Category: Technology


Shifting Out of Neutral: Net Neutrality Defenders Fire Back

networkcable.jpgThe net neutrality debate continues. Groups such as The SavetheInternet Coalition have some resources on the issue. As an advocacy group, the Coalition offers some statements about the issue that may be, shall we say, skewed. Recent attention from our own Frank Pasquale and Boing Boing show that the issue is not resolved and better information on the topic is needed. Enter legal academics who have been addressing the issue in journals. One of the more vocal participants against net neutrality is Christopher Yoo. Although others may have fired back, Brett Frischmann and Barbara van Schewick’s paper, Network Neutrality and the Economics of an Information Superhighway: A Reply to Professor Yoo, on the topic merits a read. One great thing about the paper is that apparently Professor Yoo discussed it with the authors. Hopefully, these sorts of exchanges will inform the policy debates and help fashion a solution less pushed by lobbying spin and more driven by the heart of the issue.

Lessons From Japan

Japan’s technological prowess is so noted as to be the subject of jokes. We probably prefer laughing to the crying that may be induced by the statistics in this article :

Accelerating broadband speed in [Japan] — as well as in South Korea and much of Europe — is pushing open doors to Internet innovation that are likely to remain closed for years to come in much of the United States. The speed advantage allows the Japanese to watch broadcast-quality, full-screen television over the Internet, an experience that mocks the grainy, wallet-size images Americans endure.

Japan enjoys what Gerschenkron called the “benefits of backwardness;” it had to rewire completely after WWII. But it also has a much wiser dirigiste approach to assuring fast and universal access:

In sharp contrast to the Bush administration over the same time period, regulators here compelled big phone companies to open up wires to upstart Internet providers. In short order, broadband exploded. . . . [T]he story of how Japan outclassed the United States in the provision of better, cheaper Internet service suggests that forceful government regulation can pay substantial dividends. (emphasis added)

In Japan, you’ll pay about $37 a month for 100 mbps. In the U.S., on average, you’d pay about $40 for 5 mbps (yes, 5, twenty times less).*

Why the policy divergence? Here’s one part of the story:

The Center for Public Integrity compiled a list of the top 100 money-givers to Congress between 1998 and 2005, and telcos dominate the list: Verizon Communications: $81,870,000, SBC Communications: $58,035,037, AT&T Corp.: $53,349,499, Sprint Corp.: $47,276,585, BellSouth Corp.: $33,732,827, Qwest Communications: $24,523,480

Very impressive lobbying numbers. . . . not so impressive download speeds.

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Intellectual Privacy

Late last week, I finally sent my latest article out to the law reviews. It’s called “Intellectual Privacy,” and it’s about the ways that certain kinds of privacy protections advance, rather than inhibit, First Amendment values. I’m really excited about the project, which I believe has something useful to say about both a number of recent legal issues (involving the War on Terror and also the War on Pornography) as well as our understandings of First Amendment theory. I’m hoping to post it on SSRN shortly, but in the meantime, here’s the abstract:

The use of information about intellectual activity has become central to a wide variety of modern legal problems. In this paper, I offer a theory of intellectual privacy, the critically-important interest lurking beneath the surface of these disputes. Intellectual privacy refers to the zone of protection necessary for free thought and cognition in which individuals can make up their minds about a wide variety of issues both important and trivial. Unlike many other notions of privacy, which are in tension with free speech, intellectual privacy safeguards critical First Amendment values. First, I show how intellectual privacy has been underappreciated in a number of contemporary disputes, including warrantless wiretapping and data mining by government, private-sector uses of personal information relating to intellectual activity, and the introduction of reading habits as evidence in criminal trials. Second, I present a theory of intellectual privacy having four elements – the freedom of thought and belief, spatial privacy, the right of intellectual exploration, and the confidentiality of communications. Third, I show how and why intellectual privacy should be an essential part of our First Amendment theory, and suggest some ways in which it could be better incorporated into both constitutional doctrine and the fabric of our legal culture more generally.

