by Thomas L. Knapp
March 28, 2013
The Hill reports that “A draft cybersecurity bill circulating among House Judiciary Committee members would stiffen a computer hacking law used to bring charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz.”
If you’re wondering why the laws that drove Swartz to suicide as he faced a possible 35-year sentence for a “crime” that none of the “victims” complained about, or that brought a 41-month sentence down on Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer for entering URLs into his web browser need to be “stiffened,” the answers are “money” and “control.”
If you thought the answer was “to protect users’ privacy,” you’re way off. The US government’s only goal with respect to privacy is to ensure that you have no privacy with respect to it, and that its corporate cronies have plenty of privacy with respect to you.
The whole point of “cyber security” legislation is to shore up and protect the failed “intellectual property” model of the 20th century even though … or more likely BECAUSE … doing so would turn the Internet into a pale, sterile copy of television.
America’s political class does see the Internet as a “marketplace,” but their definition of a marketplace is a supervised (read: Taxable) venue where their friends in Big Business sell you stuff on their terms and at their prices, because you are legally forbidden, and as a practical matter unable, to get it anywhere else. Politicized “marketplaces” are designed to create artificial scarcities and minimize competition so that the politically connected can reap unearned profits.
The problem with “intellectual property” is that these days — due to technological progress — almost any scarcity of information products HAS to be artificial, i.e. government-created.
In the old days, it took significant and expensive infrastructure to distribute information. Books had to be printed on expensive presses. Radio and television programs had to be broadcast by expensive (and government-licensed) transmitters. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to a theater that had rented a print of it, or wait for one of those radio or TV stations to acquire broadcast “rights.”
Under such conditions, the legal fiction of “intellectual property” didn’t get a whole lot of scrutiny. For the most part, the people who could afford the infrastructure to deliver information were the same people who told the fairy tale that the information itself, rather than the delivery infrastructure, constituted the “property” involved.
But then along came the photocopier, the VCR and DVD player, the computer … and the Internet. The efficient cost of reproducing a single copy of a book, a song, a movie descended quickly toward zero (it will never quite reach zero, but it’s damn close).
In a real marketplace — not one of those politicized counterfeits — competition forces the selling price of a good down toward (although once again, never quite to) the cost of production. But old school sellers of “intellectual property” aren’t interested in competing, or in reappraising their business models and finding new ways to leverage delivery of information into profit. And Uncle Sugar has their back.
In the real world, “intellectual property” is as dead as Mr. Praline’s parrot, and the public justifications for its continued recognition are just as silly as the shopkeeper’s claim that said parrot is merely pining for the fjords. But monopolists don’t like living in the real world, and politicians traffic in telling them they don’t have to. This new “cyber security” bill will fail to accomplish its purpose, but there’s no telling how many corpses it will pile up and how many prison cells it will fill in doing so.