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Open Letter By Eric S. Raymond To Chris Dodd 410

An anonymous reader writes "ESR, one of the finest engineers behind the open source movement and much of the software we use everyday, writes an open letter to U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. ESR points out the concerns of 'the actual engineers who built the Internet and keep it running, who write the software you rely on every day of your life in the 21st century' about politicians attempts to lock down our Internet or our tools. A portion of the letter reads: 'I can best introduce you to our concerns by quoting another of our philosopher/elders, John Gilmore. He said: “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” To understand that, you have to grasp that “the Internet” isn’t just a network of wires and switches, it’s also a sort of reactive social organism composed of the people who keep those wires humming and those switches clicking. John Gilmore is one of them. I’m another. And there are some things we will not stand having done to our network.'"
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Open Letter By Eric S. Raymond To Chris Dodd

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  • by talexb ( 223672 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @09:59AM (#39171805) Homepage Journal

    Politicians are always attempting to be experts at everything. This failure is magnified when they start talking about the Internet, because on the Internet, everyone's an expert.


  • Give your enemy a primer on all your motivations and explain how you are organized. What are we, gorillas pounding our chests?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:01AM (#39171821)

    How dare these self-righteous, misanthropic geeks dare tell us it's their network? Who bought and paid for this network? Why does this network exist in the first place? Because WE built it with our holy dollars. Someone get a muzzle on this dissident! A prime example of why we need control of our network!

  • Obviously (Score:5, Funny)

    by Alranor ( 472986 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:01AM (#39171827)

    ” To understand that, you have to grasp that “the Internet” isn’t just a network of wires and switches"

    Well of course not, as every (ex-) politician knows, it's a series of tubes.

    • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:15AM (#39171971) Journal

      ” To understand that, you have to grasp that “the Internet” isn’t just a network of wires and switches"

      Well of course not, as every (ex-) politician knows, it's a series of tubes, full of cats.


    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:25AM (#39172097)

      I'm getting sick of hearing the propaganda terms "lockdown" and "crackdown" used in place of the correct term, oppression. Are we too afraid to say it? Not politically correct enough? Can't admit our own reality to ourselves? Fuck that.

      Let's call a spade a spade here. The terms "crackdown" and "lockdown" imply that the victim was doing something wrong or immoral in the first place. THAT is exactly why government and the media use these terms. They are "self-justified". They are deliberately false depictions of reality. It's pure propaganda, but the amazing part is that some victims will actually repeat the terms themselves.

      The correct term, oppression, implies that the victim is innocent, not guilty -- and that the oppressors are guilty, not merely "getting around to that crackdown". For christ's sake, use the correct term.

  • Finest engineer? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 )

    What open source projects does ESR actively contribute to?

    • Re:Finest engineer? (Score:5, Informative)

      by CarsonChittom ( 2025388 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:12AM (#39171933) Homepage

      There are some things listed on his projects [] page, notably, contributions to ncurses, GNU Emacs, and the termcap/terminfo database. It's not listed, but I seem to remember that he did some work on fetchmail at one point too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The one that appear that he is most involved in with is gpsd a service daemon that allows Linux to connect to GPS devices.

      Recently he created reposurgeon that allows deep level and safe editing of the data in source control packages like git and mercurial.

    • by kale77in ( 703316 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:37AM (#39172245) Homepage
      His claim to have written "software you use everyday" is giflib; he stopped maintaining it in 1994, but it's in lots of browsers and browsing devices.
    • Besides having contributed to many project, you are talking about a guy that branded "open source", went out and sold it succesfully.

      Now what the fuck have you done lately?

      • by drnb ( 2434720 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @11:16AM (#39172659)

        Besides having contributed to many project, you are talking about a guy that branded "open source", went out and sold it succesfully.

        Then using your argument perhaps he should be referred to as the finest marketing and sales guy of the open source movement. The "Steve Jobs" of open source, not the "Steve Wozniak" of open source. Jobs did some engineering work in the early days too, however that is not where he stood out. Perhaps you are onto something with this marketing and sales argument.

