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In the last chapter, we saw that the unregulability of the Internet was a product of design: that the failure of that network to identify who someone is, what they’re doing, and where they’re from meant that it would be particularly difficult to enforce rules upon individuals using the network. Not impossible, but difficult. Not for all people, but for enough to matter. The Internet as it originally was gave everyone a “Ring of Gyges”, the ring which, as Plato reports in The Republic, made Gyges the shepherd invisible. The dilemma for regulation in such a world is precisely the fear Plato had about this ring: With such a ring, “no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice.[25]

And if such a man did choose justice, even with the power of the ring, then “he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. ”

But these gaps in the Internet’s original design are not necessary. We can imagine networks that interact seamlessly with the Internet but which don’t have these “imperfections.” And, more importantly, we can see why there would be an important commercial interest in eliminating these gaps.

Yet you may still be skeptical. Even if most Internet activity is traceable using the technologies that I’ve described, you may still believe there are significant gaps. Indeed, the explosion of spam, viruses, ID theft, and the like are strong testimony to the fact that there’s still a lot of unregulable behavior. Commerce acting alone has not yet eliminated these threats, to both commerce and civil life. For reasons I explore later in this book, it’s not even clear commerce could.

But commerce is not the only actor here. Government is also an important ally, and the framework of regulability that commerce has built could be built on again by government.

Government can, in other words, help commerce and help itself. How it does so is the subject of the chapter that follows.

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