Category Archives: Internet

Why the Attempt to Enjoin the IANA Transfer is Baseless

The Attorney Generals of four right-wing states sued today to block the transfer of the US’s control over IANA to ICANN.  Here’s a link to the plaintiffs’ complaint and request for declaratory and injunctive relief.

And here’s my very quick take on the lawsuit: The APA claim is bogus.  I think they lack standing for the property claim. The property claim is also meritless, as the government is not giving away any property it “owns”.  The US is letting go of a contractual right to veto alterations to the data in a computer file (the root zone file) held on a privately owned machine.  There is no intellectual property right because the contents of the file are in the public domain, and US law would not recognize this as a compilation copyright.  What’s at issue in the IANA transfer is the loss of the US government’s right to veto authoritative changes to the file, not to own the contents.

In any case, the proposed transfer doesn’t harm the defendants in any way now, and their complaint fails to say that it does.  Plaintiffs only give extremely speculative allegations of possible future damage. Indeed, the most they can come up with in para 22 of their complaint is that “Plaintiffs will lose the predictability, certainty, and protections that currently flow from federal stewardship of the Internet and instead be subjected to ICANNs unchecked control.”  While I am more sympathetic than most about the dangers of being subject to ICANN’s unchecked control, the fact remains that in the absence of any clear threat by ICANN do something that would harm the plaintiffs in some way this is far too speculative a harm to be recognized by a US judicial system that is allergic to speculative harm. The same argument applies to the claim that ICANN might – no sign at all it will – increase fees to GSA for .gov, which might – no clear sign it would – be passed on as a cost to the plaintiffs. (para 29).

More generally, the complaint takes a surprisingly collectivist view of private property given that it was filed by some of the more right-wing state officials in the land.  My computer is not a public forum.  Yet, by claiming that “the internet” has been “established” by the US as a public forum, the plaintiffs seem to want to (in effect) nationalize every computer on the Internet, or at least all the US ones. See for example paras 32 and 35-36 of the complaint which refer to the private use of private computers, but try to turn the computers and the uses into something that requires licenses or which government could control.

Count 3 is bogus because the Commerce Department’s act isn’t a rule in either form or substance.  It might arguably be an adjudication – I wrote an article arguing that other related actions should be seen as adjudications (but the courts didn’t bite).  NTIA has always taken the view that changes to the IANA relationship are just contract negotiation, like buying paperclips, and those don’t require notice and comment and are not adjudications either; instead it’s just purchasing (I thought the $0 cost of the purchase orders was odd, but that failed to convince enough people.) In any case, not renewing the contract is even less an action than altering it.

Count 4 – the claim that the government is lacking statutory authorization for its actions – is a little more interesting.  It has two problems, however: first, the plaintiffs lack the standing to bring it.  Second, if it is correct, it likely proves too much, for if getting rid of the Root Zone File was lacking authority, so too was maintaining it.  So were this to go forward, the result would be to say the government couldn’t do any of the things it has done in the ICANN/IANA space … which is exactly the result that the plaintiffs are suing to prevent.

Count 5, the tortious interference with contractual relations claim, founders on the absence of any non-speculative damages.  US tort law requires you have damages to prevail on a tort claim.

In the long run, this claim cannot succeed.  Whether the parties might be able to scare a judge into throwing a spanner in the works while he or she figures things out, I don’t know, but even if they do I just don’t see any way for this lawsuit to prevail in the long run.

Posted in ICANN, Internet, Law: Internet Law | 1 Comment

.sig File Upgrade: Variable Weather Reports

codesnip(tl/dr: Michael is a geek.)

For a very long time I’ve had a comment about the Miami weather in the last line of my email .sig file, something like “It’s hot here” or “It’s cool here” or occasionally “It’s @#$@#$ hot here.”  This started out largely as reaction against the pretentious .sig files I ran into surprisingly often in the early days of the net.  But it was also driven in part by our remarkable weather in Miami: way too hot six months of the year, lovely five months of the year, and pot luck on the balance.

I had imagined that the right way to do a .sig file modifier on a unix box would be to do something to the mailer daemon to instruct it to pull the weather data in real time.  But because my mail is on a university machine, I don’t have the privileges to do that, and even if I did I don’t think I’d mess with their mailer.

So for 20+ years I did the weather line by hand, changing the last line of my .sig file a few times a year to reflect the change in the seasons, at least when I remembered to do it.  And from  time to time I wished for something automated that would check the weather every time I sent an email.

This summer I finally broke down and took a few hours and wrote a little script that grabs weather data from a public source  and re-writes the text of my .sig file every hour based on the temperature and humidity.  It’s not elegant, but modifying the text of the saved version of the .sig file means I don’t have to tangle with the mailer itself. It also means I use a lot fewer system resources when sending mail, plus it limits my lookups of the weather data.