Paradoxes of the Pirate Party

pirate.jpgLast month Stanford hosted Rick Falkvinge, the head of the Swedish Pirate Party, which advocates fundamental changes to patent and copyright laws. Falkvinge’s “personal candidacy came in at rank #15 out of over 5,000 candidates for the 349 parliamentary seats,” but “he didn’t win a seat due to threshold rules.” I listened to his talk on iTunes University, and was surprised by the comprehensiveness of his case against excess copyright and for more open competition.

Falkvinge explained the unfortunate historical origins of copyright-type restrictions, as a tool first for censorship and later for the preservation of monopolistic practices of the stationers’ guild in England. He argued that many current copyright laws resulted from the undue influence of “crumbling monopolies” trying to protect their business models against new forms of competition. But he made an interesting concession: he admitted that certain works that cost a huge sum wouldn’t be produced if their makers had no hope of financial return, so he favored some copyright protection for commercial uses of those works. However, Falkvinge said the threat to privacy posed by modern copyright enforcement techniques was too great to allow any legal monitoring of personal use of works.

Two thoughts after the break…

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The World as the Text of the Thoughts of a Programmer

robot4.jpgAdam Kolber has posted on a New York Times article by John Tierney that “discusses the possibility that our world was created as a hobby or as an experiment by members of some more technologically advanced civilization.” The piece is based on “a discussion with the-always-insightful Nick Bostrom, Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University:”

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Tierney estimates “that the odds are better than 20 percent, maybe better than even” that we are living in a simulation, but consoles us that “just because your neural circuits are made of silicon (or whatever posthumans would use in their computers) instead of carbon doesn’t mean your feelings are any less real.”

Query: What exact meaning of “real” is being invoked here–authentic? genuine? important? I think the “real” agenda of people like Bostrom is to get us to understand ourselves as a pattern of thoughts and reactions to the world–a kind of behaviorism that I critique in this post.

The speculation about a “prime designer” reminds me of the intelligent design movement’s effort to fuse science and religion. Tierney’s piece reveals to me a lot more about the human need for the sacred than it gives me a sense of whether we’re all just butterflies dreaming that we’re persons. (The estimated 20% chance is a nice example of quantificationism–wouldn’t our estimate of the chance of being a simulation itself be a a part of the simulation, and thus impossible to verify?).

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And now, a word about our sponsor

You may have noticed that our sidebar has changed somewhat. In particular, we’ve added a few ads from our new sponsor, Aspen Publishers.

I’ve always had a favorable impression of Aspen. I actually use Aspen casebooks in three different classes that I teach: Dukeminier for Wills and Trusts; Gordon Smith for BA; Cox for Securities. It was really only coincidence that I ended up with all Aspen casebooks, since I reviewed lots of other books; but I’ve been quite pleased with them so far.

Until recently, though, I was completely unfamiliar with Aspen’s Study Desk products. I’m just poking around the site now, checking out a free trial download. The software is intended as a law student organizational tool, and has a lot of features for tasks like organizing class material. I don’t know enough about it at present to say much on the substantive level. However, I tend to like to use helpful technology where possible — I find that the right technology can help students learn concepts, to communicate with class, and so on, and I use tools like TWEN and Powerpoint to try to teach more effectively. And going forward, I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for ways that my students might be able to potentially use Aspen Study Desk as well.

Another of our sidebar links leads to a collection of websites that provide updated material for some Aspen casebooks. Weirdly, there are no links to updates on the three Aspen books that I use — but there are links to updated material from a number of other Aspen casebooks (like Stone’s Con Law and Dukeminier’s property), in a nice central location.

And so, I’ve developed a new appreciation for Aspen as we join with them as a sponsor. Their website gives access to tools I hadn’t know existed, and I’ll be happy to examine these more as time goes on.

Are Survivors’ Costs a Pro-Life Issue?

The conservative Manhattan Institute recently commissioned a study of a gap in life-expectancy gains over the past 20 years. The data that inspired the study are startling:

While U.S. life expectancy increased by 2.33 years from 1991 to 2004, some jurisdictions — the District of Columbia (5.7 years), New York (4.3 years), California (3.4 years) and New Jersey (3.3 years) — led the way, while others, such as Oklahoma (0.3 years), Tennessee (0.8 years) and Utah (0.9 years), trailed the national average by significant margins.

