Friday, November 6, 2009

Larry Lessig on the "culture of permission" versus Eduroam and Shibb

Today at Educause Larry Lessig, as usual, gave a brilliant talk on
the "culture of permissions" and how the Hollywood interpretation of
copyright is distorting the sharing of knowledge, culture and science.
Increasingly we are entering a world where you need to a priori
"permission" to do anything including accessing networks or sharing
and knowledge regardless of whether the underlying information is in
the public domain or not.

Larry Lessig's talk can be seen at:

Paradoxically just prior to Larry's talk, Ken Klingenstein, on behalf
of the Shibboleth team received a special award of recognition from
Educuase. I have great admiration for what Ken and his team have done,
and I fully appreciate we will need federated access tools like
Shibboleth and Eduroam for certain applications such as shared
computational resources, etc. But on the other hand I worry that these
technologies represent the thin edge of the wedge in terms of
deploying a "permission" culture on our campuses. They may be a
necessary evil, but we must be vigilant to ensure that they are
limited to only those applications that truly need federated identity
management and do not become a proxy for publishers and software
companies to control access and distribution of their products and
effectively become a tool to limit access information at our

The essence of universities is to allow uncensored access to to
information and data, not only for researchers and educators but to
the greater community in which they serve. Most institutions freely
allow members of the public to use the library and browse the stacks
including reading journals and other material. But increasingly, as we
move into the digital age where everything is on line, this important
public service is being restricted through various permission tools
like identity management or closed wireless networks. Although there
are legitimate privacy and security concerns of allowing open access
let us not sacrifice openness and innovation on the alter of security
and privacy

Eduroam, in particular, to my mind exemplifies this culture of
permissions. In the spirit of providing open access to the community
in which they serve, I have always argued that universities should
provide open wireless networks for any visitor to the campus, just not
visiting academics from another institution. Many airports and
municipalities provide open access wireless networks and I am puzzled
why this is so rarely found at our universities and colleges. Airports
probably have much greater security concerns then universities and yet
many feel secure in offering open wireless access.

Let us avoid in getting caught up in the technology wizardry and for every
application and service really think hard if there is a way to deliver
a service in an open manner whether it is a network, data or journal.
Only as a last resort should we look to "permission" technologies
whether the it is networks or federated access. End of rant.

Here is a another great blog on this subject

Innovation in Open Networks - Creative Commons, the Next Layer of


The explosion of innovation around the Internet is driven by an
ecosystem of people who work in an open network defined by open
standards. However, the technical ability to connect in an
increasingly seamless way has begun to highlight friction and failure
in the system caused by the complicated copyright system that was
originally designed to "protect" innovation. Just as open network
protocols created an interoperable and frictionless network, open
metadata and legal standards can solve many of the issues caused by
copyright and dramatically reduce the friction and cost that it
currently represents.

Hell hath no fury as a vested interested masquerading as a public