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Re: RSACi rating - sinister agenda

From: lutz@as-node.jena.thur.de (Lutz Donnerhacke)
To: debate@fitug.de
Subject: Re: RSACi rating - sinister agenda
Newsgroups: alt.censorship,demon.service,uk.net,uk.politics.misc,comp.org.eff.talk

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From: Tommy the Terrorist <mayday@super.zippo.com>
Newsgroups: alt.censorship,demon.service,uk.net,uk.politics.misc,comp.org.eff.talk
Subject: RSACi rating - sinister agenda
Date: 18 Nov 1996 10:52:30 GMT
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Xref: as-node.jena.thur.de alt.censorship:61614 comp.org.eff.talk:18471

I *finally* got around to looking at rsac.org, and it is everything I
expected and worse.
I'm NOT a lawyer and I don't guarantee I interpreted correctly, but this
is what it looks like to me.

   The crucial point here is that Demon is not merely requiring "rating"
of Web pages --- they are requiring users to MAKE A CONTRACT with the
RSAC.  And the terms of this contract are many and varied, including such
things as:

1) you cannot make or alter your own tag, or keep it after expiration;
the tag on your page is a Mark (as in a Trade Mark, or perhaps Mark of
the Beast) which is "owned" by somebody else.

2) If you DO violate terms of the agreement (such as adding material that
changes your answer to *any* question without re-registering), your
'right' to use the Mark can be terminated.  This means that if Demon
mandates use of RSAC, then EITHER DEMON OR RSAC can terminate your Web
page when they want.  Now yes, in theory RSAC is limited by your answers
to the questions, but if you look the questions are vague, and therefore,
prone to abuse should they decide they don't like some aspect of your
site that isn't quite covered by their simple little scheme.

3) The agreement requires that you AGREE TO INDEMNIFY the RSAC for legal
fees they collect from action against you.  Remember, the SPA is one of
their two "Partners" (top level sponsors), and their ability to litigate
against people is legendary.  You might incur such legal fees, for
instance, by using the RSAC Mark without permission, making a lawsuit
against you necessary.

4) There are a number of suggestions in the agreement that there are
similar or confusing marks which you might infringe theirs with - and
they specifically disclaim all liability should the rating they issue you
be found to infringe someone else's trademark.  This makes me wonder
whether they truly intend to coexist with the PICS scheme, or to attempt
to hijack it with trademark law.  Any ideas?

5) Their scheme is not free, but requires payment of fees.  I'm not sure
of what all the circumstances are, but regardless of HOW the fees get
paid, the point is, that money is YOUR money, no matter *who* actually
hands it to them, being diverted to a scheme you find abhorrent.

   Now in addition to these obvious disqualifications from consideration
of their scheme, one also needs to consider the *potential* abuses:

1) In order to get a RSAC Mark, you're supposed to enter personal name,
address, and jurisdiction of oppression [nation].  Then you are asked
questions which, in some cases, directly address material which may be
outlawed according to that nation.  I *PRESUME* that the RSAC has or will
make a list of - for instance - all registrants who list their
jurisdiction as Australia and 'extreme hate speech' as a rating, and will
hand that list, with URL's, to the NSW and Western Australia censorship
departments for action.  This means that to the degree that rating is
mandated, a person CANNOT escape the jurisdiction of a given country by
means of obtaining a Web page in another - not unless they lie on the
RSAC form, an approach which takes the risk that RSAC will do an audit
and cancel the 'right' for rating. [and someday I suppose you'll be
required to use a credit card or even more secure identification while
signing up]

2) The lack of anonymity is an issue in and of its own right.  Even
though I doubt that true anonymous Web servers will ever consider RSAC
anyway, it is one more way that the censors make it clear that anonymity
has no place in their schemes, because it presumes some kind of free
speech right exists.  Since all RSAC Marks expire, and are disclaimed
from having any value, the possibility certainly is there that at some
point in the future --- once they have convinced you poor fools who like
"ratings" to become dependent on them --- they could decide that certain
individuals are ineligible for rating, due to having ever violated their
agreement, or on the basis of having been found guilty of a criminal or
civil "speech crime", and quite possibly on completely arbitrary criteria
directed toward political censorship.  The RSAC, after all, is just a
little non-profit organization that can refuse to serve whoever it wants,
right?  So if they ever manage to truly catch on - to the point where
people would be afraid NOT to require them, as appears to be the case now
in Britain - then they would have the power to "ban people from the Web",
under private control subject to no one!

