Re: [perpass] politics and the ietf

Phillip Hallam-Baker <hallam@gmail.com> Thu, 05 December 2013 15:23 UTC

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Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2013 10:23:38 -0500
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From: Phillip Hallam-Baker <hallam@gmail.com>
To: Elijah Sparrow <elijah@bitmask.net>
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Cc: perpass <perpass@ietf.org>
Subject: Re: [perpass] politics and the ietf
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Many people assume that technical people are unaware of the political
implications of their work. This is not true and has never been true.

In my case I contacted Jock Gill who was running the Clinton-Gore '92
campaign and told him about the Web and the political potential in 1992,
the day after I returned from the first public presentation at the CHEP'92
conference in France.

I discussed the potential of the Web with people who were working in
Sarajevo during the siege. They used a Web server there to coordinate
information, for example reporting positions of snipers.

I also had conversations with the intelligence services at the time. The
cold war had just ended and they were looking for a new role.

>From 1991 through 1998 there was an event that is generally known in the
field as the cryptowars which began as a fight between the NSA and the
Internet and ended with Louis Freeh the FBI backing the Republican party
attempt to impeach Bill Clinton in revenge for the administration reneging
on what Freeh believed was a commitment to back his surveillance ambitions.

Some of us have experience of national politics as well. I was a (full not
youth) delegate to a national party conference at 20. I gave up that
activity because building the net is far more consequential than most
cabinet level political careers.

More specifically, when I started work on the Web 95% of the UK newspaper
industry was controlled by three individuals, Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black
and Robert Maxwell. Conrad Black has recently completed a prison sentence
for fraud, Maxwell committed suicide just before his massive fraud was
exposed and the senior management a Rupert Murdoch UK newspaper are
currently on trial. I really did not see why a conspicuously corrupt and
dishonest Austrialian newspaper magnate should get to choose the UK
government which is what Murdoch claimed in the wake of the '92 election.

It is hard to imagine that the Iraq war could have occurred without support
from Murdoch's global propaganda machine. He has the blood of a half
million people on his hands.


In the case of cryptography in particular and security in general, the
technology affects the balance of power and is always controversial. When
the IETF tried to do anti-spam work the efforts were initially sabotaged by
a large number of shills paid by the spammers themselves. Even though
99.99% of net users hate spam there are some parties that made their
livings from it and wanted to protect them.

DRM is contentious for the same reason. It affects the balance of power
between the producer of content and the consumer. Payment security
mechanisms are contentious because some net merchants have built their
reputations on being a safe place to buy from and they have little
incentive to make trust a commodity.