: Code 2.0

The General Form

The General Form

If the governments aim is to facilitate traceability, that can be achieved by attaching an identity to actors on the network. One conceivable way to do that would be to require network providers to block actions by individuals not displaying a government-issued ID. That strategy, however, is unlikely, as it is politically impossible. Americans are antsy enough about a national identity card;[24] they are not likely to be interested in an Internet identity card.

But even if the government cant force cyber citizens to carry IDs, it is not difficult to create strong incentives for individuals to carry IDs. There is no requirement that all citizens have a drivers license, but you would find it very hard to get around without one, even if you do not drive. The government does not require that you keep state-issued identification on your person, but if you want to fly to another city, you must show at least one form of it. The point is obvious: Make the incentive to carry ID so strong that it tips the normal requirements of interacting on the Net.

In the same way, the government could create incentives to enable digital IDs, not by regulating individuals directly but by regulating intermediaries. Intermediaries are fewer, their interests are usually commercial, and they are ordinarily pliant targets of regulation. ISPs will be the most important and obvious targets focal points of Internet control.[25]

Consider first the means the government has to induce the spread of digital IDs. I will then describe more what these digital IDs would have to be.

First, government means:

Sites on the Net have the ability to condition access based on whether someone carries the proper credential. The government has the power to require sites to impose this condition. For example, the state could require that gambling sites check the age and residency of anyone trying to use the site. Many sites could be required to check the citizenship of potential users, or any number of other credentials. As more and more sites complied with this requirement, individuals would have a greater and greater incentive to carry the proper credentials. The more credentials they carried, the easier it would be to impose regulations on them.[26]

The government could give a tax break to anyone who filed his or her income tax with a proper credential.

The government could impose a 10 percent Internet sales tax and then exempt anyone who purchased goods with a certificate that authenticated their state of residence; the state would then be able to collect whatever local tax applied when it was informed of the purchase. [27]

The government could charge users for government publications unless they gained access to the site with a properly authenticated certificate.

As in other Western democracies, the government could mandate voting[28] and then establish Internet voting; voters would come to the virtual polls with a digital identity that certified them as registered.

The government could make credit card companies liable for the full cost of any credit card or debit card online fraud whenever the transaction was processed without a qualified ID.

The government could require the establishment of a secure registry of e-mail servers that would be used to fight spam. That list would encourage others to begin to require some further level of authentication before sending e-mail. That authentication could be supplied by a digital ID.

The effect of each of these strategies would be to increase the prevalence of digital IDs. And at some point, there would be a tipping. There is an obvious benefit to many on the Net to be able to increase confidence about the entity with whom they are dealing. These digital IDs would be a tool to increase that confidence. Thus, even if a site permits itself to be accessed without any certification by the user, any step beyond that initial contact could require carrying the proper ID. The norm would be to travel in cyberspace with an ID; those who refuse would find the cyberspace that they could inhabit radically reduced.

The consequence of this tipping would be to effectively stamp every action on the Internet at a minimum with a kind of digital fingerprint. That fingerprint at a minimum would enable authorities to trace any action back to the party responsible for it. That tracing at a minimum could require judicial oversight before any trace could be effected. And that oversight at a minimum could track the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

At a minimum. For the critical part in this story is not that the government could induce an ID-rich Internet. Obviously it could. Instead, the important question is the kind of ID-rich Internet the government induces.

Compare two very different sorts of digital IDs, both of which we can understand in terms of the wallet metaphor used in Chapter 4 to describe the evolving technology of identity that Microsoft is helping to lead.

One sort of ID would work like this: Every time you need to identify yourself, you turn over your wallet. The party demanding identification rummages through the wallet, gathering whatever data he wants.

The second sort of ID works along the lines of the Identity Layer described in Chapter 4: When you need to identify yourself, you can provide the minimal identification necessary. So if you need to certify that youre an American, only that bit gets revealed. Or if you need to certify that youre over 18, only that fact gets revealed.

On the model of the second form of the digital ID, it becomes possible to imagine then an ultra-minimal ID an identification that reveals nothing on its face, but facilitates traceability. Again, a kind of digital fingerprint which is meaningless unless decoded, and, once decoded, links back to a responsible agent.

These two architectures stand at opposite ends of a spectrum. They produce radically different consequences for privacy and anonymity. Perfect anonymity is possible with neither; the minimal effect of both is to make behavior traceable. But with the second mode, that traceability itself can be heavily regulated. Thus, there should be no possible traceability when the only action at issue is protected speech. And where a trace is to be permitted, it should only be permitted if authorized by proper judicial action. Thus the system would preserve the capacity to identify who did what when, but it would only realize that capacity under authorized circumstances.

The difference between these two ID-enabled worlds, then, is all the difference in the world. And critically, which world we get depends completely upon the values that guide the development of this architecture. ID-type 1 would be a disaster for privacy as well as security. ID-type 2 could radically increase privacy, as well as security, for all except those whose behavior can legitimately be tracked.

Now, the feasibility of the government effecting either ID depends crucially upon the target of regulation. It depends upon there being an entity responsible for the code that individuals use, and it requires that these entities can be effectively regulated. Is this assumption really true? The government may be able to regulate the telephone companies, but can it regulate a diversity of code writers? In particular, can it regulate code writers who are committed to resisting precisely such regulation?

In a world where the code writers were the sort of people who governed the Internet Engineering Task Force[29] of a few years ago, the answer is probably no. The underpaid heroes who built the Net have ideological reasons to resist governments mandate. They were not likely to yield to its threats. Thus, they would provide an important check on the governments power over the architectures of cyberspace.

But as code writing becomes commercial as it becomes the product of a smaller number of large companies the governments ability to regulate it increases. The more money there is at stake, the less inclined businesses (and their backers) are to bear the costs of promoting an ideology.

The best example is the history of encryption. From the very start of the debate over the governments control of encryption, techies have argued that such regulations are silly. Code can always be exported; bits know no borders. So the idea that a law of Congress would control the flow of code was, these people argued, absurd.

The fact is, however, that the regulations had a substantial effect. Not on the techies who could easily get encryption technologies from any number of places on the Net but on the businesses writing software that would incorporate such technology. Netscape or IBM was not about to build and sell software in violation of U.S. regulations. The United States has a fairly powerful threat against these two companies. As the techies predicted, regulation did not control the flow of bits. But it did quite substantially inhibit the development of software that would use these bits.[30]

The effect has been profound. Companies that were once bastions of unregulability are now becoming producers of technologies that facilitate regulation. For example, Network Associates, inheritor of the encryption program PGP, was originally a strong opponent of regulation of encryption; now it offers products that facilitate corporate control of encryption and recovery of keys.[31] Key recovery creates a corporate back door, which, in many contexts, is far less restricted than a governmental back door.

Cisco is a second example.[32] In 1998 Cisco announced a router product that would enable an ISP to encrypt Internet traffic at the link level between gateways, that is.[33] But this router would also have a switch that would disable the encryption of the router data and facilitate the collection of unencrypted Internet traffic. This switch could be flipped at the governments command; in other words, the data would be encrypted only when the government allowed it to be.

The point in both cases is that the government is a player in the market for software. It affects the market both by creating rules and by purchasing products. Either way, it influences the supply of commercial software providers who exist to provide what the market demands.

Veterans of the early days of the Net might ask these suppliers, How could you?

Its just business, is the obvious reply.


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