NYT: Techies Now Respect Government

John Young jya at pipeline.com
Sun May 26 10:07:16 PDT 2002

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times today:


Webbed, Wired and Worried, May 26, 2002

I've been wondering how the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley 
were looking at the 9/11 tragedy; whether it was giving them
 any pause about the wired world they've been building and 
the assumptions they are building it upon. In a recent visit 
to Stanford University and Silicon Valley, I had a chance to 
pose these questions to techies. I found at least some of 
their libertarian, technology-will-solve-everything cockiness 
was gone. I found a much keener awareness that the unique 
web of technologies Silicon Valley was building before 9/11 -- 
from the Internet to powerful encryption software -- can be 
incredible force multipliers for individuals and small groups 
to do both good and evil. And I found an acknowledgment 
that all those technologies had been built with a high degree 
of trust as to how they would be used, and that that trust had 
been shaken. In its place is a greater appreciation that 
high-tech companies aren't just threatened by their 
competitors; but also by some of their users.

It was part of Silicon Valley lore that successful innovations 
would follow a well-trodden path: beginning with early 
adopters, then early mass-appeal users and finally the 
mass market. But it's clear now there is also a parallel,
criminal path: starting with the early perverters of a new 
technology up to the really twisted perverters. For instance, 
the 9/11 hijackers may have communicated globally 
through steganography software, which lets users e-mail, 
say, a baby picture that secretly contains a 300-page 
compressed document or even a voice message.

"We have engineered large parts of our system on an 
assumption of trust that may no longer be accurate," said 
a Stanford law professor, Joseph A. Grundfest. "Trust is 
hard-wired into everything from computers to the Internet 
to building codes. What kind of building codes you need 
depends on what kind of risks you thought were out there. 
The odds of someone flying a passenger jet into a tall 
building were zero before. They're not anymore. The whole 
objective of the terrorists is to reduce our trust in all the 
normal instruments and technologies we use in daily life. 
You wake up in the morning and trust that you can get to 
work across the Brooklyn Bridge -- don't. This is particularly
dangerous because societies which have a low degree of 
trust are backward societies."

Silicon Valley staunchly opposed the Clipper Chip, which 
would have given the government a back-door key to all 
U.S. encrypted data. Now some wonder whether they 
shouldn't have opposed it. John Doerr, the venture 
capitalist, said, "Culturally, the Valley was already 
maturing before 9/11, but since then it's definitely 
developed a deeper respect for leaders and government


More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list