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Subject: Communications Decency Act may corrupt protocols

Subject: Communications Decency Act may corrupt protocols

The following was sent to a large number of newsgroups and organizations, and forwarded to me. It is reprinted here because I agree with the opinions expressed and wish to help make the information as widely available as possible. (ST)

From: (Johannes Sayre)
Subject: Communications Decency Act may corrupt protocols
Date: 11 Apr 1996 05:47:18 GMT
Organization: State University of New York at Stony Brook (guest)

The attached text describes an absolutely outrageous disgrace.

I'm posting it to the large number of newsgroups above because it has direct practical relevance for sysadmins and developers, and more generally because it proposes an outrageous impingement on our computing environment by know-nothings who would sacrifice that environment in pursuit of their non-computing related, partisan political agendas. There are practicalities and principles at stake here. I will gladly respond to complaints that this posting is spam.

In pursuit of ways to enforce the recently enacted Communications Decency Act, which seeks to control indecent expression on the Internet and is currently under legal challenge as unconstitutional, the U.S. Department of Justice is apparently considering recommending that ALL packet traffic on the Internet contain a bit or flag of some kind indicating its "decency" status - it would be _integrated into the protocol architecture at the network level_.

No, this is not a joke. This idea was bandied about when the CDA first appeared on the scene, generally by less clueful users. Now apparently, the DoJ is seriously considering this idea.

The essence of this is that U.S. government content control legislation, which to top it off is currently under attack as unconstitutional infringement of freedom of expression, would attain physical form as a construct at the most fundamental layers of the nascent international information infrastructure.

This is an outrage and a disgrace.

At the most basic level, it is outrageous that the government would contemplate forcing the technical community to pay attention to the moralizing legislation of a sectarian political faction, and would have the gall to propose that government censorship be instantiated in basic network architecture. This is more reminiscent of a banana republic or a second-rate East-block nation with a tinpot dictator who goes looking for ego gratification at the national university ("it's the 'Fuehrer' bit") than the purported leader of humanity and the community of nations.

It is sadly telling that the U.S. government would consider triggering the embedding of U.S. content legislation into protocols which are used worldwide.

And it is utterly disgraceful that the same bureaucracy which spent millions of your and my tax dollars to such good effect, and bought the labor of thousands to turn out such outstanding creations as the internetworking protocol suites, which succeeded and surpassed commercial efforts precisely because they were _not_ designs compromised by political agendas, of whatever flavor, should now choose to blithely propose that those protocols now add functionality to recognize the misguided social legislation of the day. Government is blundering about as it seeks to define its role with respect to the Internet, but this is pathetic. It brings to mind the stereotype of self-justifying administration - without enough to do, without the background to do it, but proceeding onwards as a matter of course, for who would raise the notion that they are _not_ in fact suited to administer something.

A few notes: the CDA was driven by religious and social conservatives in Congress and the general public, such as Ed Meese, Phyllis Schlafly, the Christian Coalition. Most of the bipartisan majority who voted for it had no clue, either about the net, or about the particulars of the legislation which make it patently unconstitutional. The effort was driven by social conservatives seeking to control expression on new telecommunications media under the banner of protecting children from pornography and preventing child pornography. Once the legislation passed, the Justice Department, an arm of the Clinton administration, was bound to attempt to implement ways of enforcing it. Clinton has been cautiously critical of the CDA, DoJ has been mealymouthed since it can't come to terms with squeals from the right that this is the only way to protect children from online smut. DoJ's proposing of this particular hairbrained scheme looks like a fine example of mindless bureaucracy cheerily tromping on areas outside its purview. But don't let anyone mislead you that anyone but social conservatives and the Religious Right have been driving this legislation.

For more info, step over to for a moment, and scan for articles from EFF and CDT, among others. They will contain URLs and other pointers to information about the CDA and the current efforts to repeal it. (The text below originated from testimony in one of the hearings currently going on.)

