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Digital backwater

Ginger Coons
The Link (Concordia University)

MONTREAL (CUP) – When Cory Doctorow talks, the Internet listens.
Doctorow is a co-editor at Boing Boing, a blog with a higher weekly readership than the Globe and Mail. He’s also a prolific author who makes all his books available for free download, including “Little Brother,” a dystopian young adult novel that spent six weeks on the New York Times children’s bestseller list. Additionally, he’s a crusader for fair copyright, equal access to the Internet and the right to privacy.
Major access barriers on the Internet include network caps, the upload and download limits imposed by Internet service providers. According to Doctorow, those caps are bad for the economy.
“It punishes experimentation because you have to ration your network use. What this does is undermine entrepreneurship,” he said.
Although not reserved to Canada, the problem is so serious in this country that Toronto-born, London-based Doctorow once wrote that it was subpar Internet that would prevent him from moving back.
“Canada is really lagging among [nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] in access, speed, cost and equality. They keep trying to redefine what [high-speed Internet] is in order to make us look better,” he said. Doctorow pointed to Internet speeds in nations like South Korea, which are four times faster than those in Canada.
Doctorow blamed the problem on the lack of competition in the Canadian telecommunications industry. He characterized the current state of affairs, in which a few companies are allowed to control the majority of media and telecommunications interests, as a “total policy disaster.”
“Somewhere out there,” said Doctorow, “there’s an entrepreneur who wants to provide the network that Canada deserves.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t see that happening without the intervention of Canada’s telecommunications regulator, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The Internet isn’t the only thing Doctorow sees going wrong in Canada. He foresees problems with the enhanced driver’s licences, currently being rolled out in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. Those licences are heavily reliant on biometric identification, such as fingerprints, which can prove to be a hugely problematic security feature.
“Fingerprints leak like crazy. How many surfaces do you think you left your fingerprints on today?” he asked.
Copying fingerprints is also easy. Doctorow recalled an event in March 2008 when a German hacker group released the fingerprint of German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble to protest biometric passports.
Enhanced Driver’s Licenses are being adopted in order to comply with newly created American regulations on what constitutes an acceptable document for crossing the border. Doctorow did not view this as a sensible excuse.
“If all the other G20 nations were jumping off western democracy and landing in a boiling pit of fascism, would you jump with them? That’s not a basis for good governance.”
But it was not all doom and gloom from the sometimes-dystopian writer. Doctorow revealed that he had hope for the future of information policy.
“I would like to see a kind of information bill of rights that mirrored the UN Declaration of Human Rights and that was widely accepted as kind of rote by people, where you didn’t have to explain why privacy is important or why neutral networks are important,” said Doctorow, who has pushed for Internet activity to be free from censorship or surveillance by Internet providers or governments. “I think if we got that, everything else would become easier.”
Doctorow is currently on a North American tour for “Makers,” his latest novel. It’s freely available for download in a variety of formats from craphound.com/makers.

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