Patrick Frey, aka Patterico, and I appear to agree on several things when it comes to government’s role, if any, in assuring freedom of speech by promoting an open Internet. This is progress.

(If you’re spending your valuable time following any of this, here’s his first attack post; then my reply; and now his further response.)

We agree there is currently no genuinely free market in providing Internet access. We agree that it would be great if a free market did exist, and support various measures that would help get us there. And we agree that government, in the form of the Federal Communications Commission, has behaved badly in the past. There’s more, but those are the highlights.

We continue to disagree, firmly, on whether government can play a positive role in helping to ensure free speech on the Internet. Frey is convinced that the FCC’s recent net-neutrality decision is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, and that’s that, it seems. In his view, I’m naive to believe it could possibly be different.

Read the hard-core libertarian language in his post to understand where he’s coming from. He loathes government in just about every way. Consent of the governed, he says, is meaningless in modern America (bold lettering in the original):

Fuck this notion that we are the government and the government is us. That is total bullshit. We are the ruled. Period. End of story.

So what is the way forward for Frey? Naturally, the free market, full stop[1. I like a lot of what libertarians say, but their  free-market philosophy seems to go something like this: There’s really no such thing as a monopoly. Even if there is, the market will cure it. Even if the monopoly is so entrenched that the market takes decades to respond, that’s not our problem. Even if the market never responds, we’re all dead in the long run.] Not that we have one or, given the political system he believes we have, any possibility of one. And I’m naive.

Frey would have you believe that our conversation boils down to this basic–though profound–disagreement:

[Gillmor] trusts government. I (Frey) don’t. He thinks government will “forbear” from exercising powers that it can get away with exercising. I don’t. He thinks government getting its mitts on a part of the Internet will improve our lives. I don’t.

Anyone who’s read even a tiny amount of what I’ve written for, oh, the past 20 years or so is surely aware that I do not trust government as a general rule. I don’t trust Big Government, Big Business, Big Anything. I do leave open the possibility that they can (and sometimes do) get it right. This isn’t because they tend to do things based on good will, though sometimes they do. It’s more often because countervailing forces, such as voters, courts, customers, etc., can apply enough pressure to get a better outcome.

We may well need those countervailing forces–checks and balances–in a Title II future, because no one in this debate, least of all me, thinks the FCC’s action was the perfect solution. Its net neutrality ruling was distinctly less bad than the alternative it was floating earlier: handing control over the Internet’s key on-ramps to the rapacious telecommunications cartel that has demonstrated its unfitness to have such control.

We were heading toward control of speech by a cartel of rapacious companies that had zero First Amendment obligations. Frey says we’re heading toward control of speech by a cartel of bureaucrats. Because, you see, since the FCC did it with broadcast, they’ll do it with the Internet.

Government, unlike business, actually does have some First Amendment obligations. And the Internet could hardly be more different than the broadcast system that the FCC did regulate poorly in the bad old days. 

The Supreme Court has weighed in, firmly, on the issue of whether the Internet is like broadcast, which was heavily regulated on the (increasingly specious) principle that the airwaves were scarce. Not even close, the court said in a key 1990s ruling about the “Communications Decency Act, which the court mostly tossed out as violating the First Amendment. (I appreciate the reminder of the CDA ruling from Seth Finkelstein, a longtime correspondent, and critic, who has persuaded me I was mistaken on more than one issue over the years.) Key language:

[U]nlike the conditions that prevailed when Congress first authorized regulation of the broadcast spectrum, the Internet can hardly be considered a “scarce” expressive commodity. It provides relatively unlimited, low cost capacity for communication of all kinds. The Government estimates that “[a]s many as 40 million people use the Internet today, and that figure is expected to grow to 200 million by 1999.” This dynamic, multifaceted category of communication includes not only traditional print and news services, but also audio, video, and still images, as well as interactive, real time dialogue. Through the use of chat rooms, any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox. Through the use of Web pages, mail exploders, and newsgroups, the same individual can become a pamphleteer. As the District Court found, “the content on the Internet is as diverse as human thought.” 929 F. Supp., at 842 (finding 74). We agree with its conclusion that our cases provide no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied to this medium.

