Someone to Memorialize

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. And if you happened upon this space accidentally you probably weren’t expecting to find something new. (It’s a holiday. If you’re in the U.S. you can go back to bed.) But there’s something important we need to discuss, and today’s the best day to to do it.

That something is liberty. Governments around the world (including our own government) are launching assaults on activities most web users consider normal and customary. I’m not crying that we should “Free the Metallica 361,000” or “Release Bidder’s Edge.” These are essentially commercial disputes, and the side that forgets that will lose.

Neither am I writing a brief here for Kevin Mitnick. When you agree not to profit from your crime in a plea agreement, then complain when the judge shows she means it, you’re not winning my sympathy. Probation is supposed to be punitive.

The problem is that we know the guilty. We know their names and know their stories, which are highly publicized. (And whatever happened to Patrick Naughton?) Publicizing the personal stories of criminals is how law enforcement maintains high support for what it’s doing. That’s part of the system, and I have no problem with it.

But there are innocent victims out there. People in other nations are being busted for actions United States users take for granted, like speaking out against their governments, or seeking alternate points of view. Here, United States judges are routinely ordering the search and seizure of home computers in civil disputes.

That these cases don’t resonate is our fault. We know the names of those who try to make us victims. We don’t know the names of those who are innocent victims.

I propose that we change that, in a systematic and unified way. These stories won’t be easy to get. Some real investigation must be made. All serious web sites will need to link to this package.

What we need to do is humanize the excessive attempts of police (all police) to make the world wide web conform to narrow, local interests. This effort must begin now, before law enforcement gains new powers to end anonymity or track transactions across national boundaries.

U.S. citizens know why the Vietnam War Memorial is the most powerful statement of our time. It’s the names. Every name represents a real story; a whole life snuffed out before its time. It speaks to us about the horror of war, as it speaks to our children and grandchildren. Attempts to modify that with metal statues of heroic men and women don’t work. When your eyes go from the statues to the names, the expression in their eyes changes from courage to horror.

We’ll never have balance between liberty and order unless the innocent victims of web police action are as well known as Kevin Mitnick. Your mission on this first Memorial Day of the 21st century is simple: Make it so.

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