John Richard Perry is a 1975 Guggenheim Fellow in Humanities.
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You may know me as the Grateful Dead lyricist or the co-founder of EFF and Freedom of the Press Foundation. I'm the only person in both the Internet Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Twenty years ago today, I wrote a Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace in response to the god awful Communications Decency Act signed by President Bill Clinton. Over the years, many people have said many things about what I wrote, but I maintain that things, by and large, have turned out rather as I predicted.
Ask me anything.
Also, here's proof it's me: https://twitter.com/JPBarlow/status/696791064389103616
Hi John, as an 80s vintage Deadhead & internet user since 1990 I've gotten a lot of benefit from your lifetime of work. My question is forthcoming, but mostly I just want to let you know how glad I've been to watch your recovery from your recent health mishap (aka very brief death??!!?!??). I'm not surprised though - you seem like one tough son of a bitch. Anyway, we need you around, and you've really given us a lot, so I hope we have many more years together on this silly little planet of ours.
Since I have to ask a question, ok: did you really try to stop Bobby from singing Victim or the Crime, and if so, why? It doesn't really matter, but that rumor has been out there for years, so there you go.
But mostly, I'm just glad you're ok.
EDIT: also, do you ever read https://thoughtsonthedead.wordpress.com/ ? The guy who writes it is quite fond of you...you get zinged less than just about anyone
>Since I have to ask a question, ok: did you really try to stop Bobby from singing Victim or the Crime, and if so, why? It doesn't really matter, but that rumor has been out there for years, so there you go.
No I didn't. I wish I thought that would have been possible. But trying to stop Bobby from doing anything is the best way to ensure that he will go on doing it. I mean, check out his mustache.
Thank you for writing what is absolutely one of my favourite pieces of writing.
Do you believe in absolute free speech on the internet or do you believe there should be limits (such as illegal activity)?
Where these limits are broken (terrorism, exploitation of children), how should these be addressed. You wrote "we will identify them and address them by our means", what format do you see this taking? How well has this been done in the 20 years since you wrote the declaration?
I don’t know how to limit speech on the Internet, that’s the issue. I don’t know a way to limit one form of speech, without limiting any form of speech. Besides, as John Stuart Mill said, liberty resides in the rights in that person’s views which you find most odious. And if you can’t defend the expressions that trouble you, you’ll have a hard time defending your own when they trouble someone else.
I don’t believe we’ve been successful in identifying and addressing these issues ourselves. I was too optimistic. However, there was a calculated quality to my optimism. I knew that the Internet, in addition to being the greatest engine of freedom of expression in the history of humanity, was also going to be the most penetrating tool of surveillance and oppression ever devised.
I believed at the time—and I still believe—that it made better sense to put some spin on the ball in the direction of the positive aspects of the Internet, so that we didn’t go into cyberspace terrified of where we were headed, but went there with a sense of hope and progress. And I’ll stick with that now.
Do any of the current presidential candidates represent your views on privacy and Internet freedom?
No, in a word. I mean, have you heard any of these guys say anything about the Internet? As far as I can tell they don’t even know it exists. I mean, Bernie kind of does. Hillary only does insofar as she made a terrible mistake online.
Hi JPB! Glad you're getting your health back, you gave me a real scare last year.
What's your favorite Dead song that you didn't co-write?
Sweetest memory you have of Jerry or Brent?
When should we expect Bob's new cowboy project to come to fruition?
What advice would you give to young folks who feel left out of the political process and are apathetic?
There are a lot of candidates for my favorite Dead song. At present I would say “The Days Between,” though I’m also very fond of “Black Peter.” As for the sweetest memories I have of Jerry and Brent: I have so many memories of them, sweet and not so sweet, that I could write a book about it. Given that everyone else has written such a book, I’ll probably forgo that. But I knew them both very well and I miss them very much each day.
I don’t know when the cowboy project is going to come to fruition. I’m a little baffled why it’s considered “the cowboy project” given its constituents. Though he did finally loop in me and Lucas Nelson, two people with actual cowboy credentials.
What advice would I give people who are apathetic to the political process? Well, you will get the government that you don’t resist. If you don’t care how you’re governed, then I’d say stay out of the political process. I understand the sense of futility that many feel, and I often feel it myself, but democracy requires hope. And apathy is a cowardly retreat.
First: Following you on Twitter you seem to have suffered a few health issues recently. How are you doing today? Secondly: what do we do about the balkanization of the Internets, the surveillance, the lack of copyright reform and basically no freaking anything happening but just this wild land of cyberspace getting lesser and lesser free? I have already donated to the EFF, what else can we do?
I'm pretty okay today! Though it's been a long struggle.
As for Balkanization, I seem to think the more data they collect, the less information they have. And we can expect them to be even more incompetent in the future.
On the lack of copyright reform: I didn't expect to see copyright reform. The content cabal seized Congress and the courts clear back in the '80s, and has spent an enormous amount of money getting them to believe a narrative that is counterproductive even for those who are trying to distribute expression. Though somewhat productive for those who prey on those who express. This will be a very long evolution but I predict we will eventually come up with a method for monetizing for the work we do with our minds that is based on a service model rather than a property model.