Maybe some future Supreme Court will totally abandon us, and decide that tight regulation of Internet speech is constitutional. If so, the United States of America, and the Bill of Rights, will have long since become just meaningless ideas. For now, I’ll give some trust to a system where we still have some checks and balances–and work hard to hold Big Government and Big Business accountable. If that makes me terminally naive, so be it.


(Note: This is adapted from a Thanksgiving Day editorial I wrote many years ago in the Detroit Free Press, and then adapted in my blog starting in the early part of the last decade. It changes each time I write it, to reflect current realities)

Today, we Americans celebrate our finest holiday, Thanksgiving. I’m overseas, in Hong Kong. I expect to join a couple of expatriates this evening. I will miss my family and friends at home.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time at the “Occupy Central” locations since I’ve been here, with growing admiration for the young people who have created and persisted with their Umbrella Movement. They want a Hong Kong that respects personal liberty and offers a genuinely representative government. The authorities are starting to evict them from their street encampments here on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon across the harbor.  It’s both an inspiring and sad sight.

Across the ocean people are in the streets to protest a corrupt system of justice that has produced the Ferguson case and so many others like it. A student at the University of Hong Kong, where I’ve been teaching for a few weeks, asked me to explain Ferguson after the grand jury reached its obviously pre-ordained decision and anger spilled over. I couldn’t. I still want to believe the best about my country.

The young people who’ve camped in the streets of Hong Kong’s Admiralty, Monkok and Causeway Bay, and the angry but overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson and other American cities, remind me of what a friend once said, many years ago:

We need more pilgrims, and fewer turkeys.

There are still plenty of pilgrims around. They refuse to accept the way things are. They reject pure grasping for money and control and status. They are outnumbered and outspent in the halls of power, but their day may return if the people ever recognize what is happening.

My material table overflows with bounty this Thanksgiving. Tonight I will raise a glass to family and far-away friends. I’ll salute the brave people worldwide who champion and fight for justice. I’m grateful beyond words for my life of comfort and relative safety in a deeply troubled world.

I’m grateful, too, for my opportunity to constantly explore and learn. I hope to sustain, as long as I live, a spiritual pilgrimage — for life, for justice.

And on Thanksgiving Day 2014, I wish the same for you.

Occupy, but study

I’m visiting Hong Kong for a month (with a side trip to Shanghai toward the end of the trip). I find myself agog, again, at the pure energy of the place.

Over the weekend I got guided tours of the student protest encampments widely known as Occupy Central (it really should be called Occupy Admiralty and Mon Kok and Causeway Bay) with local journalists who’ve been covering the students since before this started. I find myself totally admiring these kids — but I wish they had a better sense of security in their communications. They’re using Facebook for the most part, which is basically an invitation to be surveilled.

Transcript of a voicemail message left for me today at Google Voice:

And I don’t know if you’re gonna get this message but both teams, and I feel more dot com address is, R pouncing, the bye for maybe a problem with a hold of me and just when I send you an email. I’ll try that. Now to you later that pounces as well.

Glad they keep the actual audio for playback…

For six years starting in 1999, I spent 5-6 weeks each fall at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism & Media Studies Centre, co-teaching an online media course. I’m certain that HKU was the first university in the world to require students to create blogs, because Dave Winer gave us space on a server to test his then-beta blogging software in the very, very early days of the mass-blogging movement.

I’ll be based in Hong Kong again this November, co-teaching a class at HKU and visiting the mainland. The JMSC has changed a lot over the years, but it’s still leading the way in Asia. I’m looking forward to seeing the centre’s director, Ying Chan, and her terrific colleagues.

Over the years Hong Kong became one of my favorite places. A friend accurately called it “Manhattan on speed” — capturing the frenetic energy of the place. It revs me up, too.

