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The Internet Your Rights Online

License to Surf 360

Bogatyr writes "Robert Cailliau, who designed the Web with Briton Tim Berners-Lee in late 1990, says all Internet users should be licensed so surfers on the information highway are as accountable as drivers on the road. " W3C has been working on such systems for years - unforgeable certificates which users must present to gain access to content, and which incidentally identify them uniquely and provide assorted marketing information. The end of anonymity, coming soon to a Web near you.
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License to Surf

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  • by citizenx ( 117856 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @08:07AM (#1499592) Homepage
    Accountable for what, I'd like to know. Should we get insurance in case our packets collide with somebody elses?
  • Anyone who visits can get access to our free anonymous surfing service that a friend and I put together. Runs on Linux. You do not have to give up your privacy to surf the web -- at least not yet.
  • The anonymous nature of many web transactions has been one of the driving forces behind the web. We all know they aren't completely anonymous, but it's often not worth the effort to track down visitors, so there is a practical anonymity which works a lot of the time.

    Losing that anonymity is likely to slow the spread of ideas, as people avoid visiting "subversive" web sites. That will be a pity.
  • Well that would remove about 90% of the users right there... mode bandwidth for us!

    Seriously... how would these licenses be issued? What 'test' would you have to take to get one? Who exactly would be giving out the licenses? And how would you write into every single piece of Internet software the checks for a license?

    Doesn't sound very plausible to me...
  • Interestingly, the original poster was using an i before e. Perhaps those who make spelling flames should think a while before parroting rules which are wrong.
  • by antizeus ( 47491 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @08:15AM (#1499601)
    That's just bizarre. What's up with that analogy between surfing and driving? When you drive a car you're controlling a heavy object that moves at a high velocity. Such a thing has great potential damage associated with it, so a good case can be made for licensing. Surfing the web? How would that endanger anyone? I think a better analogy would be reading books... But then you couldn't say "you should need a license to surf the web, much like you need one to read a book" because you don't need a license to read a book. That would be silly. And so is this idea.

  • whenever something new comes along someone thinks we need to get a liscense to use it. Why the hell should i need a liscense to surf? is there something about reading slashdot that i shoulnd't be allowed to read unless i'm over 18?
    I can understand the possiblity of someone needing to restrict access to porn, but otherwise where do they get off saying i need a liscence to read stuff? most of the internet (i said most) is like a book. You can crash a car, but not a book. A liscence strongly reduces your likely hood of crashing your car(think driver's ed), but a computer liscece can't do much good in that department.

    Anonimity is a great thing on the net, there is no need for you to know weather I'm and 85 year old American woman on an iMac, or a 4 year old child in India on a Compaq Presario.

    matisse:~$ cat .sig
  • One of the best and most appealing aspects of the web is it's anonymity and ease of access. These "licenses" hinder both of those aspects. First, you will never be able to visit your favorite pr0n site again without *somebody* knowing about it, and secondly, you will have to have the darn thing with you when ever you use the web... if they implement it in a way that's effective for it's purpose. Talk about a pain!

    Personally, I don't think it will happen in the near or mid-range future... people don't like to fix things that aren't broken, and a system like this would require _allot_ of expensive work, some of which could create incompatibilities. People are only willing to do this if the gains outweigh the means, something I personally don't see from such a system.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This news is a bad thing for all Anonymous Cowards everywhere. We should get a petition together to thwart this kind of action ... shame the signatures will all be the same.

    Anonymous Coward.
  • Maybe it's not such a bad idea (please, don't flame yet). Wouldn't it be the (relative) end of spam? If you can't send an email without someone knowing EXACTLY who you are, it makes it easier for people to relieve that aggravation. Really, can you go to the library and get all the books you want without them knowing who you are? No...

    The difference, is that you can go to a bookstore, purchase the books with cash, and retain (for the most part) anonymity.

    The only reason that this notion is being entertained, is because of cracking attempts, and website defacements, in which they can't track down the perpetrators.

    Does somebody really need to be able to identify me individually, with my certificate, in order for me to view the latest sports scores? Or check and see what's funny on Segfault []? I don't think so.

    And exactly how is this going to be prevented from being used in some marketing scheme. Surely it has to be, otherwise, what's the point? It can't be that easy.

    Regardless of what system they come up with, short of quantum crypto it's going to be forgeable. Just depends on how much time is invested.

    Is this a good idea? probably. Is it a bad idea, yes... It's not often I take two sides of an issue, but each side has its merits. Just wish I didn't have to give up my anonymity to receive them.

  • The problem here is that the W3C don't see what the internet is being used for: it might not be the dream of every slashdotter, or internet purist, but the web is a popular medium now...

    and so these proposals won't work because everyone supplying content on the web wants the greatest possible audience. Who is going to enforce licensing, when everyone wants as big a market share as possible?

    Amazon stopping people going onto their site because some bureaucrat has been slow in granting a digital id?

    I think not - and until a licensing system mandatorily covers 100% of all internet users, you can forget it.

  • The different colors represent different sections of /. Different sections have different colors.

    Well, about the main idea. I do not mind that we would have to have lisences, but I am against it because it would do away with much of the privacy that we have. They have our ip addresses... now they want our name and address... whats that?

  • Yeah... the whole idea of having a drivers license is that you are held accountable for damages you cause... but unless someone is deliberately attempting to crack into other computers, its hard to accidentally cause damage on the net. I mean, when was the last time you were surfing down the information superhighway, took your eyes off the monitor to do something, and your packets suddenly began colliding into others, damaging them irreversably? ;-)
    Besides, data is physically worthless - bits and bytes are effectively free, so all you'd be doing in that case would be interrupting communications, or changing records of someone's intellectual property, or something...
    Licenses to use the internet are dumb.
  • AFAIK, CERN no longer representative of the full name of the institution. The closest what I've seen is Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire (like in my mouse mat). Mostly it's referred to as "the European Laboratory for Particle Physics" (like in the article).

    Just my two centimes.

  • I wonder, could we force novices to take courses, get a learner's permit, and pass a final examination of proficiency before they're allowed to access the web without supervision? It'd make my job easier! Not that I agree completely with the idea, mind you, but wouldn't it be better if people actually had to get a clue before diving right in? You don't see people doing 540s on a half pipe the first time they put on a pair of rollerblades, or driving cross country the first time they put the keys in the ignition of a car. So here's the lowdown on what I think: while you may trade anonymity for required proficiency, it might be worth it.
  • "One of the best and most appealing aspects of the web is it's anonymity and ease of access."

    hmm. let me rephrase that...

    "Two of the best and most appealing aspects of the web are it's anonymity and ease of access."

    There, that's better. Imagine, my english sucks and here I am in germany trying to learn a second language.

  • For obtaining information?
    This is so insane I can't even imagine the flamefest that'll follow...

    It's like needing a license to buy books or newspapers. Utter nonsense.
  • This entire thing just smacks of a half-hearted attempt for W3C to get their hands on some of the money thats pouring through the web right now. Also, Cailliau really contradicts himself: he wants to track down racist websites and perverts, but at the same time, he wants things to be free of content governing rules? Make up your mind, buddy.

    It's arguable that licensing people to use the internet would probably increase the level of clue out there among all the Joe Sixpacks on AOL. But I really doubt that any sort of licensing or registration will help in combatting stuff like warez, kiddie porn, or whatever the media is whipping the public into a frenzy about. And I'm certain that advertising companies are not going to go out of their way to make sure that these 'licensed' users see less ads while surfing, or get less spam in their mailbox.

    Besides, with all the ways to be anonymous nowadays (remailers, Freedom [], etc.) I seriously doubt that this would be easy to implement, so that it covers every person, anywhere. If this was thought about a few years ago, maybe it wouldn't sound so farfetched. But right now, its a case of closing the barn door after the horse has ran off.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Micropayments"? Is this a way to charge users of the Internet? Who does the money go to? And why is a charge necessary? And he also talks about "regulating" the Internet by some international committee that would decide what could be presented on the web and where you could go. The reasons stated were to protect people from "child pornography" and "racism". But where does it stop? And how would you get an international group to agree on what was appropriate to display or visit on the Internet? Maybe I'll build myself a new Internet just in case the old one goes to shit...
  • WOW. i posted directly after you(and i didn't read your post first) and i had the exact same ideas in my post.... funky[tm]...hmmm[tm]....

    matisse:~$ cat .sig
  • Isn't that funny... My proxy won't let me get to it... Oh well. Sorry.

