Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Computational Rights and Freedoms

I recently read a fascinating article on 'computational freedom', I guess, is the best way to put it.  It's called Lockdown, by Cory Doctorow of, my favourite blog.

For the tl;dr crowd, the capacity of a (Turing-complete) machine to execute code is judgement free, so to the machine there is no 'good code' and no 'bad code.' Code is a thing that has a current instruction to execute if possible, and then the next instruction to execute. If execution fails or if there is no next instruction then execution halts. There is no evil and no altruism.

And these same properties can be argued to exist for networks. From the perspective of a network, everything is traffic. There is no good traffic or bad traffic, simply traffic, and censorship--an object that might impede the flow of traffic--is regarded by the network as damage.

Add a little fear-mongering and it's easy to sell the idea that we need to implement a mechanism to limit "bad" traffic. Crime exists on the internet, and people do bad things, including stealing movies and songs and stuff, but--to use an image from the article--we can't outlaw the use of wheels because criminals use them on their get-away cars.

The thing about a computer and a network is that you can't just control parts of it. How it functions anywhere and all the time is exactly the same, so its like it has a completely flat topology. If we give somebody the right to kill a part of a network based on certain criteria, then we've given him the right to kill any part of a network based on any criteria, because no part of a network is easily distinguishable from any other part, and because there simply won't be time for them to get a court order.

But I strongly recommend this article.  It presents a clear and entertaining vision of what 'computational freedom' is, how it can and does provide us with incredible democratic power, and why corporations and governments are afraid of it.

We need to be assured in a free society that our freedom to compute is as natural and inalienable as any other of our basic human rights.

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