In a long and eventually convoluted conversation on Twitter today, I asked Marc Andreessen some questions about his assertion on CNBC that Edward Snowden is a “textbook traitor” and that the Obama administration left the NSA “out to dry.” What began as a two-way conversation quickly become multidirectional. Here’s everything I could find from the exchange(s), though it went off on a number of tangents not captured here. (I’m updating…) The author of each tweet is the first person on the line (Twitter doesn’t offer threaded views, so it’s a bit of a mess): (UPDATE: GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram parsed the back-and-forth and came up with this take on it.)

@dangillmor @pmarca: Puzzled by your logic, @pmarca — are you more upset that US is hacking US-based companies to spy or that it was revealed to the world?

@pmarca: @dangillmor I’ll answer questions but not spring-loaded ones. 9:28 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca OK, one at a time. Does it bother you that NSA hacked US companies’ networks?

@pmarca: @mgalicki @dangillmor I don’t even know what that means. 9:33 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor That part doesn’t thrill me. 9:33 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca How do you feel about NSA sabotaging encryption?

@dangillmor @pmarca Is it OK for US to secretly modify US-made hardware being sent overseas (and, most likely, being delivered inside US as well)?

@pmarca: @dangillmor NSA has been dual mission: protect US infrastructure + spy on foreign communication. That’s obviously not sustainable. 9:35 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor As you know, at Netscape we were a big part of the fight with the NSA to overturn export controls on strong encryption. 9:36 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca If NSA secretly hacking US companies’ networks is a bad thing, why is revealing it a bad thing?

@pmarca: @dangillmor I am an unconditional fan of unlimited strong encryption worldwide and always have been, as demonstrated by us creating SSL. 9:36 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor And I think the “protecting US infrastructure” part of the mission needs to increasingly dominate between the two. 9:37 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor The vast majority of the Snowden leaks have nothing to do with US citizens or US infrastructure. 9:38 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca Netscape did important work to overturn export controls. But NSA’s response was partly to sabotage crypto for everyone.

@pmarca: @dangillmor The comprehensive leaking of US intelligence operations globally are treasonous by definition. 9:38 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor If Snowden and his allies had only revealed issues specific to US citizens & US companies, that would be one thing. 9:39 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca Even though countless US citizens are being caught up in the dragnet surveillance, and all phone records being collected?

@pmarca: @dangillmor But that is very much not what has happened. 9:39 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor Snowden fans have cognitive dissonance, are ignoring all of his leaks that have nothing to do with US citizens: most of them. 9:40 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca It would still, by the definition you used today, be traitorous, would it not?

@pmarca: @dangillmor I think phone record metadata is a very difficult and complex edge case. I don’t think it’s black and white. 9:40 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor The whistleblower case could be legitimately argued, in my view, for issues specific to US citizens. 9:40 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor There is no whistleblower case for revealing foreign intelligence operations not involving US citizens. 9:41 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor Which is the majority of what has happened. 9:41 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca The “protecting US infrastructure” mission, done right, will make spying harder everywhere, will it not?

@pmarca: @dangillmor To just ignore that or say it’s OK is a whole new definition of OK from all US legal norms and precedents. 9:42 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Some folks hold bulk surveillance of the comms of an entire country is a human rights issue. Antithetical to free press. 9:42 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor Yes. That’s why NSA fought encryption so hard in the 1990s (which, again, I was fighting for :-). 9:43 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor That’s the conflict in the NSA’s current dual mission. 9:43 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Fair enough, but revealing foreign intelligence operations is literally, definitionally treason. 9:44 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca We keep learning that foreign intelligence programs are creating mass collection of US info, or have domestic implications.

@pmarca: @octal @dangillmor Yes, that has become a very big problem. 9:45 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor That I do not like one bit. 9:46 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca Still not clear on how White House, which has neutered the NSA “reform”, has left NSA “out to dry.”

