Sep 01 2009

Translation: “Aussie schoolchildren need a license to use the Internet”

''Daddy, would you drive me to Wikipedia.org?''
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The Land Down Under suffered a bit of security hype when Russel Smith at the Australian Institute of Criminology called for a “license to compute“:

“At the moment we have drivers licenses for cars, and cars are very dangerous machines. Computers are also quite dangerous in the way that they can make people vulnerable to fraud. In the future we might want to think about whether it’s necessary there be some sort of compulsory education of people before they start using computers.”

Ah. Of course. And no doubt Smith demands compulsory education for his own children. “Son, you only think you’re mature because you’re in the sixth grade now. But I’m not going to let you drive on the information superhighway until you show me the maturity to fill the dishwasher when your mother tells you to do it…”

Following this guy’s analogy, we’ll also get warning labels for safety’s sake. “Women who are nursing, preg­nant, or may be­come preg­nant should not go to Viagra.com…”

Then again, Smith’s {ahem} concern for his own children’s safety probably gets him into weird conversations from time to time. “Daddy, would you drive me to Wikipedia.org? We’re studying the female menstrual cycle in Mrs. Dundee’s class and I got picked to talk about the cervix…”

(To which Smith replied: “go ask your mother.”)

If a driver’s license really did serve as a litmus test for safety’s sake, then every midlife-crisis male would need to apply for a learner’s permit before buying a Mustang Cobra SVT or a Chevy Corvette ZR1. (And he’d think twice before buying his wife a Porsche Cayenne. But let’s not digress.)

By Smith’s analogy, every budding system administrator would need a learner’s permit before he could bid on a used Cisco 3745 router on eBay. “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll need to show us a valid CCNA certificate before we can let you bid on such a dangerous digital vehicle … and you’ll need to produce a CCNP certificate before we can legally ship it to you.”

If we follow Smith’s analogy — if we mandate an Internet license for safety reasons — then logic tells us to mandate a warning label for safety reasons. “Women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant should not go to Viagra.com…”

Listen to me, blokes. Your children don’t need a license just to do library research for a sixth-grade assignment. Your grandmother isn’t a heinous potential threat to the Internet. And you don’t need a license just to watch NetFlix online.

If you happen to bump into Smith, do me a big favor. Laugh right in his face and point him to this URL. I’ll owe you one.


I suspect Australia thinks differently about drivers’ licenses, given the fact they descended from boatloads of criminals. Do their hoodlum offspring prove such a danger to themselves that Smith thinks they need protection from their own incompetence? This is why I so often plead with Aussies to mate with those of Aboriginal heritage so they can graft a stronger gene pool into their family tr—

Experts like Smith forget all about effi­ciency & iden­tity and focus entirely on safety when they use “driver’s license” as an analogy.

There, you see? I start talking about a guy who uses a bad analogy and poof, my mind goes wandering. Let’s get back on track.

I call Smith’s analogy “bad” because America (unlike Australia) regulates its public roads only “in accordance with the public interest and convenience.” Notice the word “convenience.”

The public’s interest doesn’t just focus on traffic safety — we likewise test drivers’ skills to ensure traffic efficiency. You know what I mean if you ever got “caught in the box” in a major American city. The cop didn’t ticket you for being unsafe — he nailed you for impeding public convenience.

A driver’s license in America also serves as an identification card accepted in all 50.5 states (counting Puerto Rico). I imagine Smith carries around his passport when he needs to cash a checkcheque, but we Yanks long ago came up with a brilliant idea. “Let’s get our state governments to issue a tiny laminated document we can all use in lieu of our original birth certificates!” We can only hope the Aussies will someday follow America’s lead.

Experts like Smith forget all about efficiency & identity and focus entirely on safety when they use “driver’s license” as an analogy. It’s an all-too-typical mistake — and Smith hyped it in the context of computer security.

Memo to Russel Smith: you should review the debate over a “commercial driver’s license” for ISP router buffoons. The debate focuses entirely on traffic efficiency and public convenience…

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  • By Rob RosenbergerNo Gravatar, 1 September 2009 @ 7:20 pm

    Okay, let’s get serious for a moment about Smith’s bad analogy.

    Banking existed before Jesus dissed the moneychangers. Now, suddenly, Smith wants to make people earn the privilege to use banking services because the Internet made it too “dangerous.” In Smith’s utopia, you either get a “license to compute” or you don’t compute. If your credit score is below 600, then congratulations! You get to hide your cash under the mattress.

    In Smith’s utopia, you’d need a license to compute before you can place your digital income in the hands of, say, Bernie Madoff. Smith wants the government to determine if you’re competent enough to shovel your life savings into a $50 billion ponzi scheme.

    Okay, you get the point. It’s almost always a bad analogy when an expert uses the “driver’s license” analogy in a computer security discussion. Don’t fall for this computer security hype; demand a solid analogy.

  • By David BoventerNo Gravatar, 12 September 2009 @ 6:07 am

    There is a worldwide tendency to restrict Internet and the access to it. Partly out of political reasons (free exchange of opinions etc.), partly because many moneymongers see a chance here to reap easy cash.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Hugo Roy (hugoroy) 's status on Tuesday, 01-Sep-09 10:38:25 UTC - Identi.ca — 1 September 2009 @ 6:38 am