  • Or (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tiger Smile ( 78220 ) <james@dorn[ ]com ['an.' in gap]> on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:06AM (#39171863) Homepage

    Hi. You're going to call off your rigorous investigation. You're going to publicly state that there is no underground group. Or... these guys are going to take your balls. They're going to send one to the New York Times, one to the LA Times press-release style. Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not... fuck with us.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:06AM (#39171871) Homepage Journal

    That guy hypes himself way too much.

  • One day, such ideas and souls will infuse into this network of wires and switches, and lead to the emergence of a living entity.
    • That would require emergent behavior. The internet is specifically designed to prevent that from happening. Emergent behaviors are fun academically, but in a global communications network would be a diagnostics nightmare.
      • What a hell of a support ticket.

        "Users are noticing high latency during certain times of the day. Tier 1 support has narrowed the time to between 11am and 3pm. Further investigation shows an unusually high amount of traffic with a source of 0:0:0123:9AB6:0:0:FDEB:F90A which is in the block used by the base station for the satellite TV feeds. The destination address is the loopback for the Emergent core. After decryption and packet sniffing, the traffic was identified as an MPEG4 stream. When this stream was

  • by Sez Zero ( 586611 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:16AM (#39171989) Journal

    Dear Congress,

    You are damage. We will route around you.

    -- the Internet

  • The mason and the carpenter know which walls hold up the building because they built them.
    And the IT guy has all the passwords and keys to every router closet.

    And management doesn't give a shit what the workerbees think.

    This might help him understand what's going on, but he'd never read it either. []

  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:18AM (#39172015) Journal
    Dear Senator Todd, You're a tool. Sincerely, Me
  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:22AM (#39172061)

    The fact is that there is a serious choke point for the vast majority of users (in the U.S. at least). A handful of big name companies control almost all the broadband ISP's and trunk lines in the U.S. You can't very easily "route around it" if the few providers in your area are censored. In my area, you can choose from 1 cable ISP, 1 DSL ISP, and 3 major cell providers. All five of these are major companies who would bow to the government in an instant if asked. If they were all effectively censored, there would be nowhere to turn save a satellite provider.

    There are always ways around censorship for the hardcore techies, of course. But it really wouldn't be that hard to censor the internet for 99% of the population if the government really wanted to.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:37AM (#39172243) Homepage Journal

      There are always ways around censorship for the hardcore techies, of course. But it really wouldn't be that hard to censor the internet for 99% of the population if the government really wanted to.

      Don't forget that the hardcore techies export their tech, eventually packaged so the 99% can use it. I remember a short lifetime ago how this argument was used against SSL - no end user would ever use it, because it was too complicated for them. Then a few years later about encrypted hard drives. And now we have a non-tech lady who refuses to decrypt her truecrypt drive.
      Yes, the engineers will route around the damage. Yes, it will take time to get it propagated to the masses. But it's inevitable, because the masses don't like being restricted more than their peers, and the engineers have the means to help them.

      • The phases that the "censorship" problem used to go through can be summarised thus:

        Something is created
        Someone tries to suppress its (free) distribution
        Someone else finds a way to nullify that suppression
        Other people start using the nullifying technique
        The technique is "productionised" and rolled out to the masses
        A new suppression scheme is developed ...

        Now, the problem is that instead of the above being simply a technical "game" any more, the rules have changed. More and more frequently a legal solu

    • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @11:08AM (#39172575)
      Nothing stops anyone from setting up a small-scale wireless ISP -- you can use 802.11a/b/g/n/y at a relatively low cost (compared to fiber/cable hardlines/etc.), and create a new, uncensored network. Get some high gain antennas and repeaters for point-to-point wireless backhaul links, and you could work your way toward a large city with many ISPs to choose from (or perhaps toward an industrial area). You could peer with similar efforts in your region, and eventually form a regional network that is beyond the reach of the big ISPs.