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Indeed. So how can or should vast, secret programs secure the consent of the governed, especially in an endless war? 9:48 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @digiphile @dangillmor: okay, so separate question: is treason of that sort ever justified — Pentagon Papers etc.? 9:48 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Three branches of government providing a matrix of oversight; two of them directly elected by the people. 9:49 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca Secret courts making secret rulings after hearing only govt’s case are hardly “oversight”. Congressional “oversight” has been nil.

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Representative democracy, not unilateral direct action or mob rule. 9:49 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor I read the Pentagon Papers as different: they were a historical study, vs current US intelligence activities. 9:50 AM

@dangillmor @pmarca still top secret, and govt argued would have current impact (Vietnam war wasn’t over at that point) @mathewi

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Congressional oversight of secret programs & laws is how that’s supposed to work in our republic. How’s that working? 9:50 AM

@mathewi: .@mims: Well, some of the questions that @dangillmor is currently asking of @pmarca, like is treason worse than mass surveillance? 9:50 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Right. Founders were quite clear about that bit. Not sure Jefferson would be down with secret laws & interpretations. 9:51 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Should it therefore be up to one 29-year-old analyst to make a different decision on all our behalfs? 9:53 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca that is precisely how a lot of misdeeds by government have come to light over the years. imperfect but vital. @digiphile

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor If Congress & @WhiteHouse extended whisteblower protections to national intel contractors, perhaps next one won’t do so. 9:54 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @mathewi Easier to have perspective 40 years later, for sure. 9:54 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Of course. 9:55 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor And that then justifies an unlimited pass for treason? 9:55 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca i think that greatly overstates it. 9:57am

@digiphile: @pmarca @mathewi @dangillmor Pentagon Papers published by @NYTimes in 1971, *during* the Vietnam War. Showed admin lied, war scope expanded. 9:56 AM

@pmarca: @prestonrhea @dangillmor No, those aren’t national secrets. 9:56 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor What has the administration does to support them? 9:56 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor So a limited pass for treason? 9:57 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca whistleblowing

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Could an act of treason revealing secret programs / laws be warranted if SCOTUS or Members of Congress kept in the dark? 9:58 AM

@mathewi retweeted: @pmarca still top secret, and govt argued would have current impact (Vietnam war wasn’t over at that point) @mathewi 10:00 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor I think there is such a thing as whistleblower actions but I think in nat’l sec they have to be carefully defined. 10:01 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca whistleblowing about grossly abusive foreign intelligence practices not treason, then? how do we refine it? @digiphile

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor So operations vs US citizens not properly disclosed to oversight, there’s a strong pro-whistleblower argument. 10:01 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor But the vast majority of what Snowden has done is way beyond that. 10:02 AM

@pmarca: @adikamdar @dangillmor Probably so :-). 10:02 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile I think you’re confusing “operations vs US citizens” and “operations that violate US law.” 10:05 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: treason may be a crime, but mass surveillance of US citizens is also a crime — is the former justified by the latter? 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @tcarmody @dangillmor @digiphile Indeed, the difference between those two concepts itself is interesting and important. 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor The vast majority of what Snowden has done has nothing to do with surveillance of US citizens. 10:06 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca not arguing for zero secrecy, but what our govt does with our money and in our names is highly relevant to US citizens. @mathewi

@sarahjeong: @pmarca @dangillmor I’m not a US citizen and I think I’m a person with rights 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor His supporters give him a complete pass on all of that and I just don’t understand it. 10:06 AM

@pmarca: @sarahjeong @dangillmor Indeed you are, but every country legally differentiates between their own citizens and foreigners, including yours. 10:07 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile Operations against noncitizens that violate US law are a real concern in this case. 10:08 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: Okay, but you didn’t answer my original question 🙂 10:08 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @digiphile I think revealing foreign intelligence operations is the very definition of treason. 10:08 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @digiphile I don’t even know what’s controversial about that statement. 10:08 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Support for whistleblowers is key component of representative democracy, as we think of it today. 10:09 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile the problem again is when foreign intelligence operations violate the laws of your country. 10:09 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @mathewi Of course. Which is why we have three branches of government, two directly elected, to maintain oversight. 10:09 AM

