Digital Imprimatur

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= An essay on this history and development of the internet, written by John Walker in 2003, and published on his homepage:




"Over the last two years I have become deeply and increasingly pessimistic about the future of liberty and freedom of speech, particularly in regard to the Internet. This is a complete reversal of the almost unbounded optimism I felt during the 1994–1999 period when public access to the Internet burgeoned and innovative new forms of communication appeared in rapid succession. In that epoch I was firmly convinced that universal access to the Internet would provide a countervailing force against the centralisation and concentration in government and the mass media which act to constrain freedom of expression and unrestricted access to information. Further, the Internet, properly used, could actually roll back government and corporate encroachment on individual freedom by allowing information to flow past the barriers erected by totalitarian or authoritarian governments and around the gatekeepers of the mainstream media."

"This is how I saw things at the euphoric peak of my recent optimism. Like the transition between expansion and contraction in a universe with Ω greater than 1, evidence that the Big Bang was turning the corner toward a Big Crunch was slow to develop, but increasingly compelling as events played out. Earlier I believed there was no way to put the Internet genie back into the bottle. In this document I will provide a road map of precisely how I believe that could be done, potentially setting the stage for an authoritarian political and intellectual dark age global in scope and self-perpetuating, a disempowerment of the individual which extinguishes the very innovation and diversity of thought which have brought down so many tyrannies in the past."

The Emerging Consumer Internet

"The original design of the ARPANET, inherited by the Internet, was inherently peer to peer. I do not use the phrase “peer to peer” here as a euphemism for “file sharing” or other related activities, but in its original architectural sense, that all hosts on the network were logically equals. Certainly, Internet connections differed in bandwidth, latency, and reliability, but apart from those physical properties any machine connected to the Internet could act as a client, server, or neither—simply a peer of those with which it communicated. Any Internet host could provide any service to any other and access any service provided by them. New kinds of services could be invented as required, subject only to compatibility with the higher level transport protocols (such as TCP and UDP)."

"Despite the advent of the Internet, traditional media and government continue to exercise formidable power. Any organisation can be expected to act to preserve and expand its power, not passively acquiesce in its dissipation. Indeed, consolidation among Internet infrastructure companies and increased governmental surveillance of activities on the Internet are creating the potential for the imposition of “points of control” onto the originally decentralised Internet. Such points of control can be used for whatever purposes those who put them in place wish to accomplish. The trend seems clear—over the next five to ten years, we will see an effort to “put the Internet genie back in the bottle”: to restore the traditional producer/consumer, government/subject relationships which obtained before the Internet disrupted them."

The Firewalled Consumer

"Note: this item discusses a phenomenon, already underway, which is effectively segmenting Internet users into two categories: home users who are consumers of Internet services, and privileged sites which publish content and provide services. The technologies discussed in the balance of this document are entirely independent of this trend, and can be deployed whether or not it continues. If you aren't interested in such details or take violent issue with the interpretation I place upon them, please skip to the next heading. I raise the issue here because when discussing the main topics of this document with colleagues, a common reaction has been, “Users will never put up with being relegated to restricted access to the Internet.” But, in fact, they already are being so relegated by the vast majority of broadband connections, and most aren't even aware of what they've lost or why it matters."