      I am aware of a few efforts like the above in the mountains around where I live; it is a bit of work, but really not as much as you might expect. The biggest obstacles are forests, which attenuate the signal, and animals, which occasionally knock down antennas. It is harder to do this in crowded urban areas, but there are many millions of people who do not live in cities.

      What defines the Internet is its protocol -- one common protocol that allows people to communicate across various networks and networking technologies. That is why the Internet can always route around censorship: anyone can establish a net network and attach it to the Internet (though in practice, by the time things got bad enough to motivate people to do such a thing, it would be far too difficult to create a network free from censorship; see: China).
  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:33AM (#39172197)

    Sometimes when I read

    “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

    which appears as a nice and cutesy rainbows and unicorns saying, I get the impression that it actually means

    "Fuck off. You don't belong here and we'll subvert anything you try to do that impacts what we want to do"

    In an angry, anti-establishment, "we know better than you" superior way.
    Note that I do believe in a free Internet.

  • Epic Quote is Epic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MoldySpore ( 1280634 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:50AM (#39172383)

    "...there are some things we will not stand having done to our network." (emphasis mine)

    That is exactly how I feel. As a Network Engineer myself I share their frustration with old, grumpy, white men who sit on capital hill raining down laws that would effect my job and customers without understanding the technology itself, nor the gravity their actions would have on the Internet community at large. I've watched the hours long C-SPAN videos of the hearings with the SINGLE Google representative they invited as an "expert" only to see her get cut-off and publicly flogged and discredited, while old men who had to read basic networking terms such as "internet", "Internet" (they are not interchangeable), "IP Address" and "DNS" off a prepared piece of paper, listed the "merits" of SOPA/PIPA/ACTA. Especially from a security standpoint, the amount of negative repercussions to censoring the internet along the same lines as China could be catastrophic, and that is before even considering its' effect on free speech.

  • Unity is a sad pun (Score:5, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:59AM (#39172461)

    This one I remember: ESR's goodbye note []

    This one I felt certain I would find: Ubuntu and GNOME jump the shark []

    The worst, though, is that .config/dconf/user file. One can haggle back and forth about esthetics, and argue that my judgment about what end-users want may be faulty. But burying my configuration inside an opaque binary blob â" that is unforgivably stupid and bad engineering. How did forty years of Unix heritage comes to this? Itâ(TM)s worse than the Windows registry, and perpetrated by people who have absolutely no excuse for not knowing better.

    (Failure to properly support Unicode in 2012? You're soaking in it.) ESR longs for the era when when the Unix ethos bound us together. It ends in another bail-out, this time with a less dramatic letter.

    Me? Iâ(TM)ve bailed out to KDE. And I may be bailing out of Ubuntu. I want control of my desktop back. I want an applet panel or dock I can edit, I want my focus-follows-mouse-with autoraise back, I want to be able to set my own wallpaper slideshow. Most of all what I want is a window manager that will add to my control of my desktop with each future release rather than subtracting from it.

    Maybe the Unix brotherhood has finally jumped the shark. I'm not sure I believe in the political force ESR claims to represent. It feels more like he's writing the letter to convince himself.

    Jamie Zawinski was feeling the irritation back in 2003: Cascade of Attention-Deficit Teenagers []. Personally I blame SMS [].

    Well, I have a leather jacket and a USB fob with Mint 12 to get on with the exorcism before the April EOL on 10.10. I didn't know the open source movement would degenerate into a lifetime occupation of oasis hopping. That was not my original dream.

  • From the letter,

    Some companies propose, in order to support DRM, locking up computers so they can only only run “approved” operating systems; that might bother ordinary users less than those other treacheries, but to us would be utterly intolerable. If you imagine a sculptor told that his new chisel would only cut shapes pre-approved by a committee of shape vendors, you might begin to fathom the depths of our anger at these proposals.

