New York and Hawaii are bookends to 50 American states. Although separated by 8,000 km, each is rich in heritage, and with a very different political and cultural perspective. Yet, despite the distance and political differences, they are embarking on an identical and ruinous path. Bills introduced in both states suggest that legislators lack fundamental knowledge of history, democracy, economics and, especially, the nature of the Internet. More importantly, they care not a whit of personal freedoms, privacy and individual rights.
I should end here with my favorite tag line, “So Sayeth Ellery”, but that would deny readers chilling facts. Facts that ought to shock the senses of every New Yorker and Hawaiian, and humiliate by association. Let’s cut to the chase: Lawmakers in the Aloha state want to criminalize anonymous internet posting while senators in the Empire State plan to create a database of every web site visited by each resident. Yes! They plan to track & archive your internet surfing history. I am not making this up!
With regrets to Dana Carvey, Isn’t that just special? After all, an individual concerned about being carded at the door is an individual with something to hide—most likely, guilty of a crime. Who else would object to registering a DNA sample before speaking on topics of the day? A law-abiding citizen doesn’t fear a government that tracks thought, medical history, private communication, bedroom fantasy, or corporate negotiation. Just what are those people afraid of?
Dear Wild Ducks: We are all those people. I am too blinded by disappointment and pity to name names or plow through the facts. (N.B. Names of the proponents are in the tags below this article). So, I offer links to well written summaries. Read along with me and weep. The US is already constructing the world’s biggest database of everything that you say, do and think. Perhaps New York and Hawaii feel left out. Or perhaps legislators in those states skipped out on high school history. More likely, they are decent individuals with good intentions, but simply poor stewards of liberty in an era of ecommerce, the Drudge Report, AWildDuck.
- New York Senate bill seeks to end anonymous internet posting
“If the bill passes, get ready to hand over your full name and home address”
- Creepy new anti-privacy bill being considered by Hawaii legislature
Bill would create a database detailing who visits what websites
Does anyone not find this frightening? Forget about “confidential sources”. Want to comment on a breastfeeding blog? Sure. But first, register your fingerprints with an ISP and web host! I can think of three reasons that this won’t fly. More importantly, I am concerned that our legislators don’t see this:
Reasons to avoid suppressing a privacy technology
- If a government bans free expression, the business of internet hosting & access simply migrates to jurisdictions that understand democracy. It’s the nature of any fungible medium.
- Political restrictions on existing technologies or platforms create incentives for the rapid deployment of methods that circumvent or thwart the restrictions. This has the unintended effect of causing even more interference with legitimate investigations and forensic tools.
- History demonstrates the dangers of surrendering free, anonymous speech to a government, no matter how ethical the current leaders. Governments are transient, though they try hard to be self-preserving. They do their best work when prodded by free and democratic constituents.
So sayeth Ellery.
Ellery Davies is not generally known as a liberal commentator.
But he is a political wonk, privacy advocate and editor of AWildDuck.
Very interesting! I hope that these bills fail. If they become law, I expect that they will be shot down as unconstitutional. But one can never know. Many people are surprised to find that the word “privacy” does not appear in the US constitution. It is not a basic liberty, but only an abstraction of our pursuits.
Stay vigilant, Ellery. Keep us informed! Thanks for the interesting column. Warmly, Tasha