  • Why is a clue necessary before 'diving right in'
    as you say? There's no risk of harm to self, so
    your analogy to dangerous sports really doesn't
  • well yeah, but you might... talk to someone! how will echelon track you???? it may not be able to!!!! *gasp*

  • by Anonymous Coward
    for people like my friend.... i met this person online almost 5 years ago, we talk everyday,but i still dont know his first name. He is totally paranoid, i can offer him free books and stuff and he would never give me his address, if you had to have a license and everyone knew who you were then he would stop using computers.Im sure there are other paranoid people on the net like him..... as for me, if this happens and like you have to be certain age to get the license like a driver license, and it restricts access to sites.... since the net is my life, i'd prolly commit suicide, but that's just me
  • Cailliau is in his 50's, and appears to be trying to get some glory for his (admittedly excellent) past accomplishments by being controversial.

    But please. Who the hell would administer something like this? More importantly, who would 'police' it?

    Sounds like a bunch of hot air to me.

  • by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Sunday November 28, 1999 @08:26AM (#1499622) Homepage Journal
    Licensing surfers would change the internet from a sort of cafe, where ideas are exchanged freely into a kind of mega-mall, where faceless corporations separate you from your money in exchange for junk that you don't really need.

    Maybe BBSes will make a comeback after all.

  • I don't, "like 'em." I think their gauche and ugly.
  • > Just my two centimes.

    French or Swiss????
    -- ----------------------------------------------
    Vive le logiciel... Libre!!!

  • I'm interested in who actually owns it, the millions who have personally used it for years now and are the driving force behind it, or the origonal creators of it? Also Ive been thinking, do the creators and owners of certain services have the right to say "I dont want people to have to use those licences on my service"? Also, is there a patent on the internet?
  • The governments of Australia and the UK, for starters. What better way to enforce their draconian anti-privacy/anti-Internet laws than to have everyone given a number? Heck, there's quite a few politicians here in the US (Sen. Feinstein) who'd just love to see this come about.
  • Why? The reason is the simple theories of of forces and counter-forces. If the W3 ever would have a system that worked as a universial moderator and access granter to the 'net, the workaround (and there's alway workarounds!) would be known to all people with a fair knowledge of the basic functions of the 'net within days, of even hours. The W3 would jest be spending their time smashing their heads in a wall, and they know that.
  • by jacobm ( 68967 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @08:31AM (#1499629) Homepage
    I can see both sides of this issue. On the one hand, as society starts having more and more of its business online, it will be more and more important for people who commit online crimes to be held accountable- in real life, "I just shot him to demonstrate what poor security against bullets he had!" doesn't hold up in many courts. Which is not to say that I think pranks like defacing a web site are as serious as murder, of course, but what about the guy who discovers an exploit for those new digital iToasters that will let him burn people's houses down, and uses it? Or who subtly hacks into an e-commerce site so that when you submit your credit card number, it records it in a plaintext file on the server before passing it along so he can come back and read it at his convenience?

    From that standpoint, we want to make it as hard to be truly anonymous as possible, so that we can catch people who are doing things that we ought to punish. On the other hand, anonymity on a more casual level is very important. I am doing a sociology study on homosexuality and the internet, for example, and am finding that it's pretty common for people who are just discovering that they are gay to turn to the anonymity of the Internet to get information because they don't want people to know that they're gay. Destroying their anonymity would be very bad for them, perhaps even physically dangerous. And of course there are the more common reasons: I certainly don't want people knowing about my surfing habit just because it's none of their business, dammit, and I *certainly* don't want to start getting e-mails about sites that I'll just *love* considering the sites that I visit now...

    I'm not sure how to reconcile those two competing interests. Does anyone else have any ideas?
  • It is the standard, 'what's good for me is not for you - you unwashed masses'. Should have expected this a couple of years ago. As soon as anything slips out of control of the elitist (in their mind)they must design a new control method. Keeps the average person off balance. And an off balance person is too busy to notice the other, more dangerous, attacks on freedoms.

    Everyone in the USofA should get a .US name. That is enough accountability for anyone. Ooops, what a tracking method. -d

  • Quite how this man can equate driving a car with surfing is beyond me. When I am driving a have in my control about a ton of steel that could be travelling at up to 50 metres per second, we all know that plenty of people die in car accidents. When I am surfing I access some documents and view them, I am unaware of any fatalities being due to this kind of behaviour. Aside from the obvious ridiculousness of this analougy (being dumb hasn't stopped people before)I'd like to ask how this would be executed anywhay 1. One of the great things about the net is the possibility of annoynimity, ok it can be abused by racists and so on, but this facility is also available to abused children, assaulted women, oppressed minorities as well. Would they be any way of avoiding identification for some people? no? thought not. 2. Say I get myself an internet license, although god knows what would constitute the test for safe surfing- its not as if I can damage any property or person, and I go to work at a connected company. Do I use my own license, or do they have their own which I use whilst at work? If I don't have a license for what ever reason would that mean I could be precluded from working in such an establishment? Just my £0.02
  • That's a pretty funny comment. I've had similar thoughts in the early stages of the development of my political philosophy, but there's one fact which got in the way... The government owns the roads. You can drive an unregistered vehicle without a license on your own property as much as you like. When you take it out on the streets, you're on government property.

  • I'd be willing to put up with spam if that meant retaining my rights. Heck! I am putting up with spam right now... This is NOT the way to solve the problem.
  • you missed two points there:

    anyone smart enough to crack a website(script kiddies excluded maybe) should also be smart enough to mask their identity.

    and that you can't walk into a book store and pay with cash and then scream "M4Y L1NK N4K3D 4N0 P3TR1F13D D00D" while keeping your anonimity.

    matisse:~$ cat .sig
  • The phrase 'information super-highway' is a means of descriping a quick way of accessing a plethora of information available to the public. It was not meant to be taken in the literal sence, "..all Internet users should be licensed so surfers on the information highway are as accountable as drivers on the road." How is 'surfing the web' remotely similar to driving? I don't think my life would suddenly become in danger if I were to 'recklessly surf'. Or what if I had my liscence revoked because I had too many points? Maybe I'd just have to obey surfing speeds.

  • "We've had micropayments in the French Minitel system for 15 years and it is shown to work extremely well," he added.

    Arrrgh, it may have worked well but when you see you phone bill you are horrified.

    You Americans are lucky not to have a metered phone bill for the Internet. In Europe we generally have a metered one (you pay per minute, the rate per minute depending if it is a peak time or not).

    For the Minitel you had special numbers that were more expensive, a part of the price going to the owner of the Minitel server, so when you see an advertisement saying that you can have game X gratuitously by going to 36 17 jeux (games) you go there, they make you wait between the screens so the phone bill goes up and you end up paying more than in a normal store (and you must wait for the game to be delivered). The most useful use for the minitel was teleshopping and the annuaire, the inscriptions in school was cool too.

    If they really want to do a micropayment then it should be possible to choose between advertisement or micropayment (I personally don't care about ads, just ignore them most of the time) and it should be per page, not per minute (which is VERY different from the minitel).

    Otherwise if they want to suppress the anonymity on the Web then maybe it is time to recreate something else and incorporate the last 10 years of experience.
  • I'm usually not anonymous in Real Life, so why should I demand to be it on the Internet?

    Sure, I can post snail mail anonymously (well, almost, they'll always be able to track me to the place where it was really posted - and then try to extract fingerprints) and I can buy stuff in stores with cash etc to retain my anonomity, however, most of the time that won't work. It's possible to track someone 99% of the time living our daily lifes, and I don't really see an uproar against that. Come on - I am a responsible adult and I accept responsibility for my actions.

    I do that on the web too. I don't hack a website more than I deface a store's facade - and if the store has a camera that can find out who does, why shouldn't the same ability exist on the net?

    My car has a license plate - everyone knows who's car goes down the road. When I surf, my packets have an IP that belongs to me. It should be just as illegal to spoof that IP as it should be to use false plates ...

    I think you get the picture. While I don't like to have _everything_ I do stored somewhere, I don't expect to have a right to anonymousity on the Internet that I don't have anywhere else.

    (I've never made a single post as AC on /. either ...)

  • Umm... is this supposed to be a joke ... ?