It shouldn’t have taken a few hours, but I had to learn about how to handle arrays in PHP, plus my data source was badly documented and somewhat inconsistent in what it returned.  Overall, a silly thing to do, yes, and rather late to the party, but I’m happy about it anyway.

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Checking Email Like Playing the Slots

Seems checking mail provides the same “intermittent variable rewards” that addicts folks to slot machines. That insight, and several others, comes from How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist. I didn’t agree with every word, but there’s a lot there to chew on, and I suspect the thing about email-checking is spot on. (And to the extent it’s not, FOMO does the rest.)

Is reading blogs like checking email? Probably, especially if done via RSS feed – intermittent variable rewards indeed.

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This Will Get Someone In Trouble

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Review Skeptic Can Spot Fake Online Reviews (of Hotels)

Review Skeptic claims it can distinguish fake hotel reviews from real ones with 90% accuracy. Must be true, it’s based on research.

Spotted via Lifehacker.

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More Empirical Evidence of Habermasian Processes in Real Life

One of the common dismissals of Habermas’s theory of communicative action is that the requirement of an ‘ideal speech position’ is unrealistic. In Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace I argued first that these critics misunderstood what Habermas required, that the so-called ‘ideal’ was not idealized and thus unattainable, but rather, ‘best achievable in real life’, optimal subject to the constraints of matter and time, and thus — in principle — attainable. Second, I argued that the internet standards process managed by the IETF achieved a Habermasian discourse, at least at times. Recognizing the special conditions, in particular the relative linguistic and professional homogeneity of the participants, I did not argue that the result was necessarily generalizable. Rather, I claimed that an existence proof of even one Habermasian discourse should at least silence critics who claimed the theory was unrealizable.

Comes now Karthikeyan Umapathy, Sandeep Purao and John W. Bagby, who have just published Investigating IT Standardization Process through the lens of Theory of Communicative Action. In it they state that,

Due to the openness, consensus orientation, and volunteer participation, many researchers have argued that standardization processes are quite similar to Habermasian view of rational discourse (i.e., open – ended discussion geared towards reaching consensus) described in the theory of communicative action1. However, none have conducted empirical investigation on an actual standardization process to provide evidence of social actions described by Habermas occurring within the process. Thus, the objective of this paper is to investigate IT standardization process from the theory of communicative action perspective and find evidence of social actions within an actual standardization process.

I told stories about the IETF, but didn’t formalize them. The authors of this paper tell the story of the SOAP standardization process and count incidents of Communicative Action (31%), Strategic Action (22%), Instrumental Action (18%), “Dramaturgical Action” (15%), and Normatively Regulated Action (14%):

Our findings reveal that participants in standardization processes engage in communicative action most frequently with aim of reaching mutual understanding and consensus, engage in strategic action when influencing others towards their intended goals, engage in instrumental action when taking responsibility for solving technical issues, engage in dramaturgical action when expressing their opinions, and engage in normatively regulated action when performing roles they assumed. Our analysis indicates that 60% of activities performed are consensus oriented whereas the rest are success oriented. This paper provides empirical evidence for Habermasian view of social actions occurring in the standardization process setting.

Again, this is not necessarily generalizable:

In this study, we perform analysis only o n one standard (i.e., SOAP) and on one SDO (i.e., W3C). Thus, findings from this study cannot be generalized for all anticipatory standards or SDOs.

Even so, useful data.

  1. Here, in addition to mine, they cite some papers I wasn’t aware of but will need to read, notably Schoechle, T.: Toward a Theory of Standards. In: IEEE Conference on Standardisation and Innovation in Information Technology (SIIT). IEEE, Los Alamitos, CA, USA (1999), and Lyytinen, K., Hirschheim, R.: Information systems as rational discourse: an application of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. 4, 19-30 (1988). They do not cite to Andrew L. Russell, The W3C and its Patent Policy Controversy:A Case Study of Authority and Legitimacy in Internet Governance (2003), which is also relevant. 

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Coral Gables Cops Offer Their Lobby as Transactional “Safe Space”

Coral Gables Central reports that the Coral Gables Police are offering their main lobby as a “safe haven” for people to meet to consummate internet-negotiated transactions. Think Craigslist deals.

The goal is to reduce the likelihood of a criminal act being committed. The Coral Gables Police Department is located at 2801 Salzedo St., Coral Gables, 33134

The department will not be involved in setting the meetings, but the lobby can be used for this transaction any day of the week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

This is a good thing, and the Police should be congratulated for doing it. But note that the cops say they only welcome legal transactions, so unsurprisingly this may not be the place for drug deals, escorting meets, and, they warn, nothing lasting more than 15 minutes. And I’m betting it’s not just watched by a bored desk Sargent, but all taped on camera.

Posted in Coral Gables, Internet | Leave a comment