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Dateline: 10 March 2000 Early Edition
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Hey son, have you got a license for that modem?
Uh-Oh... it is beginning to look as if the halcyon days of free speech on the Net and thumbing one's nose at authority may be drawing to a close.

Over in the USA they're growing increasingly concerned that the level of anonymity provided by the Net is now posing a real threat to the security of e-commerce and other services.

Although it appears that the FBI are capable of tracking and catching hackers (witness the Coolio arrest), there is serious concern that due to a lack of easy identification of Net users, this is an expensive and problematic task.

You can just see the minds of the world's politicians turning with glee can't you?

How long before some idiot suggests that Net users should be licensed?

I'm not kidding -- after all -- in most countries that allow private ownership of guns, you must be registered. Now, given that both the USA and New Zealand consider strong encryption to be categorised as a weapon roughly the equivalent of a tank, cannon or cruise missile, it becomes pretty easy to justify rounding us all up and tattooing IP numbers on our forehead right?

Of course there's another reason why both the USA and NZ governments might eye the prospect of compulsory licensing of Internet users with glee -- TAX!

The USA has been very brave in placing a moratorium on Net taxes and here in NZ you can bet the IRD is working like hell to figure out how our government can get a cut on the e-commerce action.

However, in the meantime, what better way to top up the government's trough than to demand the licensing of all Net users? After all -- they could trigger the public's knee-jerk reaction by suggesting that such a measure will protect children from the horrors of pornography on the Net. "You support Net-licenses don't you -- or are you in favour of our kids being exposed to perverts and pornography on the Internet?" -- is the kind of spin I'd expect to see.

And.. in true NZ Government tradition -- we'll first be offered a "lifetime" Net license for a small fee -- however, within a few years, this lifetime license will be replaced with one requiring renewal ever few years (with an accompanying fee of course).

No ISP will be legally allowed to provide you with a Net access account unless you can produce your photographic Net-user ID. The ISP will also be charged with reporting your email address and login ID back to the relevant government department for inclusion in their database.

Wow, think about it from a government's perspective... a National ID card was too risky so they opted for a photo-ID driver's license -- but that left out many of our citizens who didn't drive, so they offered the ID card for getting into pubs. Now if they could add Internet use to the licensing list, they'd be able to collect up a whole lot more of the non-driving, non-drinking public into their ID databases.

And of course... there'll be the usual gaffes where clerks start selling those email addresses to unscrupulous direct-marketers -- and numerous instances where hackers break into the central database and screw around with things -- although that will be kept very quiet indeed.

Unfortunately, as the law struggles, seemingly in vain, to get to grips with exactly how to deal with an environment where anonymous Net users can defame, defraud and devastate the Net and the people who use it -- the prospect of such an identification system must be very appealing.

So... what can we do about it?


What WILL we do about it?

I suspect that, as with the many other laws which have gradually eroded our civil and personal rights recently, the vast majority of people will do absolutely nothing -- except complain when they realise what they've lost.

Okay, so call me a cynic :-)

As always, your comments are gladly received.

Free republication rights available on request


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