The Internet Protocol Journal, Volume 16, No. 1

Book Review

On Internet Freedom

On Internet Freedom, by Marvin Ammori, Elkat Books, January 2013, sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc., ASIN: B00B1MQZNW.

Marvin Ammori has written an important book about the threats to free speech and expression that we are not only privileged to conduct on the Internet today but have come to treat as basic human rights.

On Internet Freedom looks at the past, present, and future of the Internet as a speech technology. Ammori examines how the coordinated and determined efforts by Big Content to protect content and increasing efforts by governments to censor content threaten Internet use as we embrace it today. Ammori also explains how these acts were in fact anticipated by Clark, Sollins, Wroclawski, and Braden in a paper entitled "Tussle in Cyberspace: Defining Tomorrow's Internet," [1] where the authors assert:

"User empowerment, to many, is a basic Internet principle, but for this paper, it is the manifestation of the right to choose—to drive competition, and thus drive change."

Ammori cites only the first clause of this sentence—as a technologist, I believe the second is extremely important as well—but he makes clear that the end-to-end design of the Internet establishes a fundamental thesis:

"If user choice is our design principle, then users should have the final say."

Unfortunately, Ammori explains that users do not have the final say but are increasingly challenged by lawyers, bureaucrats, commissioners, and others who are motivated to constrain their freedoms and who want to do so by altering the fundamental design of the Internet. Ammori's response, admittedly U.S.-centric, is simple: the Internet is a speech technology, and:

"... the ultimate design principle for any speech technology, at least in the United States: the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech. The First Amendment is not generally thought of as a design principle, but, by definition, it limits what Congress or any other government actor may or may not adopt in shaping the Internet's future."

This statement sets the context for the remainder of the book. In Part II, Ammori looks at events leading to the 18 January 2012 Internet Blackout in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and how these and possibly future legislation threaten "...the speech tools of the many while reshaping our speech environment for the benefit of the few."

Conveniently, Part II is largely about how the few benefit. Before judging whether you believe this theory is even-handed or not, remember that the litmus test throughout this book is the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This part ought to make every Internet user or free speech advocate pause, or shiver. One of the most worrisome speculations Ammori offers is the extent to which legislation could stilt adoption of emerging technologies such as three-dimensional (3D) printing or stifle future innovations of this kind.

Part III looks at how the Internet as speech technology influences governments, how governments have attempted to exert influence, and how Internet users and dominant Internet forces (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter) respond. This part will probably be illuminating for most readers, because it explains situations where a private conversation between a government official and an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or hosting company can circumvent the First Amendment, and why Terms of Service are often more speech-restricting than the First Amendment as well.

Part IV focuses on net neutrality concerns. Ammori draws the lines of conflict: ISPs seek to differentiate, rate-control, block, or charge users differently for content that is transmitted on their networks. However, content includes speech, and if the Internet is speech technology, then ISPs should not be able to decide what you say or see, or they do so in violation of your First Amendment rights. Ammori also explains that net neutrality is not only a First Amendment concern but also an economic one: net neutrality violations can influence investments in or creation of new technology.

I began by saying that Marvin Ammori has written an important book. It is also an extremely readable book. Ammori does a commendable job explaining constitutional law and technology in easy to understand terms. I highly recommend the book not only for people who are interested in law or technology but for anyone who advocates freedom of expression.

On Internet Freedom is currently available as a Kindle download.

[1] David D. Clark, John Wroclawski, Karen R. Sollins, and Robert Braden, "Tussle in Cyberspace: Defining Tomorrow's Internet," IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, Volume 13, Issue 3, June 2005. Available from: http://groups.csail.mit.edu/ana/Publications/PubPDFs/Tussle2002.pdf

—Dave Piscitello,
dave@corecom.com

Reprinted with permission from The Security Skeptic blog: http://securityskeptic.typepad.com/the-security-skeptic

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