Thursday, September 15, 2005
Open Internet, We Hardly Knew Ye
Great Wired News article entitled, Open Internet, We Hardly Knew Ye, by Jennifer Granick says
Hurricane Katrina tore families away from their homes and from each other. And with the Gulf Coast in chaos, electricity out and cell-phone towers down, people in far-flung places across the United States turned to the robust, decentralized internet to find their loved ones.snip
Almost immediately, there were too many sites to choose from. A grandchild looking for her grandmother, or a father for his son and wife, had literally dozens of online databases to search. The internet offered a solution here as well. An international, ad hoc group of self-described geeks built a system that automatically combined information from the dozens of refugee listing sites into a single, searchable database that family members could use to find each other.
That database, at Katrinalist.net, is tangible evidence of the beauty and power of internet technology in the hands of well-meaning citizens.
But under a permission-only legal regime, the Katrinalist.net volunteers would have had to contact every site with listing data and ask for authorization to use the information first. With dozens of sites popping up in the days following the storm, getting permission would have taken a lot of time — if the site owners could even be reached and convinced of the merit of the idea in the first place.Thanks to Steve Guich for the pointer!
On the internet, having to ask permission first can kill the creation of a useful new tool.
The law should treat the internet as open by default — a public resource rather than a gated community. This doesn’t mean that we can’t protect our networked computers or data with copyright law, passwords, firewalls or perhaps even terms-of-service agreements. But rather than asking whether a user obtained permission to access computers connected to the internet, the law should ask whether the owner did anything to prevent public access.
In the absence of intellectual property protection or technological barriers to information access, courts and legislatures must allow free, unfettered use of data and machines that owners place online and leave publicly accessible.
It’s an accident of technology that data published on the internet must be contained on computer servers. By giving owners too many rights to control whether and when the public accesses those servers, we will lose the very openness that makes the internet particularly cool. We’ll also lose the rights that we already have in the real world, to comparison shop, to search, to collect information or even to help hurricane victims find each other.
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