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Chapter 4. Architectures Of Control

Chapter 4. Architectures Of Control

The Invisible Man doesn’t fear the state. He knows his nature puts him beyond its reach (unless he gets stupid, and of course, he always gets stupid). His story is the key to a general lesson: If you can’t know who someone is, or where he is, or what he’s doing, you can’t regulate him. His behavior is as he wants it to be. There’s little the state can do to change it.

So too with the original Internet: Everyone was an invisible man. As cyberspace was originally architected, there was no simple way to know who someone was, where he was, or what he was doing. As the Internet was originally architected, then, there was no simple way to regulate behavior there.

The aim of the last chapter, however, was to add a small but important point to this obvious idea: Whatever cyberspace was, there’s no reason it has to stay this way. The “nature” of the Internet is not God’s will. Its nature is simply the product of its design. That design could be different. The Net could be designed to reveal who someone is, where they are, and what they’re doing. And if it were so designed, then the Net could become, as I will argue throughout this part, the most regulable space that man has ever known.

In this chapter, I describe the changes that could — and are — pushing the Net from the unregulable space it was, to the perfectly regulable space it could be. These changes are not being architected by government. They are instead being demanded by users and deployed by commerce. They are not the product of some 1984-inspired conspiracy; they are the consequence of changes made for purely pragmatic, commercial ends.

This obviously doesn’t make these changes bad or good. My purpose just now is not normative, but descriptive. We should understand where we are going, and why, before we ask whether this is where, or who, we want to be.

The history of the future of the Internet was written in Germany in January 1995. German law regulated porn. In Bavaria, it regulated porn heavily. CompuServe made (a moderate amount of, through USENET,) porn available to its users. CompuServe was serving Bavaria’s citizens. Bavaria told CompuServe to remove the porn from its servers, or its executives would be punished.

CompuServe at first objected that there was nothing it could do — save removing the porn from every server, everywhere in the world. That didn’t trouble the Germans much, but it did trouble CompuServe. So in January 1995, CompuServe announced a technical fix: Rather than blocking access to the USENET newsgroups that the Bavarians had complained about for all members of CompuServe, CompuServe had devised a technology to filter content on a country-by-country basis.[1]

To make that fix work, CompuServe had to begin to reckon who a user was, what they were doing, and where they were doing it. Technology could give them access to the data that needed reckoning. And with that shift, the future was set. An obvious response to a problem of regulability would begin to repeat itself.

CompuServe, of course, was not the Internet. But its response suggests the pattern that the Internet will follow. In this Chapter, I map just how the Internet can effectively be made to run (in this respect at least) like CompuServe.

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