Internet & Society

Session Two Summary:
Content Control and Encryption

Daniel Weitzner, Deputy Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, was the guest speaker for this session. He opened with a discussion of Reno v. ACLU, the recent Supreme Court decision invalidating key provisions of the Communications Decency Act. DW, whose group vigorously opposed the CDA, said that the Court's finding of facts is especially important; it indicates that the Court sees the Internet as a decentralized medium over which centralized control doesn't make sense. What makes more sense, DW explained, is for parents and other Net users to control the content they receive using labeling and filtering standards like PICS—the Platform for Internet Content Selection.

Students engaged DW in a debate about the labeling and filtering alternative, raising questions such as: What would be the appropriate label for a newspaper site that included violent stories? Will third parties that rate sites bother to include those made by small, non-commercial speakers? Will the dominant browser makers use filters to control what people can find online?

In the second half of the session, DW turned to a discussion of the encryption debate. (It is currently illegal to export strong encryption or to send international messages encoded with strong encryption.) The current administration has made various proposals that would permit encryption as long as two U.S. government agencies held the keys—with a proper warrant they could be used together to decode private messages. DW opposes such proposals. He believes the debate turns on whether one sees the government's ability to decrypt Internet messages as simply maintenance of the status quo, or as an expansion of the government's power to search and seize. The government argues that it is merely maintaining the power it already has to wiretap phones. DW argues that because people do things now via the Internet that they used to do in the privacy of their own homes, a government agent decrypting a message is really the equivalent of his kicking one's door down without even the "knock and announce" required in the physical world.

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