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A review of the Magna Carta oif the PFF
From: David Farber <farber () central cis upenn edu>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 1995 09:26:43 -0500

[ I have Richards digest part which I will send on request
rather than flood your mail boxes djf]

Sender: rkmoore () iol ie (Richard K. Moore)
I promised Marsha that I would post a review/digest of the famous "Magna
Carta" to cpsr-global. Here it is, split across two messages.

This first message is the "review" part -- a summary of what the document
is about, what it seems to be trying to accomplish, and what's likely to
happen with it.

The second message will be the "digest" part -- a trimmed down version of
the Magna Carta, with lots of ellipses, but with the flavor and scope
showing through. I'll provide narrative comments such as "this argument
repeats for seven more paragraphs", but my editorial comments are factored
out into this review message.


       "Cyberspace and the American Dream:
      A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age
        Release 1.2 // August 22, 1994"

The "Magna Carta" (MC) is a large, rambling, document, pasted together from
several authors. Principles avowed in one section are disavowed in other
sections. The document is heavily salted with buzzwords -- evidently
seeking popularity through crowd-pleasing slogans.

The subject domain is of central importance to all of us:

      "What should be the rules-of-the road in cyberspace?"

When we get through the whole meandering slogan-fest, MC leaves us with two
specific proposals on the table, and no others:

   (1) Cyberspace must include protection for intellectual property rights

   (2) Cable companies and telephone companies should be permitted to
       merge into a large monopoly to build and manage the cyberspace
       infrastructure in the US.

Conspicuously missing from the platform (and the discussion) are positions on:
   -safeguards for privacy
   -freedom for individuals to publish
   -freedom for individuals to create virtual communities

These concepts are foreign to the authors, because -- as they state
explicitly -- cyberspace to them is exactly one thing: a *marketplace* to
be exploited. Hence their "rules of the road" deal with the reasonable
requirements for commercial traffic, and don't bother about what might be
the concerns of bicycle riders. I guess us bicycle riders are supposed to
take up a collection and build our own bicycle paths, separated from the
heavy trucks and their smog.


MC bravely calls out for "freedom" in cyberspace. It talks about
"frontiersmen", and paints a picture of rugged individuals "winning the
west" yet again. This picture definitely arouses the positive sympathies of
any net enthusiast, including myself.

But when you get to the "beef" of what freedom means, in terms of specific
proposals, the unspoken definition stands out clearly:

      "freedom" = "unregulated coroporations"


The author list is impressive, even though the document is expressly
non-signed. We have:
   Ms. Esther Dyson
   Mr. George Gilder
   Dr. George Keyworth
   Dr. Alvin Toffler

These are *indeed* crowd pleasing names. They've got *street* credibility
as well as *downtown* credibility. They unfortunately imbue MC with an aura
of savvy and authority. MC deserves no part of such an aura, but benefits
from its "smokescreen" effect.

Behind these names stands the "Progress and Freedom Foundation", which Phil
Agre characterizes as "Newt Gingrich's foundation". The document totally
avoids any mention of the foundation, or of any connection with *downtown*

Not that it's trying to hide anything -- rather it's striving to convey the
feeling that it's a "grass roots" call for action, voiced spontaneously by
a group of individuals known for their independence, integrity, and vision.

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