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01/01/2004 Archived Entry: "Ephedra and computers"

I see that the reflexive cretins who rule the U.S. have decided to ban ephedra...while leaving pseudoephedrine, a synthetic equivalent, completely legal. (Either they're amazingly stupid, or they're doing favors for the drug makers. Frankly, I'm not sure which, although "stupid" is usually my first hypothesis when politicians are concerned.) Believe it or not, this is related to my next item:

New Year's Resolutions! If you haven't finished your list yet, here are a few suggestions:
1. I will not open email attachments unless I'm expecting them.
2. I will not blindly click on links in email.
3. I will install antivirus software.
4. I will install a firewall.
5. I will back up my data regularly.

Now you must be asking, how are drugs like computers?

A hundred years ago, anyone could buy drugs. Then, as now, many drugs were dangerous if misued, but people were assumed to be intelligent enough to know how to use them or to seek out this information. Any harm and any costs would be incurred only by the individual, so it was no one else's business.

Then the pernicious arguments were advanced: "Ordinary people can't know everything about modern drugs." "People can't be trusted to use drugs wisely." "Some drugs are too dangerous." "Others are hurt when people abuse drugs." "Society must pay the cost of drug abuse." And so the groundwork was laid for the medical monopoly, drug prohibition, and today's nanny state.

Today, anyone can buy a computer and connect it to the Internet. Computers can cause havoc if misused, but people are assumed to be intelligent enough to know how to use them or seek out this information. Any harm and costs (e.g. lost data) would be incurred only by the individual.....

Well, not anymore. Notice how quickly the media adds up the "cost to business" when the Internet is ravaged by a worm? Do you see what's coming?

"Ordinary people can't know everything about computers." "People can't be trusted to secure their computers." "Some computer viruses are too dangerous." "Others are hurt when worms spread." "Society must pay the cost of Internet infections."

I can easily foresee a day when computer ownership is regulated. Certainly the feds would love to do this. Like drugs, they can't ban their use outright -- "society" is too dependent on them, and there would be outright revolt. But with insidious pretexts they will nudge the law in this direction:

1. You must buy computer hardware and software from a licensed (authorized) supplier.
2. You must use your computer under the supervision of a licensed (authorized) computer professional.
3. Your Internet traffic must be able to be fully monitored.
4. Using an unauthorized computer or unauthorized software will be a felony.

Cui Bono? Well, of course, the feds, and law enforcement at every level, have regretted the personal computer revolution since it happened...and have several times tried to clamp down on people's computing rights. They're just itching for a pretext to lock down your PC.

My fellow computing "professionals" whose avarice outweighs their sense will love the idea of an AMA (American Medical Association) of their very own. A legislated monopoly, a restrictive trade association, and a customer base that must hire your services? What a gravy train!

The big computer firms will jump at it. Gateway and Dell will probably rejoice. (Everyone knows about those shoddy substandard Canadian drugs--oops, I mean Chinese computers.)

Somehow I think that Microsoft, despite its track record for security, will end up as an authorized supplier of software. But what will really tickle Microsoft's fancy is the prospect of getting all that "homebrewed" (open-source) software off of the market once and for all. (Why, that stuff is A Danger To The Internet And To Society!)

Think it can't happen? Go try to buy a bottle of ephedra.

It may be too late to roll back drug prohibition and drug regulation. But now is the time to be on guard for our computing freedom. This requires two things:

1. "Eternal vigilance" and steadfast opposition to any legislative measure that in any way acts to reduce or restrict computing freedom (including cryptographic freedom and data privacy);
2. An ongoing demonstration that "the people" are competent to own and use computers, and don't need the protection or guidance of a nanny state.

Which brings me back to those New Year's resolutions. Be responsible. Take care of your computer. Or someone will be appointed to take care of it for you.


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