Lessig on Architectures of Control

Lawrence Lessig on the need to build protections for privacy and autonomy into the internet’s architecture. From CODE 2.0, p45 (emphasis mine):

[The end-to-end principle] has been a core principle of the Internet’s architecture, and, in my view, one of the most important reasons that the Internet produced the innovation and growth that it has enjoyed. But its consequences for purposes of identification and authentication make both extremely difficult with the basic protocols of the Internet alone. It is as if you were in a carnival funhouse with the lights dimmed to darkness and voices coming from around you, but from people you do not know and from places you cannot identify. The system knows that there are entities out there interacting with it, but it knows nothing about who those entities are. While in real space —and here is the important point—anonymity has to be created, in cyberspace anonymity is the given.

This difference in the architectures of real space and cyberspace makes a big difference in the regulability of behavior in each. The absence of relatively self-authenticating facts in cyberspace makes it extremely difficult to regulate behavior there … We ’re far enough into this history to see that the trend toward this authentication is unstoppable. The only question is whether we will build into this system of authentication the kinds of protections for privacy and autonomy that are needed.

Narratives vs Experiences: The Case of Jackie Speier

False narratives crumble when confronted with lived experiences, and I can’t think of a better example than the case of Jackie Speier.

Borders and barriers are thrown up to segregate people, places, and things from each other so that the privileged few with mobility are afforded a position of power — a position to influence public perceptions of the environment (see Walter Lippmann’s discussion of pseudo-environments in Public Opinion). This routinely gives way to false narratives that are communicated via various media to explain to the public what other people, places, or things are really like.

You can see this at play in the US debate over abortion and Planned Parenthood — where the patriarchal power structure gives men undue influence over shaping media narratives. We, the public, are told by Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) that abortion services are well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does when it’s actually 3%. And, we’re told that abortion procedures are gruesome acts of violence against the unborn, not by people who have performed or endured them, but mostly by men with political axes to grind.

So, why not use media to communicate lived experiences rather than to peddle false narratives — to elevate a public debate by grounding it in lived experience rather than dragging another red herring across the trail? This is what happened when Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) took to the floor of congress to challenge Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) description of what abortion is really like:

I’m one of those women [Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)] spoke about just now.

I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child who moved from the vagina into the cervix.

And that procedure that you just described is a procedure that I endured.

… I lost that baby.

But for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous.

It is preposterous. And it’s hard to image false narratives like these gaining traction in government debates if there were real gender equality in our congressional representation (only 16.6% of Representatives are women, and only 17% of Senators are women). It would also be hard to image false narratives like these gaining traction in the daily news cycle if every time a John Kyl or a Chris Smith spewed their fact-less disembodied nonsense in front of a camera they were forced to confront the lived experiences of some one like Jackie Speier. One might even call that “fair and balanced.”

The video is more powerful than any quote. Watch it:

SIDE NOTE: Back in February 2008, Lawrence Lessig was considering a bid for the congressional seat left open by the death of Rep. Lantos. At that time, I promoted the Draft Lessig for Congress campaign. Lessig ultimately abandoned his bid and endorsed Jackie Speier, who went on to win the seat in a special election. Lessig made the right decision.

draft lawrence lessig for congress

Lawrence Lessig is the originator of Creative Commons and the author of Free Culture, Code 2.0 and the The Future of Ideas. An online campaign has been setup to encourage him to run for the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Tom Lantos (who recently passed away) in California. Having a public intellectual like Lessig in congress would be a huge boost to the Net Neutrality debates.

draft lessig