If you are in a position to influence policy, in your company, or in a body which determines protocol architecture or network design, please keep a watch on this issue. Raise awareness among your colleagues of the proposed intrusion of sectarian politics into protocol design. Take control and establish that this is a farcical intrusion of government into techincal activity which is far more important than the transient scratchings in the dirt of repressive ignorami, in and out of government. This needs to be made dead at birth.

Please redistribute this information as appropriate. My intention was to make the technical community aware of this issue, since we will be the ones most directly affected by it.

I am not affiliated with any of the groups involved with the CDA & related issues, just an outraged net user and computer person.


From: declan+@CMU.EDU (Declan B. McCullagh)
Subject: FC: Enforcing the CDA improperly may pervert Internet architecture
Date: 8 Apr 1996 23:54:03 -0700

The attached paper by Dr. Reed is worth reading -- I haven't seen this argument raised before. One portion that I found fascinating was:

"It is quite silly to imagine that the Ascend router at the ISP can figure out if it is me or my child generating each packet."

But that's exactly what the defenders of the CDA are claiming! Here's some background that might be interesting:

When I was arguing with Bruce Taylor (an architect of the CDA) last week, we went 'round and 'round on the issue of children on the Net, as usual. He maintained that every Internet user has to have an account somewhere, so that account provider is able to tag accounts as minor or adult.

To the best of my ability, I pointed out some of the technical problems with this, and he responded (I paraphrase from memory here) that technical problems can be solved by technical people: "Your side comes across to the court as saying that it can be done but we won't do it. You're a bunch of geeks who want to protect their porn and the court isn't going to buy it."

He brought up IP Version 6, which the DoJ has focused on in cross-examination of one of our witnesses, Scott Bradner from the IETF:

13 Q Would it be fair to say, to summarize what you've just
14 said, that the IP Next Generation group is working on a new
15 generation of the IP Protocol itself?
16 A That is correct.
17 Q Does it have -- does the IP Next Generation group have
18 recommendations regarding a specific architecture of the
19 packet traffic on the Internet, including the format of the
20 packet?

The DoJ and Taylor are going to argue that IP V6 can include such an adult/minor tag in each datagram! One of their key witnesses is Dan Olsen, the head of the computer science department at Brigham Young University and the incoming director of the Human Computer Interaction Institute at CMU.

Olsen's background is NOT in distributed computing environments and protocol design -- but that minor detail notwithstanding, it looks like he'll be testifying this Friday that such a tagging scheme is technically possible.

Chris Hansen from the ACLU told me last Friday: "Olsen is going to push this tagging idea that the government has, that you can imbed in your tag -- in your address -- an adult or minor tag. They're going to suggest that the market will come into existence that will make that tagging relevant."




Enforcing the CDA Improperly May Pervert Internet Architecture

by David P. Reed

Friends -

I'd like to call your attention to a situation where misguided politics (of the "ends-justify-means" sort) threatens one of the fundamental principles of Internet architecture, in a way that seems like a slippery slope. I do not normally take public stands of a political nature, and I do not participate much in Internet architecture anymore, but I'd like to call your attention to a very severe perversion of the Internet architectural philosophy that is being carried out in the name of political and commercial expediency. No matter what you believe about the issues raised by the Communications Decency Act, I expect that you will agree that the mechanism to carry out such a discussion or implement a resolution is in the agreements and protocols between end users of the network, not in the groups that design and deploy the internal routers and protocols that they implement. I hope you will join in and make suggestions as to the appropriate process to use to discourage the use of inappropriate architectural changes to the fundamental routing architecture of the net to achieve political policy goals.

As you know, I am one of the authors, along with Saltzer and Clark, of the paper "End-to-end arguments in decentralized computer systems", which first characterized in writing the primary approach to the Internet's architecture since it was conceived, which approach arguably has been one of the reasons for its exponential growth. This philosophy - avoid building special functionality into the net internals solely to enforce an end-to-end policy - has led to the simplicity, low cost, and radical scalability of the Internet. One of the consequences is that IP routers do not enforce policies on a packet-by-packet basis, so routers can be extremely simple beasts, compared to the complex beasts that characterize even the simplest telephone central office switch. End-to-end policies are implemented by intelligence at the ends (today, the PCs and servers that communicate over the many consolidated networks that make up the Internet).