    Please say yes.
  • You don't need a license to walk down the street, so why should you need a license to surf the web? I could see that a company might need to obtain a license to get a domain name, but not surfing the web.
  • no, there's no risk of "harm to self," but there are such persons out there who actively waste the time of myself and other technicians because they "can't get to a website" or "can't connect to whatever." Having someone pass a test of basic knowledge and understanding would be beneficial to the industry as a whole. My job is not to coach these people in the ways of clicking on buttons and typing in website names - it's to fix a problem if one occurs. Having people being able to recognize when there actually IS a problem would be very helpful. It's alot better than having some user call up and say "The Internet is broken, can you send me a new one?"
  • Speaking of pointless messages...Besides, it wasn't pointless, i was serious...
  • by el_chicano ( 36361 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @08:39AM (#1499647) Homepage Journal
    But the system is open, neutral and non-proprietary, and must remain so, according to Cailliau. ``One has to be extremely careful what it is that one regulates. We should not regulate the content but the behavior of people.

    Let see... Humans have tried to change the behavior of others for years -- they're called laws. Even though humans have had laws against prostitution for thousands of years, you can still find prostitutes (if you know where to look :-> ). The US has had laws against the importation of drugs like cannibis for years, but all that those laws resulted in was 1) higher quality and 2) better availability of ganja!

    What I don't understand is how they intend to separate content from behavior. If I smoked weed regularly (my behavior) I would probably want to put up some pro-legalization webpages (my content). If my webpages advocated mass consumpution of marijuana, could the powers that be still ban my website by saying that they are targeting my behavior, not my content?
  • It's really sad to see pioneers think they've got all the answers. Should we have stopped OS development because MULTICS was so good, or did UNIX turn out to have any redeeming qualities?

    Just because you come up with one idea that rocks doesn't mean you shouldn't be ignored when you start babbling. I think it's high time to start ignoring these fools at CERN.

    Besides, are you willing to give up your privacy for child porn and terrorists? That child porn exists is not a reason to license every camera purchase. That terrorists might use a pager to kill you is not a reason to ban pagers.

  • The analogy between the Internet and our roads is so sad that I am perfectly ready to question the intelligence of this man: regardless of his merits in the past. I'm completely dumbfounded by how anybody can advocate this, and in the name of openness and freedom to boot.

    There are reasons why our society imposes regulations on our freedoms, namely when excersising them physically endangers our fellow citizens. Roads and drivers licenses are a great example of this: we are regulated not for our own safety, but for the safety of other people on the road. If you speeding causes you to crash into a brick wall and die your more than welcome to to it as far as I care, but not so if its my car you are crashing into...

    The situation on the Web, however, is the exact opposite. On the web, I can have the freedom to be just about as lame as I want, and it is not going to hurt anyone. I can be annoying, for sure, but since when are we ready to step all over our freedoms to keep people from being annoying (don't answer: I know the sad truth). If anything, the drivers license analogy is the exact reason to keep the web free of all articifial regulation: we do not need to keep the web safe.

    We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way.
  • If I understand the "micropayments" concept, it's a way to whack you with a small charge for every page view. A nickel here for a sports page, a dime there for a web search. A really braindead idea, in my opinion, a relic from the old days.

    Some of these corporations just haven't figured out that the Internet is The Great Commoditizer--information has become like network sitcoms, no one's going to pay for the privilege of watching Everybody Loves Raymond ('cept me) but they'll tolerate a few bad TV commercials as long as they have a mute button on their flipper.

  • So this is it. The w3c has finally given up being impartial and objective. They have finally fallen to the pressure of 'money-for-the-big-corps'. As far as I know, all their previous activity has been good, writing good standards and growling at people who write browsers that don't comply (do any?).

    This is the first time I've seen quotes from the W3C that are so saturated with greed. 'Micropayments'? Are they crazy? As far as I'm concerned, one of the great strenghts of the web is that it doesn't cost anything to look twice, and you run no risk of being charged when you follow a link you have less that 100% trust in.

    The other issue with the 'license' is of course privacy. Another great strength of the web is that you can go look at information you would never dream of looking at if others could see you. As for the argument 'protecting viewers' - I don't see how any (adult) needs protection from access to any information, as long as you are free to turn it off! Neither child porn nor nuklear bomb plans are going to do damage to my brain, especially if I have a chance to leave real quick. The analogy to driving is of course ridiculous, as many posters have already said.

    The remaining question in my mind is: How do we stop this? Would ISP's, content providers (== you and me), and browser vendors implement this? (If it is even technically possible... crypto schemes at this grand scale tend to be cronically br0ken... DVD anyone?)

  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @08:54AM (#1499669) Homepage Journal

    It sounds like he's trying to assure some level of accountability with the net to combat certain evils like spam, but he's using the wrong analogy. Surfing the Internet is not like driving a car.

    A better analogy would be visiting a library. You make a request for some information (either by looking it up in a card catalog, or asking the reference librarian), and you receive it. We would never suggest that a librarian demand ID before allowing access to the book racks. However, we might expect them to politely stop the six-year-old from wandering into the art section where are kept the books of human figure photography. It's easy, after all, for a human to spot a six-year-old.

    I think what worries Cailliau is the fact that the medium of information exchange is now entirely mechanized; that there's no longer a human gatekeeper to make sure that neither the six-year-old nor the neighborhood Fundamentalist doesn't accidentally wander off with Mapplethorpe.

    Unfortunately, such wisdom requires adult human intelligence and life experience, which we aren't about to get in machines for some time. And the alternative suggested by Cailliau of checking IDs is unworkable and ethically repugnant.

    For the time being, it seems we must rely on the honesty and honor of humans to not foul the well water. Even given Talin's Third Law ("Politeness doesn't scale."), this approach has worked remarkably well on the Internet so far. As long as we keep developing honesty and honor in our children, I believe we should be, for the most part, just fine.


  • Require me to have a licence? I'll forge mine. Or better yet, I'll use yours. The underground will create a new scene, one devoted to net-identity creation/trading/distribution... the point here is that anonymity is what makes the internet such a beautiful thing, arguably the most important creation of this last thousand years. And it will never die. So while I choose to use my /. acct, I can still post as an Anonymous Coward if i so choose.

    (Branching over into the other /. story for a bridging story)

    When i was active in the BBS community many a night ago, my favorite board decided that everyone needed to fill out a information form and turn it in to the sysop so that he could confirm our identities on posts in the message forums... a few phone calls later, a few of us decided to create an individual with the nickname of "Anonymous" and turn in a stat sheet for him. The password was known to almost all of the regulars, and we used it to post when we wanted anonymity.

    For 90% of the internet, the illusion of privacy and anonymity is enough. They don't need more than a safety blanket, even if it is an illusion. But for the other 10% of us in the know, and concerned about our internet rights, this idea of "name tags" is utterly absurd.


    {[- I'm the guy who lost his voice screaming his demo over Caldera at Comdex. -]}

  • This is an interesting observation... is there perhaps a way to keep track of people, which, given enough determination and resolution, you can obtain the data about them, but OTOH is "anonymous enough" that that info will not be readily available? Then we would still have practical anonymity, but if some script kiddie gets smart and tries to deface some websites, or hack into a mission-critical system, etc., there would be a way of tracking him down.

    I, for one, would hate it if I need to get a license to surf, if I have the feeling that somebody is monitoring all the traffic that goes on between my computer and whatever site I go to. OTOH if somebody uses the Net to commit crimes, it must not be impossible to track them down. I guess what I'm saying is that, there should be a "sufficient barrier" to access information about someone, so that regular people can't easily and casually get to it; but if that someone start committing crimes on the Net, there should be a way, given enough effort to "surpass" that "barrier", to get to information that would help incriminate him.

  • by Raereth ( 42904 ) <> on Sunday November 28, 1999 @09:19AM (#1499695)
    I really don't think eliminating anonymity is the answer. In Real Life(tm) for example, in order to prevent crime, shops have cameras, security guards, and so on - basically the equivalents of various security tools available for servers on the Internet, such as firewalls, proxy servers, and so on.

    Licensing surfers seems, IMHO, tantamount to forcing everyone to have little credit card-like things with their social security number (or whatever). Card readers would be posted on the door of every house, shop, mall, etc. and in order to enter a building, you'd need to insert your card. That way, there would be records of where everyone was and when, so if something got stolen, they (the government, police, storeowner, or whomever) would theoretically know who it was; and, incidentally, there would be reams of information on every single person in the country who ever left their home, detailing where they went and when. So law enforcement would have a very powerful new tool to combat crime, and marketers would be able to target the right people for their bulk mailings - everybody wins! ...right?