To make a long story short, the researcher found that found that “longevity increased the most in those states where access to newer drugs . . . in Medicaid and Medicare programs has increased the most.”

Unfortunately, budgetary rules often make the federal government concentrate more on the costs of such interventions than their benefits. For example, the CBO counts “increased costs to the Medicare program for extending the life of its beneficiaries” as “survivors’ costs.” Tim Westmoreland’s fascinating article on the topic (95 Georgetown L.J. 1555, June 2007) calls this “euthanasia by budget:”

In describing why its model included costs but no savings from new access to pharmaceuticals, the Congressional Budget Office said, inter alia, “ [T]o the extent that a drug benefit helps people live longer, they may consume more health care over their remaining lifetime than they would have without the benefit.” In other words, it is still cheaper for Medicare beneficiaries to die.

One wonders if the same reasoning was behind a Texas law that permitted hospital authorities to cut off life support to a conscious woman.

I admit that Daniel Callahan has eloquently questioned the “research imperative,” and perhaps his reasoning could be extended to health care more generally. But it strikes me that in our accounting the costs and benefits of health care in this country, budgetary savings arising out of early death ought to be suspect.


“Keep the core neutral”

Internet founding parent David Clark was a guest in my cyberlaw class in the fall of 1997. We talked about Internet governance, although I don’t think anyone (including us) called it that yet. ICANN wasn’t a gleam in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s eye, but even then the amazing state of the domain name system — how it came into being, how it was managed — made for an extraodinary story.

Now lawyers and diplomats are all over the subject, and ICANN has ballooned into a multi-million dollar organization. I’ve argued elsewhere that arguments about ICANN and domain names don’t much matter except to those who want a piece of the financial pie, and I think predictions of domain names’ unimportance have largely proven true. Sure, IBM would not be happy if it lost, but it’s at no risk of having that happen, and the fact is that most people find things by Googling them than by entering a domain name. So long as search engines can crawl to various destinations, a world in which we couldn’t use mnemonic domain names wouldn’t be much different than the one we have now.

With that background, I’ve been thinking about the global petition to “keep the core neutral” signed by fellow travelers like Wendy Seltzer, Larry Lessig, and David Post. Is it something worth signing?

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The End of Email

Like others, in the past week I’ve noticed a major uptick in the spam I receive on longstanding email addresses. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve configured Gmail to scoop up the mail from those boxes so it can do its own junk mail sorting, and then I POP the mail into my Eudora client from Gmail. It’s taken me from downloading email where more than 9 out of 10 are spam to fewer than 1 out of 10 as spam — with the spam sitting harmlessly on Gmail.

But this is a good time to point out something beyond the cat-and-mouse of spam-and-filter: email is dying.

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The Criminal Law (Like All Information) Wants To Be Free

In the last couple of days, the Pennsylvania House passed legislation making the state’s statutes freely available over the Web. Remarkably, Pennsylvania will be the last state to provide this free and easy access.

It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, it was actually quite difficult to find state and federal statutes. Sure, they were available in selected public libraries, as well as all law libraries. But law libraries can be a bear to access: in some states, one would have to travel miles to find a law library. And many of these libraries limit public use in one way or another.

When we discuss punishment theory in criminal law, I like to noodle with students about whether, and how, prospective criminals come to learn the law. After all, most theories assume that a defendant has advance notice about what is expected of him and the consequences of lawbreaking. Deterrence theories – essentially, economic punishment models that suggest that higher sentences reduce crime by scaring off potential offenders – all assume that these miscreants can accurately predict their punishment. Putting aside the question of whether offenders act rationally – a serious question for individuals who are working under intense emotion, or the influence of drugs and alcohol – does anyone really know what a second degree burglary is “worth”? Surely there is information flow on the street, but it is far from the perfection assumed in economic modeling.

Obviously, making laws more obvious is much simpler than making potential sentences clear. But the fact that we’re only now completing the task of distributing the easily reproducible information – the statutes themselves – tells you just how much further we’d have to go to provide the information flow needed for criminal sanctions to be even halfway efficient as a deterrent. As Dave suggested a while back (echoing Stefananos Bibas), criminal information markets anyone?