Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Slashdot | AT&T Silences Criticism"

On
Why We Need Local, Public, Internet Providers
And
Why We Need Common Carriage


A friend passed this on in an email with the subject line: "This must be illegal." I hope so...

5.1 Suspension/Termination. Your Service may be suspended or terminated if your payment is past due and such condition continues un-remedied for thirty (30) days. In addition, AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries. Termination or suspension by AT&T of Service also constitutes termination or suspension (as applicable) of your license to use any Software. AT&T may also terminate or suspend your Service if you provide false or inaccurate information that is required for the provision of Service or is necessary to allow AT&T to bill you for Service.

Oh...and by the way:

5.2 Deletion of data after Termination or Cancellation. You agree that if your Service is terminated for any reason, AT&T has the right to immediately delete all data, files, and other information stored in or for your account, including email messages, without further notice to you. (All emphases mine)

Slashdot links to the new AT&T TOS (Terms Of Service) and has an only fair section of commentary—this isn't in a technical realm in which its readership excels. But it is worth thinking about and talking about...AT&T might well be within its "rights." We'd only find out through a court battle and the main purpose of the clause might well be less to impose real punishment than to have a chilling effect on any discussion of its failings.

What adds insult to injury, of course, is that AT&T has shown no hesitation to participate in wiretapping of (at best) "questionable" legality. Insults to the company's dignity are worth draconian posturing. Invasions of your privacy and legal rights are just another thing to be examined in terms of the company's potential profits. If that seems to be unbalanced to you--well it is. Only a monopoly could think this way.

This would be illegal if it was about phone service. AT&T is clearly a "common carrier" there and this venerable legal tradition both forbids AT&T to deny anyone service on its whim and, in return, absolves AT&T of any legal responsibility for what people talk about on the phone. (AT&T is not on the hook for aiding you if you plot murder.) But that principle is eroding and it is just about gone in the ISP world. Notice that a part of the clause above I didn't highlight gave AT&T the right to deny you service if something you do could be construed to:
(b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws)
So AT&T reserves the right to not only to nanny you on its own account but to be a nanny-for-hire (enforcement won't be free, you betcha) for the entertainment industry. (And, oh yeah, the government--but we can't talk about that....) This is merely carrying through on AT&T's earlier commitment to Hollywood to enforce it Digital Rights Management schemes. It ties into their hopes to establish a two-tiered internet (fast and notsofast) based on deep packet inspection. If they can get deep packet called a legal necessity to enforce the laws then they can put in place everything they need to route "paid up" packets down the fast lane.

This is serious stuff.

It is also dangerous stuff. Not just for you and me but for AT&T. Does AT&T really want to go down the slippery slope of deciding that it will monitor the taste and legality of action taken over its network? (That is exactly what is promulgated here.) I hope not. And it is dumb, IMHO, to give up the protection of common carriage.

I am IMMENSELY grateful that I will soon be able to cut myself completely loose of such dangerous and foolish petulance. The elephant is dying and I don't want to be anywhere near its death throes.

That a TOS like this is conceivable and possibly legal is EXACTLY why we need net neutrality and a clear reinstitution of common carriage. And it is a substantial reason to say we need LUS Fiber.

(Just for the record: none of my sites is on an incumbent server, nor is any email account I use. Yours needn't be either. And soon you should be able to get off their copper.)

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