    As I think most people can tell, a system like that would never, ever, ever be brought into existence, at least in a "free" country - it would be held as a massive violation of rights. So why on Earth should such a system exist on the Internet? It's hardly the only way to combat crime.

    In the article, the Internet is compared to a highway, where all drivers are licensed, and so on. I have to disagree with this; I think an analogy of people in a massive city might be a little more appropriate, although even that is flawed. But perhaps one of the most glaring flaws in the drivers-on-the-road analogy is the potential for damage: someone in a car can easily kill themselves or others through a lack of skill in handling a car - either by hitting another car, or running into a tree, or whatever. That is why drivers and cars are licensed - if someone tries to drive a car without adequate training, then nine times out of ten they'll get into some sort of accident, and quite possibly seriously hurt. Now, if you put someone in front of a computer with no prior training, they'll just get confused, nothing more. No one gets hurt or killed. On the Internet, the people with potential to cause damage are the ones who know what they're doing (or, in some cases, script kiddies who just think they know what they're doing - but I don't think most of them are capable of serious damage). And I think that the truly dangerous people will figure out how to get around the licensing anyway.

    And of course, there's the problem of who you get to oversee the licensing. A government wouldn't really work, since the Internet has no geographical boundaries; W3C wouldn't be able to do it, since IIRC no one is actually *forced* to listen to them. In fact, I wouldn't be amazingly surprised if an attempt at licensing surfers like this just resulted in fracturing the Internet into parts that require licenses, and parts that don't. I personally think that part of the beauty (for lack of a better word) of the Internet is the fact that it's pseudo-anonymous, and unregulated. There isn't really anyone with the power to say what you can or can't do. Naturally, this does get abused, but that hasn't ruined the Internet. It's a place where anyone can say what they want, and have an equal opportunity to be heard, without having to be afraid of anyone coming after them for it; that's something that should always be protected. A licensing and identification scheme would be a large step towards destroying that.
  • by MrLizard ( 95131 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @09:23AM (#1499699)
    In the real world, you do not need to present identification before being able to commit violent crimes. That is, take your 'iToaster' example. Mapping it to the real world -- I can buy a gallon of gasoline and a book of matches without presenting ID. I can make this purchase in California and burn down a house in Texas, making it quite hard for the police to find the stoned store clerk who might dimly remember selling me the supplies. Is our solution to record all transactions? No.

    To a very real extent, crime is a tax we all pay on freedom. There are societies with very little crime -- these are invariably societies no one sane would want to live in, where the most common crime is trying to escape.

    We manage to maintain an acceptable (hell, plunging rapidly!) rate of crime in the 'real world' without mandatory identification and tracking of all citizen-units. If anything, hunting down crooks in cyberspace, anonymity or no, is generally easier because it's much easier to leave footprints, and because, let's face it, most hackers aren't the cunning criminal geniuses you see in movies. Most of them are script kiddies who have learned one or two k00l trix, and use them incessantly. Modus operandi is the first step to capture.

    What we need is not new laws. What we need is for those charged with enforcing the existing laws to get off their doughnut-fattened butts and haul their corpulant forms into classes where they can learn about the new technology they need to master.

  • This whole idea of "licenses" is kinda funny. Anonymity has been one of the key roles in the spread of the internet for many a normal luser; used as a way to "get away from the real world" and chat with other people or feed their hardcore porn habits under the dark cloak of bits and bytes spewing from their internet connection.

    Sure, there are people who will ruin it for everyone by doing some seriously dumb stuff because they got bored, want to make a statement, wanted to get noticed, or whatever other reason. But giving out a "license" isn't really going to help. They can be easily stolen, cracked, modified, god knows what else. Learn from Micro$oft: Licensing dosen't work. For every dollar of profit they make, they lose probably 10-30 cents from pirating because many people out there don't want to pay for their overpriced, oozing-with-legal-jargon-that-most-average-people- don't-understand licenses that are required to _legally_ use the software.
  • As long as we can all create our own little places along the roadside (i.e. as long as they don't liscense THAT) then nothing else will really matter. There will *always* be places for people like "you", and if there aren't you can create them.
  • First let me note. Child Pornography, Racism and others things like terrorism and such stuff can be traced up to a certain measure. Sometimes you can trace out even the creator up to his home address, with whom he/she sleeps, where he works and what his phone. However it is always harder to trace him on his financial doings. Moreover it is much harder to trace out clear evidences of criminal behaviour even if it seems that you know "everything" about him.

    Licensing users does not help in anything to solve this situation. It will be a few bucks more in the hands of beaurocrats. Just think. If there are guys working so openly why they should bother by paying a few more bucks for a very "foggy" license?

    Foggy? Exactly. Internet deals with information. From A to Z, Alpha to Omega, A to Ya. If we count all the types and forms of information we get some sort of informational Babylon. Now how will you license this? "You have the right to express your ideas?" Or worse "You have the right to receive information" ? A license is supposed to regulate a type of activity to avoid excesses. I may agree that there are certain types of activities that should be licensed. However I never heard that we could receive licenses to obtain a type of service.

    Frankly. Does anyone pays a license to take a ride? Does anyone has to pay a license to read a newspaper? Does your friend have to check if you have a license beofre he borrows you his book? Do you have to get a license to hear your presidential candidate? Do you need to have a license to buy a Coke?

    Let us suppose that we get a chance to "classify" the licensing system. And let us suppose that they avoid this dangerous "right to read" and leave the "right to publish". Now if we force everyone to have a "right to publish" then we are attempting against something that the constitutions of all democratic countries set as a fundamental right: the right of free expression.

    This is not just bla-bla-bla. Imagine the situation when a country, considering that there is dangerous information roaming on the Internet, immediately invalidates the licenses of his citizens. A thing very much like "The Matrix has you...".

    We may think on other things. How Hackers play with a bad secured license. How we get hostages of a tax game much like the hideous "Microsoft tax". How people can be easily traced by the Super-Echelon license tracing system...

    However there is one thing that can be the most flagrant. You walk on Internet. As in any street, the Internet has its dangers. You can harm or get harmed. But has anyone asked you a license to walk?
  • According to that argument, there are never rights. Why?

    Because who's assigning the privileges and rights? The only logical conclusion is rule by complete force; since, say, somebody could stab you with a knife and take your wallet, it's perfectly fine to do so: he's asserting power, and that's the source of "rights".

    Go read about natural law.
  • I think I might not have made myself entirely clear: the question I was posing was a bit broader than the scope of the article it was posted under- I was really asking whether anonymity is a good thing or not in the abstract, not necessarily whether the licensing scheme or any other particular implementation was good.

    You bring up good points about why licensing isn't the best way to provide security or hold people responsible. However, what I'm really more concerned about is this: what if we could make any action completely anonymous on the Internet? That's what a lot of Slashdotters seem to want, but would it be a good thing? Conversely, would it be a good thing to make everything easily traceable by people who wanted to? What technological promises about anonymity do we want to make, and what will the consequences of those promises be?

    Interesting stuff...
  • by Zoltar ( 24850 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @09:57AM (#1499724)
    I guess I've just about heard it all now. Somewhere, somehow, somebody is going to figure out how to completely destroy the things that have made the internet great. We will be telling our grandkids about the good old days when the net was like the wild west. Yep... if it's not the politicians or the save-the-whales crowd, it'll be someone. It's just a matter of time.

    I say we just fork the whole thing off right now. How hard could it be to do that. All we need are phone lines... maybe some new protocols.. it could be done. We could call it "The Undernet" The slashdot community has the knowledge and resources to get it started too.
  • Being online is like being in the real world. When I go into a brick and mortar store, nobody has a profile on me the minute I walk in there. I'm basically anonymous until I whip out my credit card or a check. It should be the same in cyberspace. There are public places we should always be able to go, either online or in the real world, where we don't need to show some goddammed ID card. It reminds me of the WWII movies. "Where are ze papers!!!! Hmmmm?????"

    Why is it so hard to understand that just because we have a new medium for communication does not mean we need to whip out an ID (or an ID card), to be used ultimately by some marketing jack-ass. I hate marketing anyway... so much existential inauthenticity...

    It's hard to believe one of the inventors of the web could be so stupid. Anonymity is simply one of our "check and balance" systems that we have in this country. Once systems are in place for web licensing, we lose more of our freedoms.

    Greed is the driving force in all of this. Tracking illegal child pornography and avoiding offensive sites is simply an excuse. And pay money for no-ad sites? Sheesh! Get junkbuster ( instead.

