Consumer Watchdog Will Track Standards Groups
Overlooked technical decisions often involve public, privacy issues, group
James Evans, IDG News Service
Thursday, April 12, 2001
A consumer advocacy group that has championed free
speech and privacy online is trying to raise public interest in the
Internet's technical development.
The Center for
Democracy and Technology has hired veteran attorney and technologist
John Morris to lead a new project promoting public involvement in the
Morris was lead counsel in the U.S. Supreme Court
case that struck
down the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which sought to protect
children from certain online content but was deemed too broad.
In his new role, he will identify Internet
standards in development that have public interest implications; raise
public involvement; and create a network of advocates, academics, and
technologists to lobby or testify when needed.
Morris will focus a portion of his energies on
monitoring the standards development coming from the Internet Engineering
Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium, according to CDT
"More and more of these groups are hitting on
issues that have real effects on the public at large," says Alan
Davidson, the CDT's associate director.
Techies Design Tracking Tools
One example is IETF's focus on standards for
Internet Protocol telephony about 18 months ago, Davidson says. The IETF
considered and rejected putting wiretapping capabilities into the
standard, he notes. That technical discussion possessed obvious privacy
implications, he says.
And about a year ago, when the IETF considered
revisions to the specification for IP addresses, some suggested basing the
addresses on the unique number on a PC's Ethernet card, Davidson says.
"Suddenly, you have one number that follows
you everywhere on the Internet," he says. "It raises the
possibility of a global unique identifier on the Internet."
It's similar to the approach of cookies, another
consumer concern, Davidson notes. Cookies are files that store information
about you and your Web-browsing patterns. They can be used to make it
easier to log into a Web site you visit frequently, or they can
surreptitiously track your online activity.
"It has big privacy consequences,"
The CDT expects the project will primarily involve
research initially. Then, the organization plans to issue periodic reports
on standards development issues and their impact on the public, he says.
Morris has previously worked for the CDT as a
director of the organization's Broadband Access Project, which assessed
legal, policy, and factual issues surrounding the development of broadband
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