Berkman in the News
“When people don’t have to disclose their personal information on the Web, the risk of identity theft is dramatically reduced,” John Clippinger, senior fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School said. “The ability to anonymize transactions using Identity Mixer has the potential to bolster consumer confidence, opening digital floodgates to new forms of Internet commerce.”
“Anonymity is a tool that can be used or misused, but to run from anonymity out of fear is to give up what it means to be American,” says David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Weinberger notes that airlines have been receiving bomb threats since they first came into existence, usually from callers at old-fashioned pay phones. “As I recall, you didn’t have to show ID to use them,” he says wryly.
“The cable guys always claim they’re subject to fierce competition, but that’s only true where there’s fiber,” said Susan Crawford, a co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and an expert on broadband competition.
“The FCC’s action today shines a bright light on the fact that three out of four Americans have only one choice when it comes to speeds of over 25 Mbps: their local cable monopoly,” she said.
The landscape has changed since the Arab Spring, however. As the University of North Carolina professor and Harvard Berkman Center fellow notes in her paper, governments have more or less caught up to political protesters when it comes to social media. Twitter and Facebook aren’t just for nerds any more — they have become mainstream, and that means governments have figured out not only how to block them or how to force Twitter and Facebook to remove content but how to use them for their own social purposes.“Many governments have developed methods to respond to this new information environment, which allows for fewer gatekeeper controls, by aggressively countering these new movements, often with a combination of traditional repression as well as novel methods aimed at addressing online media.”
It’s unclear why Reddit, one of the world’s most popular websites, received so few requests for user data, especially since it hosts message boards (called subreddits) on all kinds of borderline or outright illegal topics, including online drug markets.
Perhaps it’s because Reddit “cleaned up” its most controversial subreddits in the past year, according to James Losey, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who keeps a tally of companies who publish transparency reports.
Edward Snowden himself, the former National Security Agency (NSA) systems administrator who leaked classified records of NSA surveillance efforts, called in from Moscow via Google Hangouts for a live, unscripted Q&A with security expert Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, drawing a large audience in the Science Center.
Their conversation centered on the technological changes that have rendered once-secure systems vulnerable.
Because the data smart devices gather will likely result in the government and others creating profiles on everyone, “behaving normal will eventually become the ultimate practice in the Internet of Things,” warns Paul De Hert, a criminal law expert at the Institute for European Studies in Brussels.
“It limits creativity, it inhibits individuality, social change, progress,” added Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “You get conformity and stagnation. These are really big issues.”
The footnote problem, though, stands a good chance of being fixed. Last year, a tool called Perma.cc was launched. It was developed by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, and its founding supporters included more than sixty law-school libraries, along with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Internet Archive, the Legal Information Preservation Alliance, and the Digital Public Library of America. Perma.cc promises “to create citation links that will never break.” It works something like the Wayback Machine’s “Save Page Now.” If you’re writing a scholarly paper and want to use a link in your footnotes, you can create an archived version of the page you’re linking to, a “permalink,” and anyone later reading your footnotes will, when clicking on that link, be brought to the permanently archived version. Perma.cc has already been adopted by law reviews and state courts; it’s only a matter of time before it’s universally adopted as the standard in legal, scientific, and scholarly citation.
Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard University professor of law and computer science who will also be on the panel, said he hoped industry professionals could begin to make gradual fixes to the Internet that would make all companies more secure.Small improvements, like software that detected unusual patterns in Internet traffic or suspicious attempts to access data, could help stop hackers before they caused too much damage. Such small, incremental steps could make the web gradually safer for individuals and companies, and less friendly to hackers, Mr. Zittrain said.“This is a moon shot going one step at a time, rather than fling a missile and hoping it hits,” Mr. Zittrain said.