  • How about establishing a common curiculuum that ISPs should present to their customers, and -- to a degree -- holding the ISPs accountable?

    There are many things a provider could do beyond simply saying, "Here's a phone number. Click through these buttons, and you'll be on the Internet"; there's so much more, like explaining a bit about USENET culture (or at least pointing them towards news.announce.newusers); describing various do's-and-don'ts; and so forth. And make it expressly stated in the terms of service that failure to abide is grounds for (in the most egregious cases) termination of service.

    Providers that failed to discourage this behavior could gradually be filtered out by other service (SMTP, NNTP...) providers...
  • Unfortunately, such wisdom requires adult human intelligence and life experience, which we aren't about to get in machines for some time. And the alternative suggested by Cailliau of checking IDs is unworkable and ethically repugnant.

    For the time being, it seems we must rely on the honesty and honor of humans to not foul the well water. Even given Talin's Third Law ("Politeness doesn't scale."), this approach has worked remarkably well on the Internet so far. As long as we keep developing honesty and honor in our children, I believe we should be, for the most part, just fine.

    I completely disagree (if anyone cares). Checking IDs is not "ethically repugnant". It works everyday for a variety of purposes (driving, credit card & check verification, getting beer .. at least in the states, and any other action where knowing who someone is is important). Anonymity and the Internet worked fine as long as the Internet was only being used by specialized people (educators and the military) for the use it was intended for (passing around simple information), but now it's a completely different beast and to harken back to the days of ole when everyone on the 'Net was anonymous and complete freedom meant doing and saying whatever you wanted is like harkening back to the days when we all made our own candy and didn't have to worry about some sicko sticking razor blades or cyanide in it. Human beings aren't honest, and we can't make them honest, and I personally don't want them to be honest (wouldn't be fun), but I do want people to be accountable and right now they aren't. Taking your library analogy, we need some way to look at someone and say that they are a six-year-old kid and we don't have that right now. Accountability means knowing that kid is six years old and being able to have a human or a machine say, "I'm sorry, but you can't go in there." It also means saying, "You're name is John Doe and you've just hacked into the largest savings institution in the world. Police are coming to get you now." rather than saying, "I have no clue who you are and I'm going to have the police, many of whom don't even use computers to go and find you, whomever you are. Seriously. Honest. Pissing in your shoes yet?"

    The driving analogy is actually quite a lot better than your library analogy. When you're out on the roadway, you are pretty anonymous, especially if you have tinted windows. No one really knows who you are, but people do have the ability to figure out who you are in the event that they need you. Yes, businesses will have information about you, but it'll be licensing information, just like my insurance company knows my driving record, my vehicle make and color, and my hair color. Big deal.

    I'm not an anonymous person and I don't want to be. I also don't want other anonymous people because they can do things without being held accountable for them. People on the Internet need to grow up and realize that the Internet isn't an infant anymore. It's evolved into a real-world machine and in the real-world, people aren't anonymous.
  • Give everyone an unforgable "license" to identify them on every Web site they hit, and you'll immediately drive a lot of people to proxies that hide the licenses.
  • think about it so 'someone' requires that all web accesses will be by people with 'drivers licenses'. It could happen in 3 places:
    • at the browser ... but I'm gonna compile up my own browser and 'drive without a license'
    • at the ISP .... hell I'll start my own ISP, or we'll start using other protocols for access to web pages
    • at the server (probably more likely) servers will only serve pages to people with 'drivers licenses' - not my server buddy - when an e-commerce site starts only accepting people with 'licenses' people will go elsewhere .... it will be bad for business
    In our international cross-national web no one country's going to be able to censor the whole web ... and the sites that you want to controll access to (porn or gambling - or in the case of totalitarian countries like China political sites) are going to move off-shore - probably hoping from data-haven to data-haven - 'till we start moving servers into geostationary orbits :-)
  • Just because you have an licence on the web dosn't mean that your history would be made public in any way.

    Unless somebody thought they could make a buck out of doing so. In that case, watch out.


  • <sarcasm&gt

    As a requirement of getting an account on an ISP, you should have to pass a written test! Yeah! Require users to explain the difference between class A, B and C IP addresses and require them to explain what subnetting is. Those two questions alone would get rid of about 98% of the lusers on AOL! Then force them to explain why posting "First Post" messages on slashdot and spamming are lame. That'll get rid of, well, the first post posters on slashdot and the spammers! Then... Ah hell, why don't we just all get off the net and give it back to the research people?


    On the opposite side of the coin, some people are working on making web stuff MORE anonymous. See Adam's Page [] for an assortment of cryptographic projects. Another idea for true anonymous web hosting is at /index.html. I've also thought that it'd be fairly easy to make Mozilla read a .tar.gz or a .zip file as a web tree, allowing people to post web pages anonymously on netnews, but that would not allow for long term storage of pages, wheras these other projects would.

  • by abulafia ( 7826 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @10:50AM (#1499762)
    I'm not an anonymous person and I don't want to be. I also don't want other anonymous people because they can do things without being held accountable for them. People on the Internet need to grow up and realize that the Internet isn't an infant anymore. It's evolved into a real-world machine and in the real-world, people aren't anonymous. You don't always get what you want, nor even what you ask for.

    Put analogies aside for a minute, and stop and think for a minute what it would mean if an unforgable 1-1 link to your True Name were attached to every packet you sent. Your every action would be analyzed (Don't buy the "just because the data is there doesn't mean it would be used" story - it has value, so someone will mine it) and used to build a model of how you behave on line. Increasingly, everything is becoming more online. In ten years, this will be a detailed map of practically everything you do, including physically where you were at what time (cell phones), with whom you converse, what you buy.

    What is really needed is nearly the opposite - strong anonymous identites with selective, voluntary disclosure. There's no inherent need for a porno site to get your credit card number just to verify you're of age (although that's a very convenient excuse to do so, for a variety of reasons). A certificate that states you're 27 years old with nothing else identifiable could get you to thier gallery or whatever. If you wanted the "premium services", you'd use micropayments, or perhaps create a contract with a different certificate used to create a three way relationship between the site operator, your credit institution and you. The site never has any reason to know who you are.

    For different sites (Like Ingram, as someone exampled) where there is a compelling reason to know who you are, you can choose to disclose who you are.

    This might sound very science fiction like, but it is just how the real world tries (and often fails) to operate. You buy booze and present your driver's license. The cashier isn't writing down your name or DL number; just checking the DOB. If they did start writing it down, I believe you'd be understandably pretty creeped out. Why should web site operators get that data (in an automated fashion ripe for data mining)?

    I'm truly afraid we're headed to a Brave New World simply because people don't realize what they're asking for.

  • This guy isn't related to the W3C at all, and he most certainly isn't speaking for them.

    The W3C makes standards, they don't create organizations or rules mandating licensing. The "author" of this article mentioned W3C only in that the W3C has created in the past a mechanism for digital certificates and authenticating users over the web. The most obvious use for this would be for securely authenticating yourself with a private Intranet or bank. I guess he was working under the assumption that this could be expanded to include just about any Internet web site, which I suppose is possible.

    In the article the guy mentions the W3C is looking at a micropayment system. Remember, they're just doing *standards* here. If there exists a mechanism to pay $0.10/month to eliminate banner ads, that would be desirable to some people, and the W3C's ability to standardize this process isn't just desirable, it's NECESSARY if we ever hope to keep things like this interoperable.

    The World Wide Web Consortium is a very OPEN and HONEST standards body. They are not one of these stupid YRO evil corporations that are bashed on a daily basis. They solicit public opinions, responses, and generally make every effort to keep their standards in the best interests of the *Internet*, not evil, money-hungry, privacy invading corporations as you people seem to suspect.
  • When I go into a brick and mortar store [...] I'm basically anonymous until I whip out my credit card or a check.
    Nice example. When Miniscribe was in bankruptcy and was shipping bricks (literally) rather than disk drives in order to fraudulently inflate the numbers that they reported to their creditors, the way the responsible company executives were eventually caught and brought to justice was that they found the credit card purchase records for the bricks!

    Anyhow, you (and others) have made a good case for not having this stupid proposed "web surfing license".

    But we need to go one step further. Just as you can in meatspace buy bricks for cash rather than by credit card, and thus preserve your anonymity, we need to create new methods of increasing the degree of anonymity possible in cyberspace, not to decrease it.

