Features

Cops and robbers?

National | China cracks down on anti-communist e-mail, a farm boy irks Hollywood, and the Web gets a new suffix

Issue: "Illegal siblings project," Feb. 2, 2002

Chinese checkers
China has never been a haven for free speech, but Beijing's Internet controls have hit new heights. Now Internet service providers must screen users' e-mail and track down any political or subversive messages. Beijing issued orders last month that all e-mail to and from Chinese users must be screened and copied by security programs. Providers must remove prohibited content from websites, chatrooms, and bulletin boards and turn over messages with "sensitive materials" to authorities. Existing regulations already force ISPs to keep records of users' viewing times, addresses, and telephone numbers. Industry watchers had hoped Chinese officials would back down on such efforts after China's entrance into the World Trade Organization, but Beijing is desperately trying to keep domestic anti-communism off the Web. The new draconian rules from the Ministry of Information Industry come as Western companies line up to bid on everything from new software to wireless networking in China. Microsoft, for instance, announced a $12 million deal to produce computer programs with two Chinese companies. Recently, the Bush administration decided to relax restrictions on technology exports to China, as well as to Russia, India, and Pakistan, opening up those countries to numerous products such as Intel's upcoming Itanium microprocessor, as well as several Apple and Dell laptop computers. Computer industry experts claim such exports pose little security risk to the United States. Rural outlaw?
Jon Lech Johansen is a movie-industry nightmare. In the basement of a Norwegian farmhouse, he created a tiny program that unlocks the copy protection on DVDs. Many computer geeks hail him as a pioneer, but others consider him a criminal. After complaints from the Motion Picture Association of America, authorities in Norway indicted the 18-year-old farm boy under a law that prohibits data break-ins. His 57-kilobyte program, called DeCSS, has already spawned at least three lawsuits, and Mr. Johansen faces two years in prison and compensation claims if convicted. The MPAA, a trade association that represents Hollywood's major studios, claims the program opens the door to rampant piracy and massive losses in revenue. Since DVDs don't degrade when copied, people can trade them easily on the Internet. The battle is part of a larger war that the MPAA faces with a technologically proficient subculture that sees copying as an inalienable right. Mr. Johansen's defenders argue that the ability to copy media is separate from copyright violation. Robin Gross of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has provided Mr. Johansen's legal defense, said the programmer was trying to access his own property, a lawfully purchased DVD, so he could view movies on his computer. DeCSS will likely remain widely available regardless of what happens to Mr. Johansen. Despite legal attempts to keep it off the Web, it remains easy to find and Internet users have downloaded thousands of copies. What's in a .name?
Is a .com by any other .name just as desirable? After years of bureaucratic wrangling, the London-based Global Name Registry (GNR) launched the new Internet suffix ".name" last month. As "dot-com" became a buzzword in the mid-1990s, all sorts of names, words, and phrases were registered as Internet domains. The new suffix, which is specifically intended for individuals, comes after rampant complaints that good names were becoming harder to find. Users registered about 28 million .com, .org, and .net addresses by the end of 2000. Last year, two new suffixes were launched: .biz for businesses and .info for informational sites. Two more are set to begin later this year: .aero for aviation and .pro for professionals. Time will tell whether many .name domain names end up like many .com addresses, i.e., held hostage by so-called "cybersquatters" looking for payoffs from trademark holders or redirection to a seedy destination like a porn site or an online casino. Currently, thousands of personal Web pages aren't used on separate domains. They are simply stored on disk space provided with the owner's Internet account or placed on free servers. They appear in addresses as the subdomain of a bigger site, like Earthlink or Geocities. The .name planners are counting on Webmasters wanting to use these new addresses.

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