@tcarmody: @pmarca @dangillmor @digiphile If you swear an oath to the Constitution, unconstitutional operations could themselves be considered treason. 10:09 AM

@pmarca: @tcarmody @dangillmor @digiphile Most of the operations Snowden has revealed are not in violation of US law. 10:10 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca most haven’t been ruled on by courts other than the rubber-stamp FISA court, if even that @tcarmody @digiphile

@dangillmor: @pmarca …and key members of Congress have said White House has grossly expanded interpretation of laws they passed @tcarmody @digiphile

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Operations vs the foreign nationals of other countries are also rightfully subject to oversight & disclosure to Congress 10:10 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Yes! 10:10 AM

@sarahjeong: @pmarca @dangillmor In the United States, many constitutionally guaranteed rights (inc. 4A) apply to non-citizen residents as well. 10:10 AM

@pmarca: @digiphile @dangillmor Yes, but that is not an unlimited pass to leak every government secret. 10:10 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @tcarmody @dangillmor U.S. law also once allowed slavery, denied women the vote or minorities rights. Not all that’s lawful is just. 10:11 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Which one? 10:11 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Many shades of gray. Most #OpenGov advocates acknowledge Snowden’s path to disclosure suboptimal: 10:12 AM

@pmarca: @dangillmor @tcarmody @digiphile Your opinion that the FISA court is meaningless is neither uniformly shared nor based on any law. 10:12 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: whether Snowden’s act of treason is justified because it revealed a much larger crime, i.e. mass surveillance 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @paleofuture @mathewi @dangillmor It was literally a historical study. 10:13 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor There are no unlimited passes to leak every secret, even for POTUS. 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Snowden has committed many acts by revealing many secrets. 10:13 AM
390697 is your Twitter login code. 10:13 AM

@digiphile: @pmarca @dangillmor Reasonable people acknowledge the need for some government secrecy, especially on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor The majority are self-evidently treason as they reveal foreign intelligence operations not involving US citizens. 10:13 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor There are a handful involving US citizens that may deserve whistleblower status. 10:14 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @dangillmor: okay then, a hypothetical: if he had only revealed surveillance of US citizens, would his treason be justified? 10:14 AM

@digiphile: RT @michellequinn @pmarca @dangillmor Traitor or not, Snowden could have picked another path – conscientious objector 10:14 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor But even those are complex, and not just slam dunk black and white “he’s a hero”. 10:14 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca We differ on this, but IMO Snowden has done more to honor oath to “defend and protect the Constitution” than the others @mathewi

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Like I said, for example, I don’t think phone metadata is a black and white issue the way it’s being portrayed. 10:15 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @dangillmor Another example, the early PRISM reporting was spectacularly wrong, which has stuck. 10:16 AM

@mathewi retweeted: @pmarca …and key members of Congress have said White House has grossly expanded interpretation of laws they passed @tcarmody @digiphile 10:16 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca but that’s on the reporters, not snowden. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:16 AM

@pmarca: @vhokstad @mathewi @dangillmor Every country legally differentiates between citizens and non-citizens. 10:17 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor A lot of people think that he revealed US Internte companies voluntarily giving NSA unlimited access. 10:17 AM

@dangillmor: @pmarca we still don’t know how voluntary US companies’ cooperation has been. part of the problem. @mmasnick @mathewi

