Reed Hundt ’69 pointed nostalgically toward the window facing the courtyard in the Davenport Master’s House. “I remember I used to live right over there in that entryway,” Hundt said, “right on the second floor, and on the first floor was George [W.] Bush.”
Then Hundt’s face became serious.
“He could not have had any idea then of the consequences that he would have to deal with today,” Hundt continued. “He had no way to prepare for them.”
Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and author of “You Say You Want A Revolution,” spoke at Wednesday’s Davenport Master’s Tea on the “Robustness and Exposure of the Internet.” Hundt, who consults for McKinsey & Company, Inc. in Washington, D.C. and teaches at the School of Management in the spring, spoke on the role of the Internet in the recent World Trade Center bombings.
“[The WTC bombings were] enabled by modern communication, no doubt about it,” Hundt said to his audience of about 15 students.
The terrorists involved in the WTC bombings were able to organize themselves and plan the events of Sept. 11 by communicating with each other through e-mail and the Internet, thus bringing into question the safety and nature of the Internet today, he said.
The issue of censorship and regulation of the Internet and the resulting question of free speech was the main topic of discussion.
“If the Internet can be used by groups of 10,000 to 15,000 members from four or five different countries whose purpose it is to organize murder and to spread or establish their beliefs,” Hundt said, “does that mean that the Internet should become something reprehensible and should be cut off?”
Hundt then went on to question whether the government should be able to eavesdrop in instant message conversations.
Hundt, who was a history major at Yale and then a Yale Law School graduate in 1974, was chairman of the FCC from 1993-1997. His book, which was published last year, discusses the progress and possibilities of the Internet.
Hundt said, however, that the optimism of his book seems to be negated in part by the fact that these terrorists used the Internet in organizing the WTC attacks.
“Will the direction of history, which has thus far pointed to the freely sharing — of information [through the Internet], now point to the restriction of the dissemination of that information?” Hundt asked.
“Before Sept. 11, everyone would have answered that history was pointing to the former,” he said. “Now no one knows anymore which direction the arrow is pointing.”
But, Hundt ended his talk on an upbeat note.
“Truth is a weapon and information is a weapon and even liberty is a weapon, if you want to call them weapons,” Hundt said. “The right answers are out there, they just aren’t going to be easy to find.”