  • by Waldo ( 4398 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @11:04AM (#1499768)
    The colors look great in lynx.
  • Accountability means knowing that kid is six years old and being able to have a human or a machine say, "I'm sorry, but you can't go in there."

    Unfortunately, I'm going to have to disagree. Accountability is saying, "Who brought their six year old in here without keeping their eye on them?" Publicly enforced morality is what you are talking about.

    Aside from that, I'd like to know why the public safety is such an issue here. For all the money we spend trying to put an end to terrorism and such. . . where was it to begin with? If your bank got cracked, you deserved it. The government's job is not to make up for people being morons. That and the majority of crackers are more interested in the crack itself than in exploiting it, and would notify the bank of the security issue.

    Human beings aren't honest, and we can't make them honest

    If humans aren't honest, how can we trust any of them to make decisions for us regarding what content we can or cannot see? How do you explain the Free Software Movement, if people aren't basically honest and interested in helping?

    I'm not an anonymous person and I don't want to be. I also don't want other anonymous people because they can do things without being held accountable for them. People on the Internet need to grow up and realize that the Internet isn't an infant anymore. It's evolved into a real-world machine and in the real-world, people aren't anonymous.

    In the real world, information is anonymous. Therefore information access should also be anonymous. It seems silly to me that everyone thinks they can barge into the Internet and start enforcing their laws there. The fact of the matter is that if we needed rules and regulations, we would already have had them. Doesn't anyone realize that the people who are trying to enforce laws online are the same people who are trying to enforce laws in the "real world"? Could it maybe be because they don't want their power to be snatched away, into the hands of the "non-ruling class"?

    It is a foregone conclusion to governmental types like you that your way of thinking is the only way. Perhaps it's time for the real world to grow up and realize that people and information are meant to be free, and that any time we put anyone else in charge of what one can or cannot see or say, that freedom has been compromised.

  • Mao's quote (translated, of course. By whom? Dunno.) was "Power comes from the barrel of a gun". In his case, it did.

    My main claim is that unless there's rights that are *natural* and assumed to belong to everybody, then there really aren't *any* rights at all, except what one can tear from the claws of others -- and that's not really a "right" in that sense.

    But I digress.
  • The privacy violations implicit in micropayment systems are certainly bad. However, I am forced to admit that it would be nice if everyone on the Net adhered to some basic etiquette, which could be enforced.

    A "Net licensing" scheme wouldn't have to necessarily involve privacy violations, however. Granted, stripping identifying festures from a license (reducing it, in essence, to a certificate stating that someone has completed an etiquette course) would reduce the effectiveness of the license and eliminate the accountability issue.

    It all comes down to trade-offs, I suppose. If you want security, you have to sacrifice some privacy (simply because all known methods of security are traceable to at least some degree; the contents may be hidden but the participants are not). It comes down to where you're willing to draw the line. Personally, I don't like the idea of an identifying Net license. I can't ignore the potential benefits of such a system, though. I'm just not willing to pay the price for those benefits.
  • No. Programmers are *never* directly responsible for patients lives, or in any other similar situation.

    I'm sure many bad products have gone out where the critical routine was looked at only by the author, but that's not that programmer's fault, that's the fault of the company who didn't have at least one other person audit the code and test it.

    (I think that having programmers test the program they have source for is as valuable as having end-user level testing. Programmers can try to exploit buffer overflows, improper type checking on input, and many other things that wouldn't occur to an end-user. But, similarly, end users should be used to test the bulk of the program, looking for things the programmers wouldn't think to check for.)

    The greatest engineering disasters of our time haven't come from incompotent engineers, or murderous one, they've come from perfectly compotent engineers who simply drew a bolt incorrectly, or left out a safety device on one of fifteen pages, intending to draw it in later.

    Those aren't the actions of people needing to be regulated, those are the actions of people who simply need a bit of peer review.

    And a company that doesn't give it to them should be liable. But not the engineer or programmer themselves.
  • I'm surprised no-one has posted John Dvorak's classic humor column on this topic (PC Computing, April 1994, page 88).


    The moniker--Information Highway--itself seems to be responsible for SB #040194. Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, it's designed to prohibit anyone from using a public computer network (Information Highway) while the computer user is intoxicated. I know how silly this sounds, but Congress apparently thinks that being drunk on a highway is bad no matter what kind of highway it is. The bill is expected to pass this month.

    There already are rampant arguments as to how this proposed law can possibly be enforced. The FBI hopes to use it as an excuse to do routine wiretaps on any computer if there is any evidence that the owner "uses or abuses alcohol and has access to a modem." Note how it slips in the word 'uses'. This means if you've been seen drinking one lone beer, you can have your line tapped.

    Full version at infohighway []

  • The security model of the current system not only accounts for the fact that a computer system can always be broken into, but it relies on it. If a "licensing" system is put into place now, how long will it take before someone figures out how to completely take control of someone's identity.

    I think the internet was not designed on the scale of "a way of life", it's simply a tool. When the time comes that the internet (or something like it) is woven into the fabric and or dictates more crucial aspects of our life, there should be some kind of licensing system so that people can be help accountable for damage. (Say cracking into someones GPS and crashing thier car) Now it's not practical, reliable or nessecary to do so.
  • ``The Net is another world, potentially a dangerous place. You can harm people and you can get harmed, just like on the road,'' he said. ``If you go through an education process before getting an account then you're better prepared to go out there.''

    As a support tech, I'm all about the education process. Another post was a joke about insuring against colliding packets, but seriously... that's not a bad idea. With all the new users coming into the net these days who have never heard of things like Winzip (for their huge pictures and sound files that they just have to send to their aunt and their grandma and everyone else they can think of that has an email address) or Spam... there *is* a sort of bandwidth crisis, And it's only going to get worse...

    If folks were required to take a training class in basic Internet (covering "netiquette", spam, file compression, and a dozen other useful tidbits that most of us take for granted) The net would be a far better "place."

    I am, however, against the invasion of privacy that licensing represents. Then again, privacy is a bit of an illusion these days... (just watched Enemy of the State again last night) what are we really losing by license? Just how free do you think you are, people?

  • Yea, and so should other people who produce things, like painters and musicians. Think - if musicians had to be licnenced then we'd never have to listen to the spice girls!

    Programmers are artists. Remember that.

  • ... and which incidentally identify them uniquely and provide assorted marketing information. The end of anonymity, coming soon to a Web near you.

    Anyone who values their right to privacy should find this extremely disturbing. If you use common browsers such as IE or Netscape, every time you visit a site the browser gives the site a lot of information that you would probably prefer kept private, such as how many pages you've viewed, what link you clicked to get there, and so forth. Some web sites push cookies at you, don't provide information as to what the cookies are for, and use information obtained from the cookies to target marketing crap at you. And even though the cookie standard specifies that only the issuing site can retrieve the cookies they push, several organisations that use cookies for marketing are forging agreements to trade this cookie information freely with each other, thus indirectly violating the cookie standard, and ensuring that if you visit any of their sites, then your details will be traded to all of them without your knowledge or consent.

    My personal information is my private property. Some of the personal information I have, I have to pay for. I pay to have a telephone number. I pay to rent a flat. I pay to have a driver's licence. Why should corporations take my personal details from me for free, then sell it for a profit without my knowledge, without my consent and without giving me a hefty percentage of the take? I have given serious consideration to asking any company that requires my personal details to sign an EULA that severely restricts how they use this information, including a ban on selling or trading the information (except where they are required by law to do so, of course). I want to take back control of my personal details. I don't want my residential address to be a tradable commodity. I don't want my Net access habits to be sold to anyone. I value my privacy, and I will defend it.

    If anything needs to be licensed on the Net, it is not the users. It is those organisations that require your personal information for any reason, those organisations that use cookies as a means to target marketing information, those organisations whose sites are unusable unless you have Javascript AND cookies enabled, those organisations that require you to register or provide your e-mail address to access their site, and so forth. The terms of such license should require such sites to display prominently a privacy statement on their home page that informs users EXACTLY how their details will be used by the site, so users can opt out anonymously before accessing the site if they so wish.

    For more information, visit [].

  • the form of "auto-pay" systems. The toll-paying ones on cars are just the start.

    Have you seen the new IBM ad set in a grocery store with this suspicious-looking character stuffing everything in his pockets, walking out the door, and the security guard stopping him because he almost left his receipt (having automatically paid by walking through an arch)?

    Funny though, they didn't show the mark of the beast on his hand...