3) Participation in RSAC is a way to shake down a company for money that
goes to have censors scan the Net for content they don't like, under the
guise of 'auditing' RSAC pages.  If the scheme becomes popular, I fully
expect that companies will routinely be hit with, well, shall we say
debateable, lawsuits (c2.org knows what I mean... you've seen they are
now no longer accepting customers by the way?  *supposedly* for unrelated
reasons but do I believe that?) --- and one way to, ah, convince the
source of the lawsuit of one's good will in the matter is by making a
charitable contribution to the RSAC censorship scheme...

   So the point is this --- rate your pages if you like; it may be a good
if that means you cannot rate by RSAC, so be it.  And if that means you
can't put Web pages on Demon, so be it.  Because you're signing away a
lot, and giving away a lot, and all of it goes to screw you over even
worse next time.

   One specific point of action that occurs to me is this:  Despite much
press, RSAC is a SMALL scheme.  They claim proudly that they have 9700
pages registered --- I bet at least 50 of those are at Demon, right? 
Altavista talks of hits in the millions.  So they are still small and
vulnerable, despite the big backing they claim.  In fact, if you look at
how they've arranged their sponsors, the "six sponsoring corporations"
turn out to be:

$100,000 - Microsoft, the SPA
$50,000 - Compuserve
$10,000 - Dell, USWeb, Ultranet

plus one "Licensee" (negotiable contribution) - CyberPatrol

Now look at this:  Microsoft, Compuserve, and CyberPatrol are surely in
it because they want the right to use RSAC ratings in software products -
which is extended for 18 months for $100,000 or 12 months for $50,000, or
for 1 year by payment with licensing.  The SPA is in it because their
Reason For Existence is trying to suppress free communication on
Internet.  The top 3 are the only ones getting serious political and
commercial power for their contributions.

THEN there are the $10,000 contributors - all they are guaranteed is a
bit of free press, including a "text" reference on the Web site.  It is
interesting indeed that RSAC is giving them and even a *licensee* a nice
graphic link on their page - it shows once again that they're trying to
inflate the level of support they have.

Now, if you go to www.rsac.org and LOOK at this site, you should see that
these small contributors are getting a raw deal indeed - all they've
bought is publicity, but it's BAD publicity.  I mean, they're surrounded
by icons that any patriotic Netter should hate on sight - Microsoft for
monopolism, Compuserve for early censorship concessions, CyberPatrol for
its use on public-access computers to deny people, even adults, access to
what they want to see, and above all, of course, the hated logo of the
SPA, an organization synonymous with jack-booted thugs raiding offices,
and teams of lawyers trying to wring completely unwarranted concessions
from honest and upstanding companies and organizations.  When you look at
Dell, USWeb, and Ultranet sitting in the middle of all this, presented
with more importance than they originally signed up for, you just can't
help but feel that they fell into a bad crowd, and that we ought to warn
them before they hurt themselves worse.

In summary, therefore, I propose that the organizations and individuals
who are upset by heavy-handed use of RSAC specifically target the
LOW-level contributors for an informative letter-writing campaign backed
up with the threat of a serious boycott.  [please do NOT take this as a
suggestion for boycott yet, not unless they are given the message in a
more polite form but refuse]  If we convince them that this is a
counterproductive form of 'advertising', we can sabotage this lower class
of powerless contribution before it has the opportunity to become nearly
obligatory as a sort of safe business practice.

I submit this idea to you in hope of a better elaboration of how to
follow it up.

|   Lutz Donnerhacke   +49/3641/380259 voice, -60 ISDN, -61 V.34 und Fax    |
| Frueher hielten sich Koenige Hofnarren, heute halten sich Firmen Physiker |
+-----------------Dr. Bernd Weidenfeller-(weidenfeller@iww.tu-clausthal.de)-+