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reports and papers pointers

From: Paul Resnick <presnick@umich.edu>
Date: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 10:39:42 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: pics-interest@w3.org

Two reports possibly of interest to readers of this list:

1) A report from Australia on uses of PICS for self-labeling.

2) Larry Lessig and I are presenting a paper at the Telecom Policy Research
Conference that analyzes the options for governments that want to mandate
restrictions on access to materials. This is not primarily about PICS,
although there is some role for self-labeling in one of the scenarios that
we consider. Still, it might be of interest to this list.


The La Trobe University Online Media Program is pleased to announce the
publication of:

Caroline Kruger. Censoring the Internet with PICS: An Australian stakeholder
analysis (Research Report No 5)

This report examines one Internet censorship regime, the Platform for
Internet Content Selection (PICS) self-labelling scheme from a number of
perspectives. It examines the push to have PICS adopted in Australia and
around the world and the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Based on
interviews conducted in September 1997, it shows how PICS is viewed by
representatives of key Internet stakeholders.

The report can be downloaded free of charge from http://teloz.latrobe.edu.au

Hard copies can be purchased for AU$80-00 including postage worldwide.




This article proposes an abstract model of mandated access controls. It
includes three types of actors: senders, intermediaries
and recipients. Control decisions are based on three types of information:
the item, the recipientís jurisdiction, and the
recipientís type. 

With the architecture of todayís Internet, senders are ignorant of the
recipientís jurisdiction and type, recipients are ignorant of
an itemís type, and intermediaries are ignorant of both. It is easy to see,
then, why, with todayís Internet architecture,
governments are having a hard time mandating access controls. Any party on
whom responsibility might be placed has
insufficient information to carry out that responsibility. 

While the Internetís architecture is relatively entrenched, it is not
absolutely immutable. Our abstract model suggests the types
of changes that could enhance regulability. Senders could be given more
information about recipient jurisdiction and type, either
through recipients providing certificates, or through a database mapping IP
addresses to jurisdictions. Recipients could be given
more information about item types, either through senders providing labels
or through government pre-clearance lists of
permitted or prohibited items. 

Since the two interventions are analogous, the analyses of their costs and
effectiveness are analogous as well. In either case,
there will be a natural incentive to provide information if the default
action of the responsible party is to block access unless the
information is provided (a prohibited unless permitted regime). Otherwise,
there will be no natural incentive, and the
government will have to require the provision of that information. 

The secondary effects of these two infrastructures are also analogous, but
quite different. The by-product of a certificate regime
is a general ability to regulate based on jurisdiction and recipient
characteristics, even for issues beyond content control, such as
taxation and privacy. Such a regime also enables senders voluntarily to
exclude recipients based on jurisdiction or type, a
facility which might be used for negative as well as positive purposes. The
by-product of a widely used labeling infrastructure is
a general ability to regulate based on item characteristics, even
characteristics that governments have no legitimate reason to
regulate. Such a regime also enables intermediaries and recipients
voluntarily to exclude some item types, a facility that may
empower parents and teachers but may also be overused if it is poorly
understood or difficult to configure. 

If intermediaries are to be responsible for blocking, they will need both
types of information. In addition, architectural changes
will be necessary to enable application layer blocking of individual items
rather than cruder network layer blocking of all traffic
from or to an IP address. A requirement of application layer blocking,
however, introduces significant costs in terms of
openness to innovation and vulnerability to hardware and software failures.
Intermediaries, then, are the most costly place to
impose responsibility. On the other hand, they are the most easily
regulated, since there are fewer of them, they are more
stable, have assets and their governing jurisdictions are clear. 

While our sensitivity analysis does suggest consequences that might not
have been readily seen, our ultimate conclusion is one
others have reached as well. It will be difficult for governments to
mandate access controls for the Internet. Given todayís
architecture, any such mandates would of necessity be draconian or
ineffective. Changes to the technical infrastructure or social
practices could enhance regulability, although such changes would entail
both direct costs and would create secondary
by-products whose value is debatable. Given that the costs of any such
architectural change would be significant, it is important
for governments to answer the fundamental question of how important such
changes are: perhaps a lessening of governmentsí
traditional power to control the distribution of harmful information would
be preferable. 

Paul Resnick                  presnick@umich.edu 
Associate Professor           (fax) 734-764-2475
The University of Michigan    http://www.si.umich.edu/~presnick
School of Information         (voice) 734-647-9458 
314 West Hall 
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1092
Received on Tuesday, 22 September 1998 10:40:15 UTC

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