Net Neutrality

I have heard the term “net neutrality” many times but never fully understood what it represented. For readers in the same boat as I was, net neutrality is the idea that companies which provide consumers with access/connection to the internet should not discriminate based on the sites we choose to visit. The clearest example, in my opinion, is a hypothetical situation where Comcast limits Xfinity wifi subscribers’ connection to content providers like Netflix who compete with the Comcast subsidiary, NBCUniversal. This example really brought me back to the days where my big brother would keep a toy from me simply because he didn’t want me to have it. Obviously, that is just not cool, but should my parents (the FCC of my analogy) have established a rule that my brother could no longer do that? Or, would it have been more effective to have provided me access to a bunch of other toys providing the same function, thus making my brother’s actions harmful only to himself resulting in an unhappy brother (consumer) who could just switch to another toy and be content?

I have always been a defender of capitalism and I am typically not in favor of big government, so I prefer the latter scenario. While I support the idea and noble intentions of the FCC’s attempts to enforce net neutrality, I agree with Jeffrey Dorman’s point of view that more choices would be more effective than more regulations. A rule stating “don’t do that” will not be any more effective in preventing Comcast from justifying its actions than my parents scolding my brother for withholding toys. One thing that will certainly stop Comcast from being selfish is the loss of customers. I think I can speak for most consumers and say that when faced with the decision between two Internet Service Providers (ISPs), if my ISP noticeably restricts my Netflix (or comparable content provider) stream quality and a competitor exists that would not, then you can count on me to switch providers. I think there exists an attraction to creating legislation which explicitly says a company cannot do something because the document can be held and referenced. However, I believe the less attractive option of letting natural laws of capitalism take over would be much more effective.

Supporting my belief are the weaknesses of the Open Internet Order highlighted in an article published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Why the FCC Can’t Actually Save Net Neutrality.” To start, the FCC claims to have ancillary authority which may seem fine for now, but what happens when they decide to enforce policies that are not as widely accepted as net neutrality? Also, the law included exceptions which enables the FCC to cooperate with law enforcement agencies upon request. I find this troubling that a federal organization can bypass its own order if a request is made by a different federal organization. Finally, how can the public check the power of the FCC that has proclaimed ancillary authority over the internet? Consumers would then be faced with powerful media conglomerates that act as ISPs and a federal regulatory agency that proceeds unchecked by the public.

To conclude, I would like to acknowledge that I do not believe there is a straightforward solution to the enforcement of net neutrality. Also, I consider myself a defender of net neutrality, but I do not agree with the current strategies in place to protect this idea. I believe that competition is the best way to ensure providers are held accountable for their decisions and consumers are positioned to find the best available package to fit their needs.


Right to Encryption?

I do believe we, as citizens of the United States, have a right to encryption. At a high level, you could describe encryption as a form of privacy. The ability to prevent other people from reading private messages between yourself and your family, friends, colleagues, etc. definitely falls under the category of privacy. In this day and age, the process which ensures that ability generally requires encryption because so much of our communication is done via networks that are susceptible to unwanted listeners. It is true that we knowingly take that risk each time we send a text message or e-mail, especially if it contains sensitive material. However, should we not be able to minimize our risk by utilizing advance encryption software developed by companies that specialize in this area? I certainly believe every American has the right to purchase a product that further enhances their ability to protect that unalienable right to privacy, and I extend that position to support companies that develop encryption algorithms which help to separate the average consumer from hackers with criminal motivations.

As you can see, I believe encryption is an important topic that should be debated. I value the ability to protect my data because between nearly everyone I communicate with and myself there exists bits of information representing our conversation someone on a server. As a result, I ardently support the use of encryption despite having nothing to hide. Even though I have a clean record and don’t partake in criminal communication, I still have no desire to accept vulnerabilities in the technology that I use which could allow someone to take a peek at my private life. I would say my stance on encryption is predominantly social. I believe the idea of privacy is a social issue and natural aggregation of humans in societies creates dialog and intrigues some members to participate in dialog without permission. I suppose this means I am financially in favor of supporting companies like Apple, Google, and smaller information security providers. On the other hand, I oppose the political stance that decrypting devices should be mandatory for companies on the basis of a judge claiming that national security is at risk, especially after the fact. I do hope, sometime in the near future, companies like Apple and organizations like the FBI can find a way to cooperatively gather evidence in important cases without posing a threat to many Americans’ right to privacy.

In my opinion, the fight between national security and individual privacy will not be settled anytime soon. I find it interesting that the Republican and Democratic stances on this particular issue are somewhat aligned The majority of both parties is demanding that Apple develop the backdoor and provide the evidence the FBI needs because the actions of Syed Farook are classified as terrorism. Particularly, I am surprised that so many Republicans are in favor of extending the government’s reach. The GOP typically opposes anything related to the expansion of government powers, but it seems as though the threat of terrorism exceeds the desire for small government and has aligned many Republicans with policies that hinder certain features of capitalism!

