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Shofar FTP Archive File: people/l/littman.sol/the-gatekeeper


Archive/File: people/l/littman.sol/the-gatekeeper
Last-Modified: 1998/01/18

"In June, the Wiesenthal Center released a discussion
document (that's how Littman describes it) entitled `The
need for Regulation on the Information Highway,' to Canadian
legislators, the press and the Canadian Radio-Television and
Telecommunications Commission ... calling for a legal
crackdown on the Net to combat hate propaganda. Among the
document's recommendations were broad additions to Canada's
already strict anti-hate laws and an `international
conference to arrive at uniform, world-wide regulation.'

"Littman later admitted that, at the time he wrote `The Need
for Regulation...' he had never actually _seen_ the
Internet. The whole report was based on the work of a single
research assistant....

"The Wiesenthal Center report left no doubt how far it
believed the Internet should be regulated. It was the most
radically restrictive plan for government control of
Internet content ever proposed in a western democracy. The
Center proposed that all Internet communication with the
exception of person-to-person electronic mail be defined as
broadcasting, thus placing it under the CRTC broadcast
regulations.<8> Needless to say, if such a plan had ever
been implemented, it would have thrown an impenetrable pall
over the use of the Internet in Canada. When asked if this
covered text messages on FTP sites and posts to Usenet
newsgroups, Littman was quick to point out that he inteded
to censor `any public messages, nothing should be out of
bounds.' Littman had no trouble with the implications of
blanket censorship.

[...]

"Littman's proposals had little to do with reality to start
with. The purpose of the document was to create a climate of
fear, to inspire panic in otherwise reasonable people
whenever they looked at a computer.Littman chose his words
and illustrations carefully, prefacing the report with a
quote from an inflammatory message from a known white
supremacist, while neglecting to mention that it did not
violate Canadian hate laws and that, in any case, was posted
by an American user, far beyond the reach of Canadian
courts.

[...]

"...Littman's power and prestige is predicated on the
existence of an immediate neo-Nazi danger, and though it has
become clear that the ultra-right's on-line presence, as
objectionalbe as it may be, does not constitute much of a
social threat, he has gone out of his way to create the
appearance of one.

[...]

"The Holocaust and the threat of Nazi violence are Littman's
franchise. His whole message is paternalism at its worst --
there are nasty ideas out there that society has to be
protected from, and _he_ is the one who will do the
protecting. What seems to bother him the most is the way in
which the Net either subverts or circumvents traditional
authority structures. His essay `Some Thoughts on the
Regulation of Cyberspace,' appended to the 1995 report, is
particularly revealing:

     The cyberspace information-giver need not list his
     qualifications, display his degrees, prove his
     competency, supply proof of his membership in a
     professional society or provide his
     bibliography... The necessary props of scholarship
     are obliterated, expertise goes out the
     window.<10>
     
"In short, Littman's principle complaint is not with
_content_, but with the potential of the Internet to
enfranchise groups and individuals that were silenced by the
rigid patterns of authority and prestige prior to the
information revolution. His problem is with the apparent
lack of authority, a manifestation of the Net's
decentralized discourse and distributed structure.
Dismissing Internet civil libertarians as children --
implying, of course, that they require steadying adult
supervision from people like Sol Littman -- he attacks the
very interactivity that provides activists like Ken McVay
with the opportunity to strike back at hate. Despite the
Nizkor Projects successes, Littman believes that it doesn't
go far enough, and that McVay's tactics are an invitation to
disorder.  ...

"What people like Littman fear is that on the Net authority
will pass from traditional power centres to the users
themselves...." (Friedman, 130-134)
                              
                         Work Cited
                              
Friedman, Matthew. Fuzzy Logic. Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1997

               Fuzzy Logic:      http://fuzzylogic.total.net
                 Vehicule Press:  http://www.cam.org/~vpress


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