There are two major battles brewing at the moment, one domestic and one international that both deserve close attention and require citizen action. TLDR version: go to (1) WhatIsTheITU and (2) VanishingRights, take action there and help spread the word.
On the international side the attempt by the ITU to take over regulation of the Internet is in full swing. I had briefly mentioned this before and at the time many folks dismissed it as something that wouldn’t gain any traction. But with major support from countries such as Russia and China it is a clear and present danger to the open flow of information on the Internet. As per usual, Fight for the Future does the best job explaining the problem with their site WhatIsTheITU — go there now *and* share with your friends in other countries. The ITU world conference will be taking place in Dubai from December 3 - 14 and it is essential that politicians in as many countries as possible feel pressure from citizens to keep the internet open. That includes maintaining the fundamental peering model for how traffic is exchanged on the backbone of the Internet, which the ITU wants to replace with a sending network pays model.
In the US we are having a much needed discussion about updating the privacy protections for electronic communications which in their current form date back to 1986. Here too you can learn all about it on a terrific website called VanishingRights and take direct action by contacting your representatives. The Petraeus scandal provides an object lesson in how unprotected email communication is at the moment. Senator Leahy’s originally proposed changes for updating the legislation were sensible and welcome. Since then though there has been massive push back from enforcement agencies resulting in alternative proposals that have been introduced (one by Senator Leahy which he quickly withdrew) and one by Senator Grassley that is due to arrive this Thursday which would cement the currently easy government access. So contact your representatives today to make sure the fourth amendment does not vanish in the age of electronic communications.
Yesterday my partner Brad announced our investment in Duolingo. Duolingo is an ambitious attempt to provide free language learning and use all the work by the learners to provide a translation service. You can watch Luis von Ahn’s TED Talk where he describes the genesis of Duolingo from his work on Captcha and Recaptcha. The critical take away is that at the heart of Duolingo is the realization that with the Internet you can cost-effectively assemble tiny units of work from a very large number of people.
This is exactly the kind of thing that is unique about the Internet. No prior technology available to humanity came even close. We are not talking about doing something 10% cheaper or faster. We are talking about fundamentally redefining what is possible. And we face two challenges: the first is applying these newfound capabilities to many more problems (science, government, etc) and the second is protecting them from the onslaught of those who would like to deny us these capabilities because they disrupt their existing positions of profit and/or power.
The latest attempt to surface is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) holding the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in December with a previously secret agenda. This is very much reminiscent of the secrecy surrounding ACTA which once it was removed resulted in a massive backlash from people everywhere. Thankfully someone has set up a WCIT leaks site and documents have started to come in. Not surprisingly the picture isn’t pretty with all sorts of restrictions on the Internet being proposed. It is easy to dismiss this as the mumblings of some UN agency that won’t ever result in anything until you focus on the alignment of interest between politicians in all countries to preserve their power.