And I don't believe the wild land of cyberspace is getting lesser and lesser free. I just think it's freedom is having to go deeper and deeper. And there is a lot of depth beneath the surface of the Internet.
Chiming in to say: this book is excellent.
Parker is right about this.
FWIW I was a Deadhead that got on the internet pretty early, circa 1990 in a serious way though somewhat a little earlier. Most heads I knew were initially drawn to the newsgroup (rec.music.gdead) and the WELL out of sheer curiosity, there's always been a very tech savvy subset of Deadhead culture. I couldn't afford to pay for WELL access so I was a RMG user primarily.
Once we were there, there were a few main "functions" - disseminating tour-relevant information (e.g. tour dates and info on where to stay, eat, etc, where the nasty cops were, that kind of thing), organizing meet-ups, reviewing recent shows or recordings of older ones, and organizing tape trading networks - that last one was a very major component & a big upgrade to our scene. One has to assume given the context there was some amount of organizational work w/r/t the transportation & dissemination of untaxed mind-altering commodities, but I can't/won't speak to that other than to acknowledge the reality....
But for the most part at the start it was simply social - a way to meet & get to know people across the country, or reconnect with people you met on tour. Deadheads have always been nicer & more interesting than the average person (at least to each other) and at the time - this is easy to forget now - the average internet user was smarter than the random person. So the overlap in the Venn diagram was a pretty fun group of people.
EDIT: also, @stewartbbrand is an excellent Twitter follow
The way I got online originally was because I wanted to study the Deadheads. And I got an internet account in 1985 so that I could observe interaction on rec.music.gdead and once I was there I realized that there was a lot more going on than another version of the Grateful Dead parking lot. So I owed a lot to the early online Deadheads for leading me on the path that I’ve been on ever since.
Do you feel you need to make any amendments to the original document? How much flack did you get when you released it?
If I were writing it today, I would make it much more clear that the Internet and the physical world are deeply connected in the same way that the mind and body are connected. It's been fashionable to attack what I wrote on the grounds that I thought cyberspace was sublimely removed from the physical world.
I would also be less optimistic in my sense that social contracts would arise in cyberspace that would take care of most of the difficulties that arose there. However the fact that they have not in some cases, doesn't mean that government somehow has the right or the ability to go in and do it.
What was the biggest thing you think we're still getting wrong with the way "cyberspace" works?
We’re still having a hard time recognizing that the Internet is continuous, and that it is almost impossible to balkanize it. There have been many efforts to do so and some of them have marginally succeeded, as in China. But none of them have succeeded in the long run.
What do you think are the root causes behind the "I have nothing to hide" attitude towards electronic surveillance, and how do you think privacy advocates can best counter this ubiquitously pernicious argument?
I don’t see any reason to counter it. If people don’t think they have anything to hide, let them not hide anything. Privacy works, whether everybody signs on for it or not.
If on the other hand they’re trying to weaken efforts to maintain privacy on the part of those who want it, then that is an imposition that is transgressive. And a violation.
Hi John, Thank you so much for all your work and contributions over the years.
Thinking back to the state of the world when you wrote the declaration,
Was CDA really the only issue, or were there there were large issues and CDA was just how they appeared?
If so, what other large issues loom out there now that seem like the ones out there at the time you wrote the Declaration?
Said simply: what are the things you see today that need similar action?
The battle to keep the Internet free is continuous. And it will be continuous for the rest of our lives. It’s so far been a Mexican standoff between the forces of oppression and the forces of liberation. I don’t see any reason to think that this stalemate will break any time soon. So it’s necessary to very actively engage with organizations like EFF, and support them, and to be very conscious of the issues on those occasions when they actually arise in Congress.
I also believe that if you are technically capable, you have a moral responsibility to understand the architecture of the Internet so that you can be helpful in attending to design changes that will make it more robust, since the real safety is and always has been the architecture of cyberspace.
How do you think tech companies should establish policies which support a borderless cyberspace? This challenge is complicated when the companies may have employees in countries around the world which threaten imprisoning those employees unless the companies comply with their national law.
Policies that support a borderless cyberspace are the only policies that will work in maintaining the integrity of the Internet. If it appears that their employees are at risk, then I would say that they either need to move out of that country or they need to move the employee out of that country.
The original EFFers were you, Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore. You and John are still on the board as far as I know, while Kapor left the board after his stint as chairman. Wouldn't it be a good idea to reel Kapor in again for some hard-hitting EFF foot-work and fundraising?
Reeling in Mitch Kapor would take tackle of the sort I cannot imagine.
Thanks for doing this and all your work!!
How would you describe the splitting of EPIC and CDT from EFF? All three have a slightly different focus (and methods, fundraising, etc.), but would a united organization, or at least closer coordination be more powerful? Should EFF have a greater presence in DC?
Which of EFF's accomplishments do you think has been the most important?
