O'Brien, for his part, made an impassioned case for the spam and phishing problems to be solved via social economies like the ones that have made Wikipedia and many open source projects so successful. "Solving this by falling back on the monetary economy is an incredibly old-fashioned and conservative move," he said. He urged everybody to look for nonmonetary economic solutions whereby communities collaborate to build tools that help certify legitimate mail and filter out spam and don't force people to pay cash to engage in free speech.
EFF founder and techno-freedom philanthropist Mitch Kapor, who moderated the debate, ended the evening by saying that nobody had won. "We'll see who turns out to be right in the future," he said, laughing. For my part, well, I'm a social economy idealist. In my perfect future, a hell of a lot more than e-mail will be free. But keeping one of the greatest engines of free speech from backsliding into the monetary economy is a good start. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who uses open source software to spam filter the 8,000 e-mails she gets every day.