    Given that law-enforcement agencies seem to always demand access to all databases which might contain useful information for hunting down criminals, and the way companies love to sell personal information to marketing agencies, I somehow suspect the information won't be kept private.

    This will go the way it always does: first it's a novelty, then it's a convenience, then it's the standard and the alternatives are actively discouraged, then everybody thinks you're a paranoid nutcase if you don't go along, finally no alternative is available.

    I think the Otherland series covered the future of the internet fairly nicely (though the VR interface was a little overemphasized): a split system of "normal" commercial activity where everything costs, nobody is anonymous, and the authorities can monitor everything fairly easily; and then the Treehouse: good ol' fashion wild west internet, semi-parasitical on the commercial web, basically illegal and you need connections (no pun intended) to get online.
  • One difference with using identification to buy beer for instance, is that you can hold your fingers over everything on the ID except the picture and the birthdate.

    I do this as a general practice. Ditto when someone wants to see another piece of ID and my SIN (SSN) card is all I have. I show them my name on it, but cover the number.

    But, the whole idea of needing a license to use the internet seems wrong. All needed audit trails should be kept by your ISP. If you hack into something, your IP will be recorded and your ISP should be able to match that up with who used that IP at that time.

    In most other ways, the internet is like using a telephone or postal mail. You send information to someone, and they send information back if they decide to. The main difference is that you can't send mail bombs (physically hurtful packages) in email.

    So, requiring a license, with is the governments way of making sure that people have insurance and have trained, etc, isn't really relevant.
  • Unfortunately, in most parts of the US, if you are walking down the street and a cop decides you look like someone who he would like to harrass (say you happen to have long hair, be black or hispanic, or are wearing a 2600 T-shirt or some other sign that you are some kind of evil person) and you happen not to have any ID on you and refuse to answer any questions (and you look like you are old enough to drive -- kids can usually get away without having any ID), see how fast you get dragged down to the police station, frisked, handcuffed, fingerprinted, photographed, etc. You'll likely get some kind of bullshit story like you vaguely match the description of someone they are looking for. Of course if pressed, they won't have any documentation of that, but hey, it is your responsibility to prove you are innocent, not their responsibility to prove your guilt.

    And unfortunately, from what I've seen, it isn't any better in any other country. It seems to be if you have the bad luck to find some ignorant redneck overzealous cop that is having a bad day, you might as well forget having civil rights. Fortunately, not all cops are like that, but it only takes one really bad one to really ruin your day.

  • If they start to require a licence, I'll definately set up a few [] nodes!
  • If this sort of crazy scheme actually takes off (hopefully it will get buried where the sun doesn't shine), then it will be time to fork the net. A slightly less drastic measure is to build a network of anonymizing remailers and proxies interconnected by VPNs, so we can build a net on top of the net.

    At any rate, this proposal goes way beyond the licensing of cars, since it is something that will be checked every time a person surfs. Car license plates are only checked if and when a police officer happens to think he has reason to do so. Hell, I have neglected to put the little registration stickers on the plates of one of my cars for several years and have never been questioned (the stickers are in the glove box I think, I just never got around to cleaning off the plates so they would stick). And as for the driver, he doesn't even need to show his drivers license unless he is stopped, and even then, the police will often give you 24 hours to prove you have a license if you claim to have forgotten it (of course if you look suspicious, they will probably search you, and your car and run you in to the police station).

    On another level, if we require unforgeable certificates (which of course, there is no such thing, especially given the incredible lack of security on the Windows machines and Macs most people surf the net with), it will be going way beyond what we have for the postal system and the telephone system. Anyone who has pocket change can anonymously call anyone they want by using a pay telephone, and you can buy a prepaid long-distance phone card with cash at any Wal-Mart, which will even allow you to call internationally. If you use such a card at a payphone, you are about as anonymous as you can get. As for the postal system, anyone can buy stamps with cash and drop a letter into a post box anonymously. It isn't too difficult to mail even a large package without ever having to show any kind of ID (grocery store mail counters are good for that), despite laws enacted because of the Unibomber which are supposed to make that more difficult.

    Any way I look at it, I don't see a 'real world' that is much more 'safe' than the net is, nor do I see what good any kind of restrictions are going to do. People will always find a way to circumvent them, and the stupid will still get caught if they don't circumvent them correctly.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    >Programmers are artists. Remember that.

    No. programmers are the evolutionary descendants of sorcerers, wizards, and witches. Think about this. We cast spells (write code) to make inanimate objects perform things for us. We have stacks of magick books (programming books, o'reaily animal books, etc.) on our shelves. Programs performing dedicated tasks non-interactively are appropriately called daemons (note how the archaic spelling [the ae character, properly a single character, asc, pronounced 'ash', from Old English] was kept). Dead child processes not yet cleared from the process table are aptly called zombies. And all that jargonistic terminology and icons, in it's ha-ha-only-serious usage, waving dead chickens, kill, killall, the FreeBSD devil logo, satanic easter eggs (put "about:mozilla [about]" in your location bar in netscape), The parallels between witchcraft and programming are too numerous to be mere coincidence. Magick is also notorious for its occacional utter-backfiring and failure to do the Right Thing. Programming is not science. That's why state engineering boards can't come up with a test to license and certify programmers. And programming ability can differ by many many orders of magniture from person to person, unlike in other engineering and science fields. And why is magick not science? A little story to answer that:

    Microwave ovens vs. Conventional ovens.

    Conventional ovens work on science. Gas flows through a pipe, mixes with air and vents at a porous structure near a pilot flame where it ignites and burns. The hot gas below heats the metal oven chamber to the desired temp. A bimetallic strip bends as the heat reaches the desired temperature and eventually trips a mechanical switch or relay to shut off the gas flow. Then as the oven cools, the metal stip unbends and eventually reopens the gas flow. A norrow hysterisis temperature range is thus reliably maintained. All gooood solid science. Explainable, reliable, always does the job as expected.

    Enter the Microwave oven. Microwaves work on magick. When you press the start button, an invisible door (perhaps to another dimension) opens and releases a number of invisible demons into the interrior of the oven. The demons wield pitchforks charged with magic. They repeatedly poke your food with the forks to heat it up. Demons are picky, though, they don't like to touch some materials like glass, paper, and some plastics. The demons, sentient entities, are also playful too. They will cognizantly and feindlishly leave a portion of your food uncooked. They then laugh as you bite into that big chunk of ice. Sometimes a demon will get overexcited and literally explode. The exploded demon can no longer maintain its own invisibility and so shows up as a visible residue on the interrior walls of your oven. This also explains how the splatters got there when you *always* made a point of covering your food. When time is up, the demons are pulled instantaneously back into their realm. You then open the door and retrieve your food. Thus microwaves are inherently unreliable. They may overcook, undercook, or do both at the same time. No one can tell you how long to microwave something or accurately label the oven with it's cooking output power because the demons are sentient and do as they please. As Spock said, "No one can predict the actions of another." Pure magick and totally unreliable. Perplexing, contridictory, and never doing the job as expected, microwave ovens do not operate on science.

    What was the question again? Oh yeah, whisk any programmer back to the middle ages and see what career he decides upon. I'll wager he'll become a sorcerer or alchemist, and may well end up burned at the stake as a result. Today we have EULAs to protect against that.

  • For the time being, it seems we must rely on the honesty and honor of humans to not foul the well water. Even given Talin's Third Law ("Politeness doesn't scale."), this approach has worked remarkably well on the Internet so far. As long as we keep developing honesty and honor in our children, I believe we should be, for the most part, just fine.

    Really? We need to <*gasp*> develop honesty and honor in our children? Does this mean we will actually have to start being parents and stop using the TV/Playstation/computers/internet as babysitters? Oh my gosh! What are we going to do? Return to the 1950s model of parenting?

  • Anonymity must end. Without it the pr0n, w4r3z, trading would all but dry up.

    I don't know what "pr0n" is, but a lot of "pornography" is in the eye of the beholder (especially in "commercial" porn - the risque ads used to sell undergarments, perfume, etc.). Even the hard-core "no doubt it's 'porn'" pornography is legal in many jurisdictions.

    As for the quaint idea that pornography can only exist in anonymity, exactly how do you think the multi-billion dollar adult video rental industry works? Do you think the stores merely trust all patrons to return the tapes, or are they secured by credit cards? Likewise, how do you think the for-profit web sites operate? Did you honestly believe that the patrons dutifully send in anonymous cash and cashiers checks?

