6.0672 NREN Article (1/232)

Thu, 15 Apr 1993 14:36:20 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0672. Thursday, 15 Apr 1993.

Date: Thu, 15 Apr 93 09:05:20 -0400
From: jdg@oz.plymouth.edu (Dr. Joel Goldfield)
Subject: U.S. technology policy

Dear Fellow Humanists,
I thought that all of you would be interested in the following
article on U.S. technology policy and plans.

Joel D. Goldfield
Plymouth State College (NH)
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1993 00:56:26 -0400 (EDT)
From: Joe Abernathy <Joe.Abernathy@houston.chron.com>
Subject: Houston Chronicle NII Story

NREN Wrap -- This is my last story for the Houston Chronicle. It is to appear
on April 4, 1993. Please feel free to redistribute it for any non-commercial
To those of you who have provided so much help these past four years,
thanks. It's been a real education. I've accepted the job of Senior Editor-
News at PC World magazine, and I'll still be writing the Village Voice
Technocracy column, so I hope you'll all stay in touch. My new contact
information is P.O. Box 572390, Houston, Texas 77257-2390, joe@blkbox.com.

Houston Chronicle Staff Writer

The specters of class struggle and interna
tional economic warfare are casting a shadow
over administration hearings on how to build a
sophisticated national computer network.

Billed as an engine of job growth, a central
concern is emerging that the ``data superhigh
way'' promised by Vice President Al Gore and
President Bill Clinton during the campaign
could produce a large underclass of ``informa
tion have-nots.''

Based on an emerging global computer net
work known as the Internet, which links up to 12
million people in more than 30 nations, the
National Research and Education Network
(NREN) is a decade-long project of former Sen.

Gore envisions a future in which oceans of
data, including libraries of movies, books and
other creative works, would be readily avail
able to every home. In selling a $5 billion
spending plan focused on the network in 1992,
Gore held forth the image of classrooms without
walls, sophisticated medical collaborations, and
globally competitive small businesses.

``The NREN is at all odds the most important
and lucrative marketplace of the 21st century,''
he said in a recent statement.

But in trying to make it work, it has become
apparent that the NREN remains in many ways
a captive of its privileged institutional heritage.
Some Americans don't even have telephone
service, and many still don't have computers
with which to access the net.

Two congressional hearings were held in late
March concerning the National Information
Infrastructure, and a bill has been introduced
that would take up where Gore's 1992 High-
Performance Computing Act left off _ bringing
the net to classrooms, small business and other
potentially disenfranchised Americans. Clin
ton's budget includes an additional $489 million
over six years for the network.

And while the regional Bells, newspapers and
other information giants have been struggling
for years over the future of the medium,
congressional insiders say that with the in
creased attention, a resolution seems likely to
be found during the current session of Congress.

``What I think is really getting squeezed out is
that there hasn't been a genuine, public interest,
bottom-up grass roots voice. It's a huge, huge
issue,'' said Marc Rotenberg, director of the
Washington offices of Computer Professionals
for Social Responsibility, the primary champion
of civil rights in the new electronic medium.
``It's about people, it's about institutions, it's
about who gets to connect and on what terms.''

Observers also fear that the rush to wield the
network as an economic weapon could produce
dramatic incursions into free speech and other
civil liberties.

``I'm very concerned that the rhetoric about
national competitiveness is transforming itself
into a new cold war,'' said Gary Chapman,
director of CPSR's 21st Century Project in
Cambridge, Mass. ``The concerns of intelligence
and other federal agencies including NASA has
been to look at technology resources that are not
related to military security but to economic
benefits as being things that have to be protec
ted by Draconian measures of security.''

Recent disciplinary actions at NASA Ames
Research Center in Northern California seem to
support Chapman's concerns.

Up to eight of the 11 scientists disciplined in
December were targeted because of their par
ticipation in politically oriented, international
discussion groups hosted on the Internet com
puter network, according to documents ob
tained by the Houston Chronicle under the
Freedom of Information Act, along with subse
quent interviews of NASA Ames personnel.

``Some people there were accused of dealing
with foreign nationals about non-classified tech
nology issues,'' said Chapman, whose organiza
tion also has made inquiries into the matter.
``NASA said the U.S. has to protect its technol
ogy assets because of the global environment of

The issues are even simpler for Raymond Luh,
a subcontracting engineer fired by NASA. Luh,
an American of Chinese ancestry, feels that his
career was destroyed simply because he joined
in one of the thousands of political discussions
aired each day over the Internet.

``I feel I have been gravely wronged by
NASA,'' Luh said. ``I cannot possibly seek em
ployment elsewhere. My reputation as a law-
abiding citizen and a hard-working researcher
has been tarnished almost beyond repair.''

NASA refused to comment on the matter.

According to FOIA documents provided by
NASA's Office of the Inspector General, Luh
was fired when ``a document containing Chinese
writing was found in (Luh's computer). ... Inves
tigation determined that Luh's office computer
held a large volume of files relating to his
efforts to promote Most Favored Nation trade
status for the People's Republic of China. ... Luh
was not authorized to use his computer for this

To Luh, however, he was only one of the
chorus of voices that joined in a fiery debate
surrounding fallout from the Tiananmen Square
massacre. He wasn't trying to make policy _ he
was exercising intellectual freedom, in his spare

``That's a very dangerous and disturbing kind
of trend,'' said Chapman. ``The parallel is with
the Cold War and transforming the modes of
thinking and the practices of these agencies into
new forms of control, even in the absence of
militarily significant enemies. We'll start think
ing about the Japanese or whatever Pacific Rim
country you want to pick as being `enemies,' and
intellectual commerce with these people will be
a matter of economic security.

``The freedom of expression aspect of that is
very critical. We want to make sure that this is a
system in which people can express themselves
freely without repercussions.''

Observers fear that Luh may be only the first
such casualty as federal agencies and special
interest groups reshape the Internet into their
own model, carving up a pie estimated to be
worth $3.5 trillion.

While Gore's vision implies the construction
of a high-speed, high-tech fiber optic network, a
number of counter-proposals are being floated.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation _ which
earlier made a name for itself with a successful
court challenge to the conduct of the Secret
Service in a hacker crackdown _ is focusing on
building a less powerful, less costly network
that could reach more people, more quickly.

``Our central concern is that we get from
debate to doing something,'' said Jerry Berman,
EFF director.

EFF's approach _ endorsed by Rep. Edward
J. Markey, D-Mass. _ is to build an ISDN
(Integrated Services Digital Network) service
atop the telephone network, making a modest
level of digital computer transmission available
quickly to every home. The more sophisticated
fiber optic approach implied by Gore's NREN
could be implemented as time and money allow.

But few voices have been heard backing ISDN.

``The current state of the discussion is turmoil
and chaos,'' said the CPSR's Rotenberg. ``It's a
mistake to place too much emphasis on any
technological configuration. A lot of that energy
and those resources would be better spent
talking about users and institutions rather than
technology and standards.

``This is like trying to explain railroads in the
18th century or cars in the 19th century. Here we
are in the 20th century, and we know something
big is happening right under our feet and we
know it has something to do with these new
telecommunications technologies.

``None of us knows where this is going to take
us, but I think people should have some sensitiv
ity to the prospect that the future world we're
going to live in is going to be shaped in many
ways by the decisions we make today about the
information infrastructure.''