Internet “Driver’s Licenses” – a very, very bad idea

An ‘incredibly dangerous concept’

In several articles written in his typically clear style, internet user advocate Lauren Weinstein explains why he opposes the idea of ‘Internet Driver’s Licenses’, which he refers to as an, “incredibly dangerous concept. . . . I’m disappointed, though not terribly surprised,” Lauren comments, “especially in light of Microsoft’s explicit continuing support of Chinese censorship against human rights — to hear a top Microsoft executive pushing a concept that is basic to making the Internet Police State a reality.” He frames his opposition in an earlier article(January 2010).

Even here in the U.S., one of the most common Internet-related questions that I receive is also one of the most deeply disturbing: Why can’t the U.S. require an Internet “driver’s license” so that there would be no way (ostensibly) to do anything anonymously on the Net?

After I patiently explain why that would be a horrendous idea, based on basic principles of free speech as applied to the reality of the Internet — most people who approached me with the “driver’s license” concept seem satisfied with my take on the topic, but the fact that the question keeps coming up so frequently shows the depth of misplaced fears driven, ironically, by disinformation and the lack of accurate information.

On Dave Farber’s Interesting People list, Lauren sets out dangers inherent in we as individual users handing over our controls to what are able to access using the internet to a monitoring organization backed by companies with so much to gain from limiting free access to information as well as users’ ability to benefit from collaboration features. Large corporate backers proposing the implementation of ‘internet driver’s license’ push for this measure to be implemented knowing that its implementation will limit the public knowledge pool by hobbling the power of the free information exchange which the internet era has brought to seekers of knowledge, facts and truth in homes and schools all over the world.

As regards user protection, Microsoft’s track record shows it can’t be trusted

Microsoft is one of the biggest proponents of ‘Internet Driver’s Licenses’. They’re also the people behind a number of other heavy-handed tactics of technology user abuse which limit user options and create vulnerabilities to viruses, worms and trojan horses in every computer Windows runs on.

Bob Latshaw tells how Microsoft invented the strategy of blocking competitor’s software applications from working on computers using Windows – first done to make Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software useless so every PC user would need to switch to Microsoft’s Excel application. A strategy that worked so well it pushed an excellent product right off the map and has severely limited user options for several decades now.

And Geoffrey James explains,

“Most people don’t know it, but it’s entirely possible to build computer systems that can’t be infected by viruses. In fact, the original computers were specifically programmed so that no application (like a browser or word processor) could make permanent changes in any other application or in the operating system. . . .

Microsoft (which had plenty of trained operating system programmers who knew the score) could have implemented Windows using the same security features that had been in place in the timesharing world for decades.”

But they decided to,

“put their firm’s ability to make money ahead of your right to have a computer that works reliably and keeps your data safe.”

These and other facts about Microsoft are enough to make me very suspicious of any movement it gets behind in the name of “User Protection”. The concept of ‘internet driver’s license”s is clearly something that’s being cooked up to make our internet access much more limited and commercialized, and our lives a great deal less free.

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