The Internet has been invaded by the governments of the physical world. This has a number of severe effects.
The traditional image of the Internet as a kind of digital Wild West makes the legal environment opaque to most of the people who rely on online services in their day to day lives. The fact is that the companies that operate your Internet connection, that store your e-mail, that operate the social networks, and run the search engines, that offer online stores and keep the infrastructure of the ‘net chugging along, they all rely on various legal mechanisms in order to allow them to do what they do and to keep them safe.
A lot of Internet users tend to disregard the corporate aspect of the Internet as incidental or unimportant. In many ways it would be nice if that were a realistic estimate, but the truth is that a very huge amount of online activity is put into legal vehicles such as companies and foundations because organizationally it simplifies a great many of the meatspace interactions, and legally it creates a buffer between the people who operate the services and the people who use them – or abuse them. You may or may not agree with the existence of corporations and limited liability, but either way you have to admit that since these things exist, it’s reasonable that people use them.
The problem is that companies exist by state suffrage. Their legality and the legal protections offered to them are purely a manifestation of state power. So when states decided to intervene in corporate affairs, there’s less that they can really do than they’d sometimes like to.
Now, to be fair, there are a lot of companies that don’t really care at all about their customers. Some companies – the better ones – realize that caring about their customers is an economic imperative. This is one of the reasons I try not to do business with companies that are big enough that they don’t really have to care about each individual customer.
If you own a .com domain, whether you like it or not, you are a customer of Verisign. You might be buying the domain through some other company – a so-called registrar – but Verisign is the ultimate registry that decides which .com domains exist and which do not.
Verisign is a company. It exists by the suffrage of the United States government. On numerous occasions in recent years, they have been told by the US government or fragments thereof to “un-sell” services to certain people on various grounds. Normally these reasons have to do with copyright infringement. I’m not going to launch into a tirade about the fact that the US federal government should have better things to do with its time than play copyright cops for the content industry, but you know I could. The point is, Verisign has complied.
They’re not really in a good position. If Verisign does not comply, they lose their Intermediary Liability Limitations. It’s unclear whether §230 of the Communications Decency Act considers the hosting of DNS entries as a form of hosting, but that’s probably the stick they’re being threatened with. I’m not actually entirely familiar with the content of §230 CDA, but I know it’s little brother, the European e-Commerce Directive fairly well, and although putting DNS under hosting is a stretch it does say that indemnity is dropped in the case of violation of non-compliance with copyright-based takedown orders.
The other cases are child pornography and general court orders. Court orders of course are pretty wide in scope. Hurray for wildcards.
So Verisign complies. To most users of the Internet, whatever. It’s only a couple of zone authority transfers removed from the DNS registry. Right? What the hell does that have to do with human rights? What the hell does that have to do with freedom of expression?
What this tells us is that Verisign cannot be trusted. More deeply it tells us that the DNS system cannot be trusted. It is inherently censorable. It needs to be replaced with a Peer-to-Peer, cryptographically ensured alternative. That needs to happen much faster than is technically or socially possible.
In the meantime, what I can do is stop doing business with Verisign. Not because I dislike Verisign as such, but rather because I acknowledge the fact that Verisign operates their business in an unstable political environment, where they are subject to the whims of various law enforcement agencies. I cannot ask them not to operate their business in the United States, but I can cast a wallet vote, insofar as that is of any use – since they don’t really care whether I do business with them or not – and decide not to do further business with them while they operate under the auspices and suffrage of the United States federal government.
For the record: I really like America, both physically and philosophically, but your government is plenty fucked and you guys need a revolution.
So I won’t be renewing my .com domains. I might renew my .org domains, as I’ve not yet seen any of those seized, although that’s just a matter of time, really. In the meantime, I’m transferring stuff over to .is. Not because Iceland is perfect, but because Iceland is better than any other legal jurisdiction, because ISNIC is a company that cares about their customers – and if they don’t, they’re at least in a situation where they kind of care about me -… but more importantly, Iceland is getting better, not worse.
So as of today, cannonical URL for my blog is http://smarimccarthy.is … welcome.