[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

"Remailers can't afford to be choosy"

I've picked the provocative title "Remailers can't afford to be choosy" so
as to make an important point about remailers. First, a few responses to
Rabid Wombat:

At 3:26 AM 9/13/96, Rabid Wombat wrote:

>Hormel, isn't it? Anyway, my point is that the law should not be involved
>in it, but that it is going to be sucked in whether we like it or not if
>social pressure is ineffective. What is, and is not "spam" has been

Social pressure rarely works, of course. Canker and Sleazewell used the
negative publicity about their spamming to sell more books. And the law
rarely works, either.

What _does_ work, throughout history, is technology. Locks on doors work
where all the social pressure and all the legal measures fail.

The SPAM situation has various parallels (and differences, of course). The
point being argued in this latest thread, that "inappropriate" responses to
a "mail me" button on a Web page have these parallels:

* a contest operator announces a drawing based on forms filled out and
deposited in a box, but neglects to check against multiple entries. One
person "games against" the rules and submits 25,000 entries. The contest
operator claims that this is fraud, or "contest SPAM," to coin a phrase. He
splutters, "It's not fair! I assumed only one entry per person, even though
I took no steps to ensure this. I want a law!"

(Astute readers will recognize this situation from an early Heinlein novel.)

* a radio station invites listeners to call in, then complains that one
person is "calling too much."

(A common situation with talk radio, and one best handled by screening
callers. Even so, some of the same callers get through by using various
disguised voices, etc. As with the contest situation, a problem best solved
by the party involved, not the legal system.)

* in general, any of several "over use of free or public resources." The
bum who sits in a park, the kid who hangs out at the mall for several hours
a day, the family who park themselves on the best fishing spot every
weekend, etc.

Again, these are not situations where I think either "social pressure" or
"the law" works very well. Better solutions are to find ways to meter
scarce resources.

>We're therefore stuck - as a community, we cannot stop what many people
>consider to be undesirable, as we cannot even define it, and the unwashed
>masses will set governance upon us for our "own good."

No, it is not hopeless. "Congestion pricing" is the operative phrase. Web
sites that are too crowded can add capacity and increase advertising rates,
or can charge admission, or the like. Remailers can (and will, sooner
rather than later) charge "digital postage" for the service they are
performing. (If nobody will pay, and the remailer network fizzles out, then
clearly there was not an overall market, was there? I doubt that this is
so, though at this early stage there is a lot of experimentation,
subsidized sites, etc. Not an argument for laws, though.)

>The ability to be anonymous on the 'net is generally a good
>thing. It has allowed people access to information that might have
>otherwise been denied them. It is an important freedom, and one that is
>already in danger of being taken away through legislation (Georgia on my
>mind ...). Abuse of this freedom by someone for purely commercial
>purposes is certainly not going to help matters.

_Lots_ of uses of remailers are "not going to help matters." So? Use of
remailers to post the Homulka-Teale stuff was not well-received, use of
remailers to post child porn is not well-received, use of remailers to
bypass national security laws is not well-received. So?

Remailer operators really, really, really have to get out of the business
of looking at "what customers are using the remailers for" and then
deciding to block senders, recipients, etc. based on what they see.

I don't mean to minimize their concerns about illegal material being sent,
about spamming, about insults and libelous stuff, etc., but it's important
for all remailers to carefully think back to Chaumian mixes and what they
mean. For one thing, there is no screening, no approval of content, etc.
There might be digital postage, of course. And chaining, preferably. And
encryption all the way through. Reread Chaum's original 1981 paper, the
inspiration for our earliest thoughts about remailers.

"Remailers can't afford to be choosy"

>Note the earlier comment about someone being unhappy about their
>"remailer-baby" being used for such a purpose - someone running a
>remailer is generally doing so as a service, and is generally not
>compensated for the equipment, time, energy, and aggravation. A lot of
>remailers have shut down recently. Is this helping the cause of privacy
>and free speech?

Yes, actually. The shut-down of nonanonymous remailers is a good thing,
ultimately. And the lessons of what happens when remailers become too well
known (and hence nice fat targets for spammers, denial of service
attackers, Churches, etc.) is also clear.

By the way, today's remailers appear to be primarily _experiments_ or
_casual services_, not altruistic services for some nebulous idea of "free
speech." (Besides, if it's illegal for "spammers" to use remailers, so much
for "free speech.")

Digital postage is the ideal way to reduce the amount of "spam" flowing
through a remailer site. The issue of "unwanted mail" is a more complicated
issue, given our current "free to deliver" set up, and not one which
directly involves the issue of remailers (except insofar as making it
harder to track spammers down, but this is just the standard case with all
crimes/etc. committed with remailers, and is a separable issue).

>providor of web content as a courtesy to their readers. Why does it fall
>to them to provide a completely off-topic forum for someone else's views?
>How are they any different from members of a public mailing list? Must
>the members of c'punks and toad.com accept all unpaid advertising in the
>name of free speech?

Absent rules or arrangements by the owners of the toad.com site, there is
no legal recourse. And given the international nature of lists on the
Internet, exactly which country's laws would be the operative ones? Would
Poland request the extradition of a Brazilian who "spammed" via the
Cypherpunks list, currently operating out of California? The mind boggles.

Look to technoological/economic solutions as a first resort, not a last resort.

--Tim May

We got computers, we're tapping phone lines, I know that that ain't allowed.
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^1,257,787-1 | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."