I just got back from a great CPSR conference in Washington, D.C.,
"Communications Unleashed."  It had excellent speakers and scads of
discussions that would interest members of this mailing list: a
telecommunications update, tips on how to bring public-interest views to the
attention of the public, current issues in Internet regulation (which some
people call an oxymoron--but yes, it does go on), news about privacy and
free speech issues, and an expose on the use of computers for elections. 

Among the better-known speakers were Ann Beeson (who led the ACLU lawsuit
that overturned the Communications Decency Act), Anthony Rutkowski (a
long-time figure in Internet policy), consumer advocated Jamie Love, and
Computer Risks forum moderator Peter G. Neumann.

I'll summarize the events here in order to share the latest news, and maybe
stimulate you to join us the next time CPSR holds its annual meeting.
Everything here is just my personal impression, of course.

Nathaniel Borenstein presented the annual Norbert Wiener award to Phil
Zimmermann, who must have had pretty good feelings about the event because
he renewed his CPSR membership that evening.

I also picked up a powerful quote from Ann Beeson, which is now on our Web
site (

	The **most important** civil liberties issue facing us today
	is getting citizens of all races, classes, and creeds connected
	to the Internet.  Our fight for free speech and privacy rights
	will remain a hollow victory if cyberspace is just a bunch of
	white folks.

The first workshop was "The Communications Tsunami."  Speakers noted that
the biggest decisions will now be in the states, where consumers and
public-interest activists have to keep close tabs on their regulatory
agencies so that the local phone companies are really forced to open up to
competition.  (They're getting into everybody else's business, so we'll just
be handing them billions of dollars if we don't let other companies get into
their business.) An interesting disagreement came up between telecomm
consultant Brian Moir and Jamie Love.  Muir complained that
universal-service provisions for schools, libraries, and health providers
would raise costs for everybody else.  Love pointed out that a reasonably
small tax of 1% on all telephone use would yield a handsome 1.6 billion
dollars for the schools et al.

Both of these speakers agreed that the age-old way of keeping local costs
low (having consumers pay the local companies about six cents per minute on
long-distance calls--this appears on the phone bill as "access charges")
ought to disappear now.  It's serving mainly to keep phone companies from
finding more efficient ways to do long-distance and lower costs--why
scrounge to save half a cent per minute when the six-cent tax will stay keep
costs high?

Now that the states are responsible for competition in the local market
(interconnection), it could come to pass very soon in the more advanced
states where regulators are savvy, but take 10 or 20 years in other states.

John Curran of BBN Planet was also on the panel, and spoke knowledgeably
about the direction that Internet Service Providers are taking.
Interestingly, he took middle-of-the-road positions on whether the Internet
should be regulated in some way (to support universal service, for instance)
and whether a tax should be imposed on its use.

It was a fast-moving talk, and a lot of people in the audience missed some
of the acronyms and references, but we definitely knew more about this
month's communication issues at the end.

The panel on "Toolkits for Activists" tried to galvanize everyone to action.
Andrew Jay Schwartman of the Media Access Project gave some solid,
old-fashioned advice: don't rely on being right, show the legislators why
they should care (usually because you can threaten to raise the public
against them), and so on.  Audrie Krause of NetAction (former Executive
Director of CPSR) continued the tutorial by telling us how to deal with
reporters (always contact them whenever they touch your issues--either to
praise them or to complain--and actually visit the editors).  She talked
about all kinds of allies we could find--labor organizations, consumer
groups, PIRGS, and others.  Finally, she encouraged us to volunteer at the
level of direct action to help have-nots and non-profits.

Jean Ann Fox of the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council let us know who we
can generally work with to improve regulations in states (the Consumer
Federation of America, Consumers Union, the Attorney General's consumer
representative).  She said that consumer groups like hers were usually
restricted to reacting after they find out that a regulation is bad for
consumers--perhaps a group like CPSR can help them anticipate bad consequences.

