Archive for November, 2005

One of the things I thank we are going to see become more common are a new form of private network I dubbed subnets. We know they already exist and are commonly used for gaming between relatively close neighbors among many other purposes. This is commonly done with off-the-shelf WiFi equipment as a means of setting up a network that can be used for whatever purposes these groups of people choose.

This becomes particularly interesting as more creative uses get applied. While everyone who hasn’t spent the last five years in a cave knows that file sharing is illegal it is perfectly legal for me to share a music CD or a movie DVD with friend or relative. It is also legal for me to make a backup copy of either of those works and I can save that copy in any format I choose. If you apply that line of reasoning to a private network there is every assurance that we could legally loan any member of this group of friends each other’s copyrighted works at will. As your the network is only populated by friends and relatives my neighbor can join, his brother can become a friend of mine, and his best friend can become introduced to the group.

What we are going to see are these private “subnets” start popping up which are really little, tiny parallel Internets of their own. As these “clubs” grow bigger and more of them come into creation the “traditional” Internet become less of the focus as most of the content you look for mat be available independent of the net. Of course, individual members could cross over to the mainstream Internet whenever they wished and as long as the private network was not open to the public Internet I think it would remain in the realm of legal.

Let’s take a look at what might happen if this trend becomes not only popular but also flourishes. If we were to look at a metropolitan area where it could be very likely that hundreds (if not thousands) of these independent subnets exist, what happens when someone starts to keep a record of them all, kind of like a cross between a subnet dating service and DNS? Could a metropolitan subnet be created that would still comply with existing regulations making several of the services that people are looking for legal to be accessed? As long as we’re all friends, right? Well, what happens when we now purchase transport to the next city’s metropolitan’s subnet and introduce the two? Are they still friends? Is this still legal – even if we are really only skirting the law?

If we extrapolate this concept out to it’s logical conclusion we might have the roadmap to a parallel Internet, one from from oversight by either the ILECs or the government – to a lesser degree.

What fascinates me about this is the fact that the harder you try to squeeze restrictions on to the Internet the end effect is that it is kind of like squishing Jello.

The UK has announced that they will passively monitor every vehicle and retain that data for two years.

As I understand it, this monitoring system will utilize a combination of RFID and video surveillance. All of this data could be carried over a wireless network if spectrum and bandwidth were made available. Will something like this be deployed in the US? That is difficult to speculate based on a number of factors, not the least of which is the size difference between the US and the UK, however, we already have red light/cameras that automatically snap pictures and issue tickets. We are also busy installing RFID tracking devices on all shipping containers and luggage that is transported in this country, FedEx and UPS packages will probably be next.

While it is not my intention to start a discussion about the expected right to privacy or if this is an any way an invasion of those rights, it should be noted that should this database ever become open to the public or to people willing to pay for the privilege we could realistically see a profound change in the way we live our lives and conduct business.

How can we maintain any “company confidential” information if every shipment in or out of our company is now public knowledge? At the very least, our suppliers can easily be uncovered as well as our customers. Even a sales prospect we were courting could be identified by our competition and targeted.

In our personal lives any relationship we would have would very easily become public – from political to ones of indiscretion. We would no longer have any expectation of privacy not that we do now in public.

There are also benefits to be reaped. We would have the ability to almost instantly track stolen cars, locate kidnap victims, find lost luggage along with packages being shipped by any of the delivery companies. There is certainly a potential to help reduce terrorism and catch criminals of all kinds – from Scofflaws through murders.

Conversely, there is also the means to create a society none of us really want to be part of. As most people know, any technology can be misused and I see this one as being ripe for abuse. What happens when the technology that writes the RFID tags gets hacked? Would it be possible for someone to rewrite the tag on your car with a known criminal’s identification? What happens if a coordinated attack happens where hundreds (if not thousands) of tags get rewritten so as to through the system completely off track?

How long will it be before the DNA database and the National ID card is incorporated into this database and what ramifications will happen then?

Maybe, we need to take a look at this breakneck innovation that is occurring and ask ourselves if this is really something we want to implement. Some days I believe we don’t even take into consideration what the long term ramifications of our actions might be yet we institute these changes and then try to deal with the effects. If there is one thing that seems to be a constant in this world, once something is implemented it is usually very hard to remove.

The future is coming up on us faster than it ever did before and I don’t believe we have gotten any more capable of managing it than we were centuries ago, This could turn out to be a far greater problem than we ever anticipated.

I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that.