Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

What Kind of Data Reliability Do We Sacrifice?

Matthew Hutson

Because its electronic underpinnings are so modular, geographically dispersed, and redundant, cyberspace is essentially indestructable. You can't demolish it by cutting links with backhoes or sending commandos to blow up electronic installations, and you can't even nuke it. (p.110)

He has a point here, but what kind of data reliability do we sacrifice for this kind of reliability? We may have multiple copies of our data, but what happens during a power failure? Obviously this data is no good if we can't access it. If it comes to nuclear war, then the chances are that many of the copies, if not all, will be inaccessible. And what about evolving technologies? The governement has already spent millions of dollars converting paper media to electronic media, but these media are already disintegrating, and the technology used to access it is obsolete and irreplacable. What will a scientist do if she picks up a floppy disk 100 years in the future? Will she know how to read it?

Under pressure from cops and cold warriors, who anticipate being thwarted by impregnable fortresses in cyberspace, the US federal government has doggedly tried to restrict the availability of strong encription software. (123)

You may sympathize with the attempts of local authorities to control kittie porn, but how about suppression of dissident political speach? (148)

This brings up the issue of who is to have the last word when it comes to security/privacy. Do we have a right to hold and distribute any data we choose, or should the government have the right to "protect" us from dangerous information, such as the plans of terrorists and kittie pornogrophy distributors? What exactly does crying Fire! in a crowded cybertheater constitute?

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