net.wars: Deja-vu all over again

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 19 September 2003

The season of new TV shows doesn't begin in the US until next week, and everything is in reruns. I suppose this isn't really an explanation of why the last week or two seems to have been filled with revivals of things we hoped might be "in turnaround", but if Hollywood can remake 1960s TV shows, why should bad public policies ever die?

Wendy M Grossman

First: snooping and data retention are back! Revised versions of the rules for retaining and accessing data under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act have been released by the Home Office, and most people seem to have thought they're not as bad as the last go-round, though your seedy little forays into the Encyclopaedia Britannica Web site will now be preserved for a year. The Foundation for Information Policy Research, whose mission it is to think about such things, however, examined the proposals and concluded it's very much same-old, same-old. In other words, the Home Office, having publicly seen the error of its ways last year like Hugh Grant appearing on Leno, has released pretty much exactly the same plans. If anything, more agencies will be able to check out who your email correspondents are. I guess the Home Office thinks - and reviewing Yes, Minister bears this out - that if they keep saying it they'll ram it through eventually.

In other specifically British news, Blunkett is clutching his national ID plan, despite delays from the Cabinet and objections from Tony Blair (cost, unpopularity, little things like that) like a last-stage alcoholic desperately hanging onto an empty cologne bottle with nothing left in it but the smell.

More generally: three more years of ICANN. You may have forgotten to buy a cake and candles, but ICANN turns five years old at the end of this month. The announcement sets out a series of goals for ICANN to meet and a timetable by which it must meet them. About time, too. ICANN has floundered a great deal. You have to laugh cynically, though, at the bit that says ICANN undertook to clarify its mission and responsibilities; to ensure transparency and accountability in its processes and decision making". If there is one consistent thread running through ICANN's short lifetime it's that organization's persistent reduction of accountability. Just last year they decided, for example, that ICANN would be more democratic if it didn't have open elections for the Internet at large to choose representatives. Still: perhaps it will meet the goals set out for it this time.

In related news: Verisign hijacks a bit of the Internet yet again. Some years back, Network Solutions (now part of Verisign) decided to try claiming ownership of the WHOIS database and in doing so made the database, which at the time had been assembled at public expense, mostly useless (try Better WHOIS if you need to look up domain names in .com, .net, and .org). This time round, the company is working on a system to redirect people mistyping domain names to a search page of its own, Sitefinder, from where it can "monetize" your clicks. Fun, isn't it? You might prefer that the typo return an error message or search on Google, or that your browser were smart enough to figure out that by ".co" you really meant ".com". Microsoft and AOL would rather you went to their search pages.

In any event, this, too, ultimately comes back to ICANN. We have a situation in which a large company (Network Solutions) was built on the back of a government contract that retains a legacy monopoly over certain functions of the domain name system. Reducing Verisign's monopoly on .com was, in fact, a key element of ICANN's original mission. (I note that the Net is fighting back on this one.)

Oh, look, and someone's suing already! Why, it's the company that buys up expired domain names and redirects you to its horrid Netster search page if you type them in.

European software patents! Let's be not quite like America! At the beginning of this month, the Parliamentary vote on software patents was delayed after protests, but we know it's still coming, as is further discussion of implementing the EU Copyright Directive. One surprise in working on the huge report Silenced: an International Report on Censorship and Control of the Internet, which is released today, was how few countries had actually implemented the EUCD (only two) - and yet, how many already had at least some similar provisions. Speech, you might say, wants to be free, but everywhere is in chains.

Then, some years back there a lengthy thread on CIX established that the "1.44Mb" floppy drive is only 1.4Mb. Now some folks are suing a stack of computer manufacturers for misleading claims about the size of hard drives. One gigabyte is not one billion bytes, it is 1,073,741,824 bytes. So that's why your hard drive seems smaller than you thought. It's for sure not all those MP3s the RIAA is soon likely to sue your 12-year-old daughter for.

Last, but not least, and just in time: Time-Warner is back. Dumping the AOL in front, changing the stock ticker symbol back to its beloved old TWX. Seems like old times.

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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).