You're free to think
Tuesday, November 6, 2001 by Dave Winer.
No matter where you live, in what time period, no matter who you work for, you can think for yourself. We don't need a Constitution or a First Amendment to guarantee the right to think. This is a point worth noting as our freedoms are whittled, controlled and choked, for good reasons or bad.
Now the right to speak is a whole other matter.
In Nazi Germany, or Stalin's Russia, had you spoken out, you would have been killed.
That's how extreme it gets some times in some places.
Even the US government under a Democrat president was scared of the Internet. Perhaps with good cause, I'll give them that much, it's a powerful communication medium, and it can be used equally well by scientists, thinkers and people doing good as it can be used by terrorists, racists, abusers of children, and promoters of hate.
However silly it may seem, we made a historic decision in the US, in the 18th century, to take the bad with the good. In the US, the right to speak is something the government, by design, has very little power to regulate.
It's a fact, Microsoft made a deal with the US government. No theorizing necessary there, it's not a matter of probability, it's a certainty. The deal was announced. Ashcroft spoke. Gates spoke. We all know it happened.
But what was the deal? What did Microsoft give up to get full control of the Internet?
What did the government want from Microsoft, and what did Microsoft give them?
Was it merely a campaign contribution in the 2000 election?
Or did Microsoft promise to provide the government with access to all the information they accumulate in the Hailstorm database?
Did Microsoft give the government the power to censor websites they think are being used by terrorists? With that power will they be able to shut down sites like the NY Times or the Washington Post if they say things that compromise the government's war effort?
Will Microsoft support an Internet tax?
What else? These are just the ideas that occurred to me as I thought about the possibilities this morning. I'm sure there are others I haven't thought of.
At a certain level I'm just beginning to understand how powerful Microsoft has become.
They own the chokepoint for most of the electronic communication over email and the Web.
Now, they have to get people to upgrade to Windows XP -- that's the final step, the one that fully turns over the keys to the Internet to them, because after XP they can upgrade at will, routing through Microsoft-owned servers, altering content, and channeling communication through government servers. After XP they fully own electronic communication media, given the consent decree, assuming it's approved by the court.
Here's how it works. Because their operating system is a monopoly, so is their bundled Web browser. If one day my site were not reachable through MSIE I'd lose most of my readers. They could shut down any site they want to, and with their new partnership with the US government, they could have justification, if not moral, at least legal and pragmatic. The government has law on its side, and the FBI, CIA, NSA, FAA, FDA, the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. Nukes and biological weapons. They're a powerful partner, and a now, a Friend of Bill.
The rest of us are totally cut out of this deal. We're taken for granted, we're dumb, fat and happy, supposedly, and the future no longer looks so bright. The fat period is over. Microsoft had a lot of power to offer to the government. The government has been granted new electronic surveillance power by Congress. Now how do they implement it? Microsoft can help. In my mind I'm not so naive to believe this was an arms-length deal, I'm certain there are aspects to the partnership between Microsoft and the US government that we can't see.
If this scares you -- good. I think we've got a problem, and the government and Microsoft are not likely to help us.
No matter what happens to the Internet, remember you are free to use your mind.
PS: In my heart I cling to the hope that the Bush Administration really doesn't understand the Web, and that Microsoft really doesn't want the power to control what is said on the Internet. In my dream they wake up and say "Holy shit we didn't see that we were accumulating this much power."
PPS: Failing that, I pray for the integrity of the Judicial branch of the US government. Gotta love those checks and balances.