I am happy that CDT and EPIC are separate from EFF. They have different cultures, a different focus, a different location, and to some degree are more a part of the “inside baseball” game that is played in Washington, DC. EFF decided that there was no way you could be in DC without getting too much pig fat on you.
Could you comment about how your Declaration, or the EFF in general, related to what Eric Eldred experienced during Eldred v. Ashcroft?
I don’t have space or time to address the Eric Eldred case. It’s too complicated.
Well, my main thoughts are just that it was a completely improper decision. That it was wrong. That they didn’t know what they were doing and they made a serious mistake. But both the courts and the legislators have been in the pocket of the content industry for a long time. Fortunately there’s a whole generation of young people that don’t buy into that.
Hi John. Glad you're doing better. Were you at all inspired by the Beats (Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, etc.) as you began your trip toward cyber-independence?
I used to be a beatnik long ago. Neal Cassidy, whom I knew and whose birthday it is today, was my god.
Would you agree with Snowden when he says "Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say?" Don't we need to convince more people of the vital importance of privacy when it comes to our freedom in order to build a mass movement to overturn the USA Freedom Acts of our world, and any other bills and institutions that threaten our ability to think, speak, and read freely? If a majority population just doesn't care, will those of use who currently do be enough to fight back the increasing attacks on net nuetrality, privacy, etc. launched by corporate and state institutions?
Yeah, I believe that it would be great if there were a general awareness of the importance of privacy. But over the years I’ve noticed the trend heading in precisely the opposite direction. People care less and less about their privacy. Their real desire is to be seen. And they don’t feel threatened by being seen, generally. So efforts to get them to become invisible, I think, are doomed to fail. (With the exception of John Gilmore. But given the fact that John Gilmore lives with me, and I’m the most public person I know, he’s completely failed.)
Do you pay for WinRAR?
No, I get my WinRAR free.
What are your thoughts on the laws the British government is trying enforce regarding digital communication? (the so called IP Bill)
I don’t see that it’s any different from the Communications Decency Act! It’s the same foolish mistake. They don’t get it.
Do you identify with the cypherpunk movement at all? If so, which ideas resonate most strongly with you? If not, in which way(s) do you think they have it wrong?
Of course! I was instrumental in helping Americans get strong encryption. And I live with one of the great cypherpunks, John Gilmore.
Hypothetically in the future, is it feasible (in terms of maintaining current infrastructure) to move everyone to encrypted and anonymous networks like how some users are doing with TOR?
I believe that encrypted transmission over the network is likely to become standard, driven partly by the major network providers who would rather not have the responsibility of surveilling their customers.
Hi John, just wanted you to know I quoted your Declaration in my MA Thesis on cyberpunk :-). http://www.mediafire.com/view/?zit8wajc6t8d6ul
My question is: do you think it should be read in-context or is it universal enough to be now presented without the preamble on the Clinton act?
And did you enjoy all those Anonymous mashups of the Declaration around the time of SOPA/PIPA/ACTA? There were quite a few.
I would love to see the mashups of the Declaration that were done around SOPA - I never saw any. If you have any links, I would appreciate it!
I'm a web developer. I'm considering applying to law school. It seems more and more that protecting the free and open web is a legal process. I sometimes feel there is more that I can do as a lawyer than a developer to aid this process. The principle theme of your Declaration is that cyberspace is not subject to the sovereignty of nations. This is an attractive idea to me, except that I regularly observe nations successfully imposing their sovereignty on cyberspace. Whether or not their sovereignty extends to cyberspace in theory, it already does in practice. The Declaration of Independence was backed by military force. What options are there to back your Declaration? The option I see is making use of the various legal systems of these nations in an attempt to influence the laws of those countries to support a free and open web. But that involves a concession to their assertion of authority. Is there another option?
The principle force of my Declaration lies in the extent to which it speaks for others, who want the internet to be open and free. It’s not something that requires military force, in fact, military force would be completely irrelevant. It’s something that requires individual commitment and a willingness of the part of people to go ahead and speak freely even when they feel like there is some risk attached to doing so. Liberty lies in its exercise, and this is true whether you’re a lawyer or a web developer.
I just wanted to say that I get a lot of credit for helping people on this website, but you helped found the real superheroes of the internet. Keep up the awesome work, and keep kicking ass for the little guys!
My question: Have you changed your mind about "Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here."
Virtual goods not being owned has wound up hurting a lot of consumers as opposed to helping them, as companies just sell licenses to use products, not the goods themselves (ie. every video game sold online). Do we need some stricter virtual property rules?
I don’t believe that I can address your question fairly at this moment. I would say, however, that I go on believing that property is a very bad way to understand things that can be infinitely reproduced. other forms of property are limited or finite. SO called intellectual property is infinite. I would also stick by what I said about the slippery nature of identity. I believe that anonymity, or obscured identity is fairly easily obtained for those who need it (however I recommend strongly against using it if you don’t need it because without identity there’s no accountability). It is also difficult to ascertain the location of a person if that person is technically capable and does not want his or her whereabouts to be known.