Saturday, September 17, 2005

David Coursey, "technology columnist"

I only have one word to say after reading David Coursey's latest missive in PC Magazine, which analyzes the effects of the MGM vs. Grokster ruling. That word is, "wow."

Coursey advocates a sort of "national firewall" to prevent intellectual property theft (e.g., your daughter downloading the latest Gwen Stefani MP3), gambling (e.g., your son laying down a $10 bet on the Bengals over the Vikings at, and similar "crimes". These crimes consist of transporting bits around in ways that technically violate U.S. criminal law but are, in fact, practiced on a daily basis by a large percentage of the U.S. population. Coursey states,

When the Internet is being used on American soil, it should comply with American law. And if it doesn't, then the government should be able to step in and filter the illegal sites and activities.

In doing so, Coursey asserts the Government should provide a "national firewall" capability not dissimilar to that used by China. That Coursey is embarking down a path that leads the U.S. to current Chinese governmental policy should be caution enough.

But Coursey's understanding of the Internet -- its fundamental TCP/IP fabric -- is so lacking and so vacuous that he should be writing for Redbook or Cosmo, not a magazine purporting to have a technical audience. In fact, I've seldom seen such a misguided opinion column outside the pages of the Gray Lady, which regularly hosts the ravings of Dowd, Herbert, Krugman, and Rich.

Consider the following methods that a "national firewall" -- no matter how comprehensive or technically sophisticated -- can be defeated:

 >  Imagine there are proxy servers outside the U.S. (and, yes, these already exist in droves). The proxies support SSL. Users inside the U.S. surf to the proxy and thereby access "forbidden" content that is tunneled via SSL. Today's clientless VPN (or SSL VPN) solutions are typical examples of corporate solutions that serve this purpose. And there are plenty of other examples capable of reverse-proxying this sort of traffic. Or does Coursey propose banning SSL outside the U.S.? Uhmm, that'll make it... a little tough to do business outside the country.

 >  A while back, there was a great hulabaloo about "darknets", which are private peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. An article in BusinessWeek, for instance, pointed to products like BadBlue and Groove as examples of private P2P file sharing systems. A national firewall doesn't help mitigate transport of traffic through "darknets", either within our borders or without. Or does Coursey intend to ban those types of products, though they have significant business capabilities?

 >  What about web servers, FTP servers, Torrent servers, and the like? Any sort of content can be placed upon those types of publishing systems - legal or illegal. Or does Coursey intend to have the government periodically audit all infrastructure for IP violations?

I must say, I don't know who David Coursey is. But, based upon this article, I don't think I need to read any of his future work. Woven throughout this article are assertions that demonstrate a stunning misunderstanding of how the Internet works. David Coursey has about as much chance of seeing a "national firewall" as I have of throwing down a two-handed dunk over the heads of Amare Stoudamire and Shawn Marion in the 2006 NBA All-Star Game.

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