I just read in Inter@ctive Week (March 25, 1996) that Livingston plans to announce an "Exon box" - a router that is designed to enable ISPs to restrict access to "indecent sites" or unrated sites unless an "adult" enters an authorization code when opening a session to enable the router to transmit packets to the site.

The scam seems to be that Livingston has colluded with Senator Exon's staff to propose a "solution" to enable ISP's to implement parental controls. Exon's staff is using the announced solution as an example to demonstrate how simply ISPs can enforce local community standards and parental controls, thus supporting interpretations of the CDA requiring all access providers to include such capability in their boxes. Exon's staff is quoted as encouraging ISP's to install such functionality into the routers that serve as access points for nets.

Since I use an Ascend P50 ISDN router to make frequent, short, bandwidth-on-demand ISDN connections from my "Family LAN" to an Ascend multi-line ISDN router at my commercial Internet Service Provider, I am worried that this model is completely unworkable for me, and for others that will eventually use such a practical system. My family has minor children and adults who all happily access the Internet. My ISP has no clue whatsoever whether a child or adult has initiated the call, and in fact, if my child and I are both on different computers in different rooms, it is quite silly to imagine that the Ascend router at the ISP can figure out if it is me or my child generating each packet.

It is appalling to me that Livingston, which has some responsibility as a router provider to assist in the orderly growth of the net, is pandering to Exon's complete misunderstanding of how the Internet is built. I would hope that Ascend, with its much larger share of the ISP market, and other router companies such as Cisco and Bay Networks, would take a principled and likely popular position that the "Exon box" is not the way to go about this. I would hope that ISP's would in general avoid use of Livingston's products, and also refuse to cave into Exon's pressure. I believe, though I may be wrong, that Livingston has contributed to the RADIUS technology that many ISP's use to manage dialup access charging in a way that is consistent with ethe end-to-end philosophy, but any credit they are due is overwhelmed by the Exon box insanity.

I do work to protect my children from inappropriate material, but pressure from Senators to mandate technically flawed solutions, and opportunistic, poorly thought-through technologies from companies like Livingston are not helpful.

If you agree, please join me in attempting to call off any tendency for other router vendors and protocol designers to develop Exon box features. It would seem that the appropriate place for content restrictions, such as "parental controls", are in the end-to-end agreements between content providers and their users, not in the internal switching architecture of the net.

- David P. Reed

Notes: The end-to-end paper was edited and republished in several forms (with slight variations in title), generalizing its observations to systems beyond the distributed systems that were its original focus; the final and most accessible one is: Saltzer, J.H., D.P. Reed, and D.D. Clark, End-To-End Arguments in System Design. ACM Transactions on Computer Systems, 1984. 2(4) p. 277-288.

I don't have any more details on Livingston's technology or its marketing plans than what was presented in Inter@ctive Week. The Inter@ctive Week article apparently based its information on 'sources' describing a planned announcement, and also quoted Exon's staff. It is possible that Livingston will choose not to announce or position its technology in this form. It seems less likely that Exon's staff will change its position on forcing ISP's to adopt some kind of technological solution, however.
- David

[After considering Dr. Reed's comments, I asked him whether he objects to firewalls in general. His reply:

No, I think firewalls of the sort now deployed can be OK (e.g., packet filters), as a minimal line of defense. However, they are inherently flawed, in ways that are well understood (reading Cheswick and Bellovin gives good insight here). Most security threats ultimately require end-to-end policies and must be implemented with end-to-end solutions. As the paper points out, sometimes one can optimize cost of implementing and end-to-end solution by including some functionality that is not end-to-end. Firewalls may reduce the cost.


Also read: The Internet Public Library's "Position Paper on Anti-Censorship on the Web"