John Perry Barlow is a retired Wyoming cattle rancher, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. At Freedom to Connect, he riffed off of organizer David Isenberg’s concept of the Stupid Network by offering a call to action to develop what he terms the Ignorant Network. What follows is a partial transcript of his remarks:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what endangers the freedom to connect. In the 21st century, it ought to be a nearly inalienable right. There are several things I see as hazardous to the Internet. The Internet is still an old boys’ network, and the old boys are getting ready to depart. The old boys aren’t getting replaced by young boys or young girls. Vint Cerf’s not ready to depart quite yet, but I don’t think we have a succession plan.
I’ve spent years in cyberspace working to see that its wildness would be preserved, as well as its ethics. I’m afraid to say that it has not in the form of spam and in terms of viruses. The efforts to control the first two and to maintain the existing business model offers a major threat to the Internet. Look at the open SMTP server. Look at people who use Windows machines trying to fight viruses. And think about the amount of bandwidth being used on a human level.
I’m also worried that the government is eventually going to get good at going from data gathering to information analyzing. That’s a central danger to the Internet as we know it. The solution is that we should start thinking not of a stupid network but of an ignorant network. That’s a network that has nothing in the middle. No store and forward capability. Everything is at the edges. Everything is peer to peer. Nothing is marked with identifiable packet headers. It’s possible, and people are working on it.
There are problems with peer-to-peer solutions. They don’t always match the protocols laid out, wisely. But if you’ve got really good peer-to-peer connectivity with everything encrypted, the possibility of spam and viral proliferation is greatly diminished. The possibility of government surveillance is lost. And political rights management, which is the inevitable outgrowth of digital right management, would not happen.