Radio Berkman 175: Lessig and Zittrain Take On…the Kill Switch

March 16th, 2011

Listen: or download | …also in Ogg

In recent months citizens of the Middle East and North Africa have experienced widespread shutdowns of internet access, coinciding with revolutions to overthrow national leadership. The seeming ease with which the Internet has been silenced in Libya, Egypt, and other countries has raised questions about ethical issues behind an Internet “Kill Switch,” the idea of a single point of access by which any nation’s leadership could shutdown their internet access.

In the United States, debate over so-called “Kill Switch” legislation has focused on the free speech aspect. If it were technologically possible to shutdown internet access singlehandedly who is to say that power wouldn’t be exploited as it has been abroad?

But on the other side of the coin is the question of cyber security. With so much commerce, communication, and security dependent on a loose and non-standardized network infrastructure, it could actually make sense to have an easy way to quarantine a bug or massive cyber attack.

Today, hosts Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain are joined by Andrew McLaughlin — a former Berkman Fellow and White House Deputy Chief Technology Office — and Brett Solomon — Executive Director of Access, a global movement promoting digital freedom. Together with an audience Lessig and Zittrain take on the Kill Switch.

What are your thoughts? Any compliments or criticisms? What topic would you like to see Jonathan and Larry take on next month? Share your ideas with us in the comments, or drop us a tweet.

Reference SectionFollow Brett Solomon and Access
Follow Andrew McLaughlin
Will the U.S. get an Internet Kill Switch?

CC-licensed Music this Week from Morgantj, General Fuzz and Scott Altham.

Photo courtesy of Amar Ashar.

Produced this week by Daniel Dennis Jones and Molly Sauter, with hosts Larry Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain, and help from Lisa Carlivati and Szelena Gray.

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Entry Filed under: audio,radioberkman,Zittrain and Lessig

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Khaled Soubani  |  March 17th, 2011 at 10:38 am

    As always, a great episode. As for suggested topics: participation in general government elections through the Internet. What are the anticipated hurdles (legal, technical, social,…). For those searching for sputnik moments and interested in killer apps, wouldn’t this project solve deep universal secure access problems, among other things.

  • 2. kevin cullinan  |  March 19th, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Thanks to you both for a meaty yet lively show.

    A quick counter to JZ’s skepticism on the effectiveness of liability generally, and insurance specifically, to force improved security standards. The rare (and therefore actuarially unpriceable) catastrophic losses from security breaches would be limited by the use of policy limits and/or reinsurance, and pricing would reflect much more mundane (say, $5MM-$50MM) commercial losses. The resulting premium pricing by itself would make the business case for security best practices.

  • 3. Robert Richards  |  March 25th, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    The new issue (April 2011) of CACM has two articles relevant to the very interesting discussion of software liability in this podcast. The articles are available through ACM Digital Library:

    Berry: Liability issues in software engineering: technical perspective,

    Le Métayer et al., Liability issues in software engineering: the use of formal methods to reduce legal uncertainties,

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