Personally, I will continue to support the viewpoint of protecting individual liberties. However, I will avoid making the claim that “individual liberty > national security.” I don’t believe Apple’s encryption poses a threat to national security in any way. The existence of Farook’s iPhone encryption is not what allowed him to carry out a terrorist attack on American soil. I think other factors involved were more important to his success, but I am open to discussion.


Letter to the Editor

To the Editor of the Observer:

Recently, the FBI has requested that Apple develop a backdoor into their encryption software so attempts can be made to unlock terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone without potential loss of information. Currently, the FBI faces a dilemma because they do not have an adequate strategy to break into Farook’s phone because the version of iOS installed will erase the encrypted data after repeated incorrect guesses. In addition, the FBI finds itself very near the border of human rights and Apple, a progressive technology company, wants no part in helping the FBI cross that border.

This letter will present a defense for Apple’s position and advocate that Observer articles covering this event do the same. While pursuit of justice for Syed Farook’s abominable acts of terrorism should not be obstructed, a fear of terrorism should not influence decisions regarding legislation that violates the right to privacy. We do not believe that Apple’s refusal to create a backdoor is an obstruction of justice. Rather, we support Apple’s decision on the basis that they are protecting our right to privacy by denying the FBI a backdoor to all iPhones.

The implications of a security backdoor for the iPhone should be examined closely when choosing a side of this debate. Once software is created, it exists. As noted by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, Apple is certainly not writing code on paper they can be burned in the fire once the FBI is done hacking Farook’s phone. If the code Apple creates for the FBI were to get into the wrong hands, then millions of iPhone users around the world would be vulnerable to a loss of privacy. We align our concern with the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, who suggests that creating one master key that can turn millions of locks around the world is a dangerous proposition. As citizens, who can we trust to hold a key that powerful?

Also, do we truly believe the FBI and other investigative authorities plan on letting Apple destroy code that could potentially uncover evidence in major crimes? No, plenty of authorities such as the Manhattan District Attorney have phones lined up to be unlocked by Apple’s backdoor software. While the idea of uncovering evidence in many cases is attractive, this is only one potential consequence. There are many inevitable consequences that seemed to be ignored – security risks, extending government capabilities, and flooding requests for Apple to decrypt iPhones for less serious cases. I stress “potential consequence” because Syed Farook and his terrorist network could have certainly been utilizing a third party application with its own encryption algorithm that would render the Apple backdoor useless.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the threat this mandate poses to innovation. One of the most lucrative results of capitalism is the increasingly complex technology companies produce in order to remain competitive in a packed market. Apple targets a high end segment which requires their product to be superior to similar products in multiple areas. A significant strength of the Apple suite of products is reliable security features that ensure consumers their data is protected. When the government begins passing legislation that inhibits companies from maximizing the quality of their products, advances in technology will decelerate; thus, end users and the government will also be on the losing end.

In short, we advocate that the Observer support Apple in its efforts to stand up against government action that reaches too far. Let us not fear terrorism so much that we accept invasive legislation by our own government.

Zachary LeBlanc and Matt McKenzie

Run DMC(A)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 2000, contains two controversial
provisions – “anti-circumvention” and “safe-harbor”. The DMCA was intended to tackle the issue of internetpirate piracy which involves the illegal downloading of music, videos, books, and other copyrighted material. Piracy is the chief target of the DMCA, but the law has had little success in actually deterring pirates from accessing copyrighted material for free. In fact, the DMCA provisions have had some negative effects on fair use and competition within affected industries.

The “anti-circumvention” provision of the DMCA aimed to stop copyright pirates from circumventing the locks in place that protect copyrighted material. While the intention is understandable, the effects haven’t been quite so straightforward. The provision has impeded competition by essentially ignoring fair use and over protecting copyrighted material. If a person circumvents copyright restrictions for purposes that fall under the category of fair use, he or she can still be prosecuted on the basis that circumvention has occurred. In addition, developers of tools that provide the ability to circumvent the locks in place are also liable to be prosecuted without even performing the act of circumvention. As a result, the DMCA “anti-circumvention” provision has extended the arm of the law enough for legislators to circumvent inherit freedoms that are protected by fair use.

The “safe-harbor” provision appears to be both helpful and harmful with respect to the copyright dilemma. While this provision allows companies like YouTube to create an open space for the sharing of content, the language is subject to abuse. For instance, the takedown policy can be abused to restrict material on the web that may not be in violation of copyright laws. For instance, the mother’s video of her daughter singing a song by Prince should never have been able to be taken down, but a request by Universal Music was enough to force YouTube to remove the video until legal actions were pursued. Since the video was obviously in compliance with fair use, the fact that YouTube was legally bound to take it down because of Universal Music’s request is absurd. Universal Music even claimed that they did not take into account fair use before requesting the take down. On the other hand, the “safe-harbor” provisions allow spaces like YouTube to exist because they are not liable for the instances in which users upload copyrighted material as long as they comply with take down requests. Therefore, I am understanding of the necessity of this provision despite the negative consequences that can result from abuse of its language.

