICANN had created new TLDs, but in truth all of them have also been landgrabs, hoping to get ownership of more generic terms, furthering the mistake that was made with .com. ICANN is also furthering the mistake, just more slowly. (The mistake is ignoring what trademark law has known for centuries -- you don't grant ownership rights in ordinary generic terms.)

All of these superset attempts have also failed. I don't think I have ever seen anybody promote a URL using one of the alternate root TLDs, or give me an email address from an alternate root TLD. I consider that failure.

This is, of course, what creates the natural monopoly. Few people are interested in setting it up so that two different people looking for a domain get different results. That applies to the fact that most people get an error for www.drug.shop (in the new.net alternate TLDs) and a few get the registrant's site, but it applies even moreso to the idea that Americans would get one answer for foo.com and Europeans a different one.

Because of this, Larry Lessig recently suggested he wasn't worried about a root split because there would be such strong pressure to keep them consistent.

The difficulty is, what's the point of creating your own root if you can't actually make it any different from the original? The whole point of wanting control is to have your way when there is a dispute, and to have your way does not mean just doing it the same as everybody else lest we get inconsistent results.

It's possible that a group of nations might try to wrest control in order to do nothing at first, but eventually create a superset of TLDs which would, for the first time, be a success. That might work, since if all the nations of the world except the USA were to go to a new root set, it would be hard for the private individuals in the USA who control name servers not to follow. But then the new group would no doubt attempt at some point to issue policies for the existing top-level-domains and country code domains.

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ICANN Announces ".polinc" TLD for politically incorrect and dangerous-opinion sites

ICANN is pleased to announce that the independent evaluation process, which began last year, has resulted in a further sponsored Top Level Domain (sTLD) application moving to the next stage.

As the process for selecting new sponsored Top Level Domain (sTLDs) continues from a pool of ten applications, ICANN has now entered into commercial and technical negotiations with an additional candidate registry, ICM Registry, Inc, (.POLINC).

The .POLINC top level domain will be a voluntary arena for sites that wish to express ideas that are politically incorrect or inflammatory. Sites that promote ideas including racism, homosexual advocacy, embryonic stem cell harvesting, creationism, evolutionism, opposition to the war in Iraq, defence of the liberation of Iraq and other topics that are inflammatory can voluntarily register in the .POLINC domain to make it clear what sort of material can be found on the site.

"We're not trying to suprise anybody with the fact that our sites have unpopular an inflammatory opinions on them," said Brad Templeton, Chairman of the www.eff.org web site notorious for its opposition to the surveillance tools the Justice Dept. says are needed for the War on Domestic Terror. Templeton also operates the www.netfunny.com site, which contains jokes, some of which lampoon stereotypes of all manners. "By giving us our own domain, people will know exactly what they are getting. Our views are for adults. We're not trying to push them on kids."

Operators of .POLINC domains believe that by using this domain, they will have an answer to any user who complains about finding their material on the internet, in particular parents who don't want their children exposed to highly radical views. Internet filtering software, commonly sold to parents, schools and libraries, will be able to easily and reliably block access to .POLINC sites by children and library patrons.

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ICANN moves towards .XXX (+.JOBS, .TRAVEL) -- Even worse ideas

I have written before about what a terrible idea it is to generate top level domains that are generic, and have a meaning, because they create artificial monopolies over real words and generic terms, something even trademark law figured out was stupid centuries ago.

Now ICANN has gone one worse and annouced that a .XXX domain is underway. It is also talking about TLDs for jobs, and travel as well as .CAT, .POST and .MOBI.

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More on generic domains, and poli-spam

There has been some discussion of the generic domain proposal on slashdot (alas mostly incorrect because they didn't read the underlying essays.) The posting here was also posted on
CircleID a DNS discussion site, and there are multiple comments.

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New mobile domain another bad idea

You may have seen a new proposal for a "mobile" top-level domain name for use by something called "mobile users" whatever they are. (The domain will not actually be named .mobile, rumours are they are hoping for a coveted one-letter TLD like .m "to make it easier to type on a mobile phone.)

Centuries ago, as trademark law began its evolution, we learned one pretty strong rule about building rules for a name system for commerce, and even for non-commerce.

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