Blown To Bits

Congress struggles with Web privacy

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Apparently Congress knows it’s important, but — reasonably enough — can’t pass a law protecting it because it doesn’t know what it is. According to the Washington Post, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida can recognize it when he sees it — and he doesn’t want his online newspaper keeping track of what he’s reading.

Too late — that’s probably happening right now.

Industry representatives, and some other members of Congress, claim no legislation is needed. Everyone knows privacy is important, so of course the industry has an incentive to safeguard it.

Well, yes; they have an incentive to be seen as guarding it, and also have an incentive to make the most profitable use of the available information. And if you’re a newspaper, for example, you probably can’t afford to throw information away that would be useful to your advertisers.

An interesting question noted in the article is that it’s not even clear what “personally identifying information” is. Is an IP address “personally identifying”? The Recording Industry surely thinks so — they use them to make charges against copyright infringers. But there is hardly a one to one correspondence of IP addresses to individuals.

And by the way, IP addresses are going to be less and less identifying, because we are running out of addresses. These are 32 bit numbers, so there are only about 4 billion of them. They are 85% gone already, and the supply will reportedly be exhausted by 2011. IPv6 with its 128-bit addresses is the solution, and a transition is occurring, but it’s unlikely to have been completed in time. There are workarounds, which will be annoying and clumsy. It would be cleaner if we could all move to IPv6 tomorrow — just as it would have been cleaner if the US had gone to the metric system. In the Internet too, the world won’t come to an end because we haven’t moved to a sensible standard all at once.

Comments are closed.