@mmasnick: @pmarca do you may any distinction between snowden and the reporters? @mathewi @dangillmor 10:17 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor Which is not actually true. 10:17 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca i know. i’ve written exactly that. but, still, that’s the reporters. not snowden. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:18 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca also, can you explain what’s “gray” in the phone metadata? @mathewi @dangillmor 10:20 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor But it has really affected what people think Snowden has revealed and whether he’s a hero or a traitor. 10:20 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor It’s within NSA remit to monitor SIGINT into and out of the US involving foreigners. 10:21 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor So how to fulfill that mission when one person in the communication chain is an American citizen? 10:22 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor It’s a very complex issue. Smart people in government have grappled with it for decades. 10:22 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor I’m not saying surveillance of US citizens is right. I’m saying this particular issue is complex. 10:22 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca not that complex. 4th amendment is kind of there for a reason. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:23 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @mathewi @dangillmor Well, I disagree. 10:23 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @mmasnick @dangillmor: I agree it’s a complicated issue — which is why calling Snowden a traitor isn’t all that helpful 10:24 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca does 8 years of the program not being once useful in stopping anything clarify it? @mathewi @dangillmor 10:24 AM

@pmarca: @mathewi @mmasnick @dangillmor Do you think that revealing foreign intelligence operations not involving American citizens is treason? 10:24 AM

@mmasnick: @dangillmor reporting mistakenly thought it was access across all servers, rather than responsive to 702 orders. @pmarca @mathewi 10:25 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @dangillmor @mathewi Correct. 10:25 AM

@mmasnick: @dangillmor big difference and @pmarca is right that it has influenced discussion. but still… @mathewi 10:25 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @dangillmor @mathewi Internal NSA analyst training slides were misinterpreted both by Snowden and by WP/Guardian. 10:26 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca not clear that snowden misinterpreted. where do you get that from? @dangillmor @mathewi 10:26 AM

@froomkin: .@dangillmor grilling of @pmarca over Snowden turns into neat Twitter colloquy: 10:26 AM

@pmarca: @mmasnick @dangillmor @mathewi On that note, enough on this topic for now from my end :-). 10:26 AM

@mmasnick: @ChaseTheTruth 4th amendment is against unreasonable *search* and seizure. not just criminal prosecution. @pmarca @mathewi @dangillmor 10:27 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @mmasnick @dangillmor: Sure it is, because it meets the technical definition of that term. But parts of what he did were justified 10:27 AM

@mathewi: @pmarca @mmasnick @dangillmor: No, wait — don’t go! I have more questions 🙂 10:29 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca treason requires *purposely* aiding enemies. revealing intelligence does not necessarily do that. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:29 AM

@mathewi: @mmasnick @pmarca @dangillmor: And at least some in Congress have tried to argue that leaking to the press fulfills that criteria 10:31 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca more to the point, he revealed intelligence to US reporters. and they to the public. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:33 AM

@mmasnick: @pmarca he did not reveal to the “enemy”, which is a key part of treason. @mathewi @dangillmor 10:33 AM

dangillmor: @Hey, all — give @pmarca a lot of credit for directly and publicly discussing this stuff. A lot of other folks wouldn’t have done that.

@mathewi: Agreed MT @dangillmor: give @pmarca credit for directly and publicly discussing this stuff. A lot of other folks wouldn’t have done that 10:43 AM

@digiphile: @BradMossEsq @pmarca @dangillmor it’s relevant to any other number of American laws, strategic interests, and it’s worth noting, values. 10:47 AM

After World War II, my father was a writer and editor in New York. His byline was “Dan Gillmor” (I’m Dan Jr.), and one of his favorite publications was the Nation magazine, a prominent progressive journal (then and now) to which he contributed for many years.

Recently, my nephew Daniel Kahn Gillmor (best known as dkg), forwarded a clip from the magazine that his mother, my sister Mickey, had sent him. (Update: It may have been his father, Henry…) I hadn’t seen it before, and (like Daniel) was delighted by it.

I showed it to my friend John Markoff, the New York Times journalist who now writes primarily about  robotics and artificial intelligence, and he said, “That has to be the first thing ever written on malware.” I’m not positive about that (let me know if you know otherwise), but the piece was definitely way, way ahead of its time — consider how today’s and especially tomorrow’s robots and AI truly do threaten to erase employment on a mass scale — and a fond reminder of how smart my dad was, not to mention his acute sense of the absurd.