I personally do not think it is ethical to download copyrighted material from the internet. The sampling/testing excuse is not valid, in my opinion, because most sites that provide legal purchasing of copyrighted material allow you to sample the content. If you use a site that does not provide content samples, then you should look for another online vendor. I believe that copyrights should be respected by consumers because in many cases artists make a living on the copyright protection of their work. Admittedly, I was an avid user of LimeWire as a kid, downloading any song I wanted to at the expense of rapidly decreasing my computer’s performance over time. At the time, my excuse was that I could not afford to pay 99¢ a song and the rich musicians were not even remotely affected by my decision. However, I now understand that large scale piracy does affect the prosperity of musicians, especially up and coming artists who may rely on early revenues to jump start their careers. Looking back, I wish I would have been more respectful of copyrighted material.

I believe the emergence of streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, and Pandora will reduce the amount of piracy. Personally, I have benefitted from these technologies because of the affordable, quality streams they provide. Since Netflix and can provide high-definition streams at such a low price, I believe this discourages individuals from using free streaming websites that provide less than desirable video quality. In addition, the abundance of content available on Spotify and Pandora allows for users to have the wide variety of music they desire but do not own. Unless you desperately need to listen to Taylor Swift, I think Spotify is adequate… plus her claim to be defending up and coming artists is nonsense – she’s just maximizing her profits (pardon the aside).

To wrap this blog up, I’d like to acknowledge the usefulness of the DCMA while also recognizing the flaws in its language. Like many other laws, the DCMA has been subject to abuse, but overall I believe it has been effective in created open spaces for sharing such as YouTube and discouraging piracy.



Copyrights are the limited exclusive right to an idea granted to the enlightened being(s) who made the discovery. In the Constitution, copyrights are specifically related to authors of literary works (including artists such as musicians, vocalists, and broadcasters) and creators of innovative architectural design. There are many ethical, moral, and social implications of the existence of copyright. Ethically, copyrights help to ensure the benevolence of an idea, in the form of profit and credibility, is received by the rightful owner. In addition, copyrights hold accountable citizens who abuse the work of another for their own prosperity. Morally, a legal process for copyrighting information protects less powerful individuals with groundbreaking ideas from the exploitation of their innovative work by more powerful citizens and/or corporations. I believe powerful individuals in society, such as legislators, have a moral responsibility to guarantee security for individuals who develop profitable ideas. Socially, I believe copyrights have a slightly more complicated impact. In Thomas Jefferson’s message to Isaac McPherson, he expresses concern that categorizing ideas as property could stifle the benefits of natural spreading of ideas. On the other hand, copyrights naturally provide an incentive for inventors to invest time in the pursuit of new ideas which leads to the existence of more ideas worth spreading. I can understand Jefferson’s concern for the classification of ideas as property, but I see greater value in the incentives that can be derived from the existence of copyright. I can also suppress my similar concerns by reminding myself that copyrights provide a limited exclusive right to one’s ideas.

With respect to software, the battle between proprietary and open source licenses should be discussed. All software starts as ideas that are implemented by developers. The question is – should the original developer have exclusive rights to the idea which has now become a software product? I believe that proprietary licenses should be granted to a developer who wishes to claim his or her software. I think proprietary software licenses are beneficial in many cases. After my sophomore year of college, I worked at Cerner Corporation in the Healthcare IT industry. If Cerner’s software was not protected by proprietary licenses, then Cerner would certainly not be worth 18.32B and it’s biggest competitor, Epic Systems, would not be nearly as successful either. My experience leads me to believe proprietary licenses are certainly beneficial in certain instances, especially industries similar to healthcare IT. One could argue that proprietary healthcare IT products may be missing out on some of the bleeding edge innovation that can be derived from the open source community and this is a valid point. However, I would ask of that same person, do you really want bleeding edge software running on healthcare technologies that are often relied upon in mission critical, life or death scenarios? I certainly do not. The reliability of software that evolves relatively slowly in large corporations can exceed the benefits of rapidly evolving open source projects in many instances.

In contrast, I also believe open source licenses can be extremely beneficial in many cases. For instance, Blender is an open source 3D creation suite. blenderThe beauty of Blender is that individual artists and small teams which don’t possess the capital to invest in proprietary rendering software can use Blender to produce amazing works of art. Not only can artists utilize Blender’s existing features, they are able to modify the source code to create additional features that can then be added to future versions and the benefits will propagate even further. In addition, society in general can benefit from the impact of open source projects. There are many open source web development frameworks, such as Chartist.js, that are used by designers to create beautiful web UIs that consumers enjoy on a daily basis.

With regards to government use of open source projects, I think my general perspective applies – that is, it depends. For example, if I were military personnel I would not want to be relying on open source technology in the heat of battle. On the other hand, I may want to support and encourage the open source community working on innovative cybersecurity, encryption, and drone projects. Successful open source projects in these areas also have potentially negative implications because the enemy always has access to the source code as well. I am not well versed in government policy or adequately informed to comment on such matters, so I can only hope that sometime in the future governments can benefit from the innovative spirit of the open source community and the open source community can benefit from the support of governments.