    Of course, all of this changes when you're talking about something like child pornography, but I'm not gonna give you the benefit of the doubt since you couldn't be bothered to distinguish between legal and illegal content.
  • It seems like this measure would be one step ahead of implimenting a tracking system which would make everyone accoutnable to some central authority for all their actions on the web. Now we have some privacy, that is our names cannot easily be tied to us online. If this were implimented, our names would be tied to our actions. Just imagine this. A certain banner ad company gets your government || W3C manadated certificate. They figure out your name and do a quick credit check. Banner ad: "[your name]: Did you know that you're $65,535 in debt? Consolidate your debts. Click here." It only goes downhill from there. Suppose your employer wants to know dirt on you. They get a large content provider to tell them what websites you visit, what you search for, etc. Don't think that's possbile? Look at the number of sites Microsft Passport encompasses. Imagine if your Operating System Vendor tied your registration number for their product (and your name) into this sort of certificate when registering (or even installing) your OS and then integrated it into their Web browser. Ouch.
  • Can't buy a car without a liscense.

    Eh? Since when? I've never needed to show a license to buy a car. Not even a new one from a dealer. Certainly not a used one from a (new/used) dealer. Certainly not a used one from a (small independant) dealer. Certainly not in a private transaction between two individuals (like if I see an add in the newspaper classifieds). Hell, you don't even need to show a driver's license to register a car where I live, in fact I've known people who didn't have a driver's license (like a person I know who is legally blind and can't get a driver's license) to be able to register a car and get plates (they owned the car, but paid someone else to drive them around).

    Your idea of requiring a license to buy a computer is completely ridiculous, and I hope it was either intended to be ironic or was a weak attempt at humor.

  • A related idea, at least in the U.S., is that such licenses could be viewed as an infringement on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

    Many people forget that this right has two faces. Not only does it prevent the government from preventing a group from peacefully assembling, it also prevents the government from requiring that its agent be present at all meetings. It even prevents the government from getting a list of all members in a group, or attendees at a meeting. (Two recent cases involved an attempt to get an NAACP membership list in the 1950's, or a KKK membership list in the 1990's (both dates iirc). Both attempts failed.)

    If citizens are required to obtain a "surfing license" for *all* internet access, it would be trivial to identify everyone who visits every site. (Even if the group's servers don't keep such logs, it would be possible to monitor the network traffic upstream.) This would be akin to posting a cop outside of the meeting hall, one who demands everyone present their ID prior to entry. No US court would tolerate this.

    I'm sure the latter-day Fascists would argue that this point is irrelevant since it is enforced by businesses, not the government. But since it's a government-issued (and -mandated) ID, I think even the current courts would recognize that this is a difference that doesn't matter.
  • Of course there is. People pay for porn and other premium content like certain investment research.
  • Mr. Cailliau is just trying to sugar-coat his real aim with this "licnse" BS. What he's really talking about is what was called an internal passport in the old Soviet Union. Idenity Papers, that the police stop you for, To make sure that you aren't some place you aren't allowed to be. He drags out the usual buzz-words (Child-porn & Racist sites) to back this up, Then declares himself against "Heavy handed rules governing content". Excuse me, His whole reason for the license is because he dosen't like the content of the sites he mentioned earlier. It's easy to go after the repugnent sites he mentioned, But what sites will be next? Pro-gun? Anti-abortion? Violent games? The rest of the porn sites? A lot of people would like to ban those too. Then theres that pesky World in the WWW. Different cultures find different things offensive. Do we ban McDonalds from having a web site because many Hindus consider it to be more offensive than the racist sites? IMO the censorship that this will lead to is is more repugnent than anything I've seen online.
  • "The end of anonymity, coming soon to a Web near you."

    Digital ID already exists. PGP, and the certificates used for SSL (from Verisign). A good digital ID should let you send email "signed" (PGP fingerprint, anybody?). How is this bad? As Rob said in the last version of "Geeks in Space" I listened: "alright -- no more stupid faxing!" (regarding a law relating to digital ids). A digital signature should (in practice) be even harder to forge than a signature, unless you choose something like single DES ;-)

    Conversly, it'll only be a problem like the PIII serial number issues if you use things like closed source software that can't be verified to not send along important digital ID relating things to sites. I know Opera and Netscape aren't in the habit of sending my name, email address, and street address along to every site I visit. But if I said something bad enough, and someone went and got a court order, it sure wouldn't be hard for the system admins of a public board to dig through their logs, find my IP, and get my info from my ISP.

    So really, how is this a change from the status quo, except for a change towards popular support for digital ids?

    Either way, I wouldn't mind if we had less "31337" first posting *censored*s ;-)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Would you please provide some evidence to back your claim that...

    W3C has been working [...] unforgeable certificates which users must present to gain access to content, and which incidentally identify them uniquely and provide assorted marketing information."


    It's completely untrue and unfounded, and shows extremely poor editorial judgement.

    --Dan Connolly [], W3C []

    [I tried to register as something other than Anonymous Coward, but I have not received the password mail message.]

  • "Micropayments"? Is this a way to charge users of the Internet?

    More likely a way to charge users of a particular site to look at stuff from that site. There already exist sites where you have to pay to read stuff; this may just be a more lightweight version (although hopefully it's not so lightweight that following a link to a "pay-per-view" site that you don't know is a "pay-per-view" site automatically takes you there and charges you for it; others have expressed concerns about that here, and I sympathize with those concerns - if I'm going to be charged money to read something, I'd prefer to know how much it's going to cost me before I read it).

    Who does the money go to?

    Presumably the site that's charging you to view it.

    And why is a charge necessary?

    Ask that of whoever's maintaining the site that's charging you.

  • by Ralph Bearpark ( 2819 ) on Sunday November 28, 1999 @06:37PM (#1499886) Homepage
    I can see it now ... before being allowed out on the Information Superhighway (TM) proper, it will be compulsory for all newbies to learn on Slashdot first (right now it just seems that way.) They'll have to be good citizens, make their contributions, avoid being a potty mouth, etc. Once they've developed a Karma of, say, 25 they'll be allowed out on their own. Another fine product of CmdrTaco's Academy!

    Regards, Ralph.
  • What Cailliau is proposing would destroy the "ideals" of the whole internet, i.e. anonymous (or as near to as possible) use of information. The whole point is that you can kinda poke around without causing any trouble, and without someone saying "hey! why did you look at xyz corp... they're our number 1 enemies", etc., etc.

    I think also that Cailliau might just be doing one of these "I invented xyz, so you'll listent to me", unfortunately. He is right to say that regulation of the Internet would help trace illegal child pornography and racist sites, but it would stop other things. For example helping victims of some kind of abuse, or people being victimised into a corner of society due to some sort of minority grouping (e.g., colour, creed, sexuality, religion...).

    I really don't understand how he can say it has to be regulated, and then go on Reuters and say it " must remain open and neutral". That's any oxmoron...

    And as for micropayment... maybe we should let established electronic payment systems continue, e.g. SWIFT, MONDEX, etc., etc. Plus, I'd rather see advertisements, and maybe buy something interesting, than spend my money paying NOT to see adverts! It's dumb! The whole notion of "uncluttered cyberspace" wouldn't work, anyway. People are always looking for a righteous hack. Unfortunately he is living in a dream, alebit a utopian one, that would only have worked at the beginning of the computer revolution... Now, it's just too late.

    Though I agree with Cailliau saying we have "duties as well as their rights", the Net has flourished on "unwritten" rules, and attempts at regulation have either been thwarted, or have had disastrous results.

    Though I found what he said about regulating pronography, etc., quite interesting. His system of registration and enforcement might work. IF it's given any teeth: "We don't tell the servers what they are allowed or not allowed to show. We just register them [...] If they put child pornography on there, we can at least get at them".

    One last thing: he says "We've had micropayments in the French Minitel system for 15 years and it is shown to work extremely well"... Well, I hate minitel... and it sucks, and it IS NOT the Web! Bad analogy!

  • If musicians had to be licensed, then *ALL* we'd get to listen to would be the Spice Girls and the like.

    You think Jimi Hendrix would have been able to get a musicians license?

    Licensing an activity BY DEFINITION removes all of the non-conventional and independant practitioners from that field.

  • In case you missed it that last bit about the 50s model of parenting was quite tongue-in-cheek.

It was pity stayed his hand. "Pity I don't have any more bullets," thought Frito. -- _Bored_of_the_Rings_, a Harvard Lampoon parody of Tolkein