Anyway, here’s that piece:

Mechanical Brain Era

By Dan Gillmor
(The Nation, 16 July 1949, p.62)

Little would we suspect, were it not for Louis N. Ridenour, dean of the Graduate College, University of Illinois, that we are standing on the threshold of the Second Industrial Revolution. In an article in the May issue of Fortune Dr. Ridenour explained the significance of “mechanical brains” or “automatic digital computers.” Heretofore, he said, we have had to control machines by the regrettable device of “inserting a man” — in a steam shovel, for instance. Thanks to the new electronic super-gadgets, this era, the Era of Inserted Man, is  about to end. The automatic digital computers will take over.

The a. d. c.’s can do arithmetic a thousand times faster than men. They can remember what answer they got, compare it with the answer to another calculation, decide what to do next, do it, and type out their conclusions on a “suitably modified teletypewriter.” They have only two drawbacks, says Dr. Ridenour. The more complex they become, the more likely they are to make mistakes. Engineers try to get around this by wiring them so that whenever any little thing goes wrong, the whole machine goes crazy, thus warning its human masters that there is a bat in the electronic belfry. Human brains behave differently: “If a part fails [in ithe human brain],” says the Dean, “every effort is made to conceal the fault…” As electronic brains become more complicated, engineers will probably have to rig them so that they will not rationalize their neuroses.

The second problem is apparently to get rid of that teletypewriter on which the operator still must tell the machine what to do and vice versa. When that happens, we shall have “progressed far enough to complete the control organization of the machine–its sense organs and nervous system… While the First Industrial Revolution involved substitution of machinery for man’s musculature, the second will replace by inanimate devices man’s senses, nervous system, and brain… Though certain men at certain times perform superlatively in controlling machines, the over-all performance of a satisfactory automatic-control system Is likely to be preferable, since a machine cannot be frightened, distracted, bored, or unionized as readily as a human operator can.”

The Illinois savant has not overlooked even more desirable attributes of the a. d. c.: it doesn’t eat, sleep, switch to Calvert’s, or, best of all, get wages. “The present activities of certain labor organizations,” the Dean says, “seem calculated to encourage the trend [toward replacement of men by the new machines] as rapidly as our technology permits…. Rising wages put a premium on high productivity per worker and thus on fewer workers.  Any acts of capricious irresponsibility or malicious obstructionism on the part of labor unions put a premium on as complete an elimination of the human worker as possible.” In parentheses, Dr. Ridenour remarks, “And some union activities must have this aspect to employers.”

Strikes, contract negotiations, and demands for higher wages and shorter hours do indeed “have this aspect to employers.” But such acts of malicious obstructionism are soon to become part of the bygone era of the First Industrial Revolution. Nothing would seem to stand in the way of “productivity per worker” reaching a numerical value of infinity. Of cause a few obstructionist workers may resist such a trend, since it will eventually put them out of work. The C.I.O. [labor union] may even form a Automatic Digital Computers’ Organizing Committee. The capricious fellows may vote an assessment to buy an a. d. c themselves. For a while second-order differential equations will pour out of the C.I.O. a. d. c., as Mr. Murray and his colleagues try frantically to find a solution for the rapidly spreading obsolescence of the human brain. But the N.A.M., well in the lead with a new super-a. d. c, produced by International Business Machines, will blandly reply with a third-order equation. Hearst headlines will thunder:

taft declares nation, Taft declares.”

The Automatic Computer Subcommittee of the Un-American Activities Committee will bare a plot, hatched by Soviet agents trained on red a. d. c.’s, to wire subversive circuits into the United States Steel master-control a. d. c. Witnesses will be asked, “Are you or have you ever been have you ever been nation

The employers, who pioneered in a. d. c.’s will be one jump ahead all the time; and finally peace will settle over the land, with the Second Industrial Revolution predicted by Dr. Ridenour in full swing. Mankind will have achieved that perfect society in which there are only employers and eagerly cooperating a. d. c’s.

DAN GILLMOR is a feature writer on the New York Compass.