    His description of "approved" operating systems is too broad. Signing code itself is not a problem, in fact it's a blessing when used properly. The key to proper use is deciding who holds the signing keys. The consumer who owns the device needs to be in charge of that device; he or she must be able to decide whether or not unsigned code is allowed to run. If the user chooses to run only signed code, I think it perfectly fine to let manufacturers implement this as they wish. This could be extended to several layers: the hardware, the boot OS, the user OS, etc. Each of these could be secured, with the user's permission, by the corresponding manufacturer/distributor.

    This certainly wouldn't prevent developers from "cutting" any shape they wanted with their code. But they would have to participate in some share system of security. That doesn't seem to be too much of a stretch to me, and fundamentally a good idea, to boot.

  • by rbowen ( 112459 ) Works for SourceForge on Monday February 27, 2012 @11:27AM (#39172765) Homepage

    I was with you, Eric, right up until you called the media industry execs "stupid" and "dimwits". Your arguments were clear and well stated right up to that point. However, when you call your audience dimwits, they stop listening and discount anything you've said up to that point. This is a great shame, because your letter was incredibly persuasive and non-ranty up to that moment.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @11:49AM (#39173059)

    ...with those who one one. Ultimately, control of the internet resides with those who operate it.

    Like the internet? Fond of electricity? And phone? And petroleum products? And a functioning natural gas pipelines? High frequency stock trading? Best not to fuck with those who run these things. This extends to any critical, high-tech, specialized activity. Up to this point, politicians have left the operators of these things alone. Should they become sufficiently annoying, it wouldn't surprise me if the technically competent started flexing some muscle.

  • by jjohn ( 2991 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @01:34PM (#39174407) Homepage Journal

    You kids and your love of stuff we did in the 90s -- it's ADORABLE!

    Listening to ESR is like logging into myspace, friendster or orkut for new messages.

    I may agree with quite a few of his basic arguments, but he flipped the bozo bit a long, long time ago.

    You'll excuse me. I have an Old School Roleplaying game to DM...

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:28PM (#39176997) Journal

    Look, I think the US government - particularly Congress - are a bunch of supercilious idiots, prone to trying to make comprehensive rules about things they totally don't understand and (importantly) don't care that they don't.

    Nevertheless, probably the worst possible way to get these people to react in the way you want them to* is not to try to look like an even more supercilious tool than they are. "(John Gilmore) of our philosophers/elders..." OK, you're really not going to impress anyone with trying to clothe network design/maintenance with some quasi-religious overtones. Philosophers? Elders? Really? As intelligent as ESR may be, I wouldn't necessarily credit him or John Gilmore with the intellectual chops to debate angels and pins with, say, Voltaire or Kant. They're no more Philosophers than anyone whose long service at a task gives them insight into how it works. Sorry Eric, that doesn't rate you the title "Philosopher". "Elder" might carry a touch more credence as "an elder person with some special dignity or authority in a tribe or community" but still, it still sounds as silly as calling him a rabbi or 'network buddha' which might even be more accurate.

    *of course, this assumes you're actually trying to solve the problem, not grandstand to the crowd or stroke your epeen.

    "...(the internet is)...also a sort of reactive social organism..." Now we're into some sort of sophomoric psychosocial commentary. If you want to be specific, the internet really is just a bunch of wires and protocols, within which reside a number of different creatures - your 'reactive social organism' (which, sadly, isn't the sort of higher consciousness that you imply; the huge majority is about a sort of hedonistic narcissism that would have made Caligula blush) being one, the Greater Internet Dickwad being another example. I'm part of this network, and I'll tell you that while I agree with most of your logical premises (minus the ego), and I find Chris Dodd a repellent archetype of Congresspeople as a subspecies, I find your note itself so off-putting that it's impossible to support you.

    It IS fair to say that the protocols are designed to see any interruption in information flow - ie censorship - as damage. But then to say "...And there are some things we will not stand having done to our network...." - I can PROMISE you that the last way you're going to get cooperative, constructive help from a US government official is to THREATEN them.

    In fact "ESR", they're about the only people on this planet who have as inflated a sense of self importance as, well, you seem to.

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.