Finally, Coralee Whitcomb, who started the Virtually Wired center for
teaching have-nots, picked up on the direct-action theme by advocating
computer centers that the public can use.   She also subjected NetDay hype
to much-needed scrutiny and wondered aloud what would happen the day after
NetDay, when teachers around the country with no computer training turn on
their systems and find that Netscape freezes up.

The forum on "The Internet: Commercialization, Globalization and Governance"
began with an overview of Internet organizations and issues by Anthony
Rutkowski. Then we heard from Elliot Maxwell of the FCC. One would expect a
party line from an FCC official, but instead we got a highly personal (and
well-informed) impression of issues facing the Internet.  What should happen
when the Internet is used for financial transactions that are normally
taxed?  Should we let it become a duty-free zone? How do we deal with
content issues, when each country has a different notion of what is
pornography, seditious material, or unacceptable advertising?  Maxwell could
not offer answers (particularly since he was not speaking for the FCC) but
he added considerably to our store of questions.  He did promise that the
FCC would start the process of looking at access charges (see above) in
November and come to a decision in the Spring, and that they would soon tell
people how to file comments electronically.

Jamie Love returned to the podium and picked up the question of using the
Internet for financial activities.  All sorts of things are regulated in the
U.S., but can now be done "outside" the country via the Internet. This may
be a boon to consumers, or may lead to all kinds of fraud. He also lauded
the FCC for trying to fix the access charge system before imposing it on the
Internet. In contrast, Japan and some European countries currently levy a
per-minute charge for local phone calls (although Japan has removed the
charge for night calling) which they realize now is inhibiting people from
using the Internet.

Love warned us against a current trend by companies to bypass public
scrutiny of the law-making process by going international bodies, a theme
that re-emerged later in the day. Many international organizations have been
set up in recent years (by NAFTA, GATT, G7, the European Community, and so
on) that draw their rule-making bodies mostly from people sympathetic to
large businesses.  These businesses, after getting approval for the policies
and regulations that they want, contact the traditional legislatures in each
country and pressure them to ratify these "international standards."  Love
started an interesting discussion about the new Internet Law & Policy Forum,
which will try to set international policies for the Internet--currently,
their funding comes from companies with a stake in the results, but they
seem to be honestly trying to draw in all sectors of stakeholders.

The "Information Rights" panel covered a lot of interrelated issues.
Current government assaults on privacy are so numerous--ranging from the
Administration's latest Clipper-type encryption proposal to the
counter-terrorism bill and beyond--that moderator David Banisar didn't have
time even to list them all.  Attorney Christine Mailloux (formerly of
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse) gave an overview of privacy's importance and
how we should approach legislators.  Ann Beeson celebrated the overturning
of the CDA, but warned us about future attempts to control free
speech--bills to come in Congress, and CDA clones in state legislatures,
which the ACLU is fighting.  She also said that acceptable use policies in
colleges often infringe of freedom of speech and privacy.

Law professor James Boyle offered a lively talk about the Administration's
infamous "White Paper" on intellectual property, and the laws that have been
proposed to implement it.  Such laws would hold back technical innovation,
because almost anything you do online could conceivably be used to make an
illegal copy of something!  Furthermore, they would act like the CDA in
forcing administrators of Web sites and newsgroups to monitor all content.  

Materials are available about this topic online, notably a letter from Boyle
at (and see our own Web site at
..  While the law based on the White Paper did not pass, large copyright
holders are working through international bodies in the manner described
earlier, a process some call "international policy laundering."

The last panel of the day was on a narrower topic than the others--but a
critical one: the risks of using computers to tabulate votes.  Eva Waskell,
Rebecca Mercuri, David Burnham, Douglas A. Kellner, and Peter G. Neumann
detailed the weak points in the election process and the chances to create
fraud.  It is mathematically impossible, according to Professor Mercuri, to
guarantee that votes are counted properly while maintaining voter anonymity.

On Sunday, workshops were held on civic networking, grass-roots activism,
use of media, and Internet-related law.  Since they were open discussions,
summarizing them is too difficult for me to attempt here.  All in all, the
CPSR D.C. chapter deserves a lot of thanks and credit for pulling the
conference together.