The day they marched to Washington DC

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It was November 25 in the year 2020. It was Presidential Election Day. President Bill Hamilton, the candidate for the Republican Democratic Party, was sure to win the elections because he was the only candidate. He would be elected for the fourth time in succession and there were no restrictions anymore on the number of terms the U.S. president could serve. After the merger of the Republican and Democratic parties it was common for the president to get over 95% of the votes. In the last elections President Hamilton had even got 104% of the votes. The president was a bit nervous though. The National Information Infrastructure was very unstable these days and that was something to worry about. Over half of the television channels were unavailable and telephone conversations were terminated at random. This instability could have a negative impact on the election results, maybe even on national security. His servants and body guards tried to reassure him, but to no avail.

The president had other reasons to worry. A few months earlier he had conducted a small experiment. He had selected a neighborhood in the Boston area and he had ordered the police to search all houses in the entire neighborhood. Every house, every room and every closet had to be turned inside out. And the police found guns, not just one but several hundred. Further they found lots of other objects, possession of which was a felony: paper books, cassette recorders, radios, typewriters and even personal computers of the kind that had been outlawed for nearly two decades. Over 90% of the 10000 residents were convicted of a felony and an entirely new prison had to be built. Two decades of intense government control were apparently not enough to remove such dangerous objects as guns and books from the hands of the public. And this search was even met with mild criticism, even from professors of the Microsoft University and the Intel Motorola Institute. For several reasons it would not be feasible to search the entire U.S.A. in the same way, just to eradicate the dangerous objects.

And if that wasn't enough, the president had yet another reason to worry. The "War on Literature" campaign at the last "Media Recycling Day" had been a big fiasco. Media Recycling Day, formerly called Book Burning Day, was an annual event, held on the fifth of November. Everybody knows or is supposed to know that paper books are theft. Paper books can be read a nearly unlimited number of times, just for the same price. If that isn't bad enough, paper books can be sold or lent to other people without additional payment to the publisher. Therefore paper books had to be eliminated and Book Burning Day was one of the means to achieve that goal. Later this day was also used for the destruction of other theft media, such as CDs that could be played an unlimited number of times, and hence it was called Media Recycling Day.

In the year 2020 books were no longer printed pages that were bound together, they were just packets of information that one could store in one's Personal Assistant. One had to pay a fee for the purchase of the book, a fee for each time the book was opened and a fee for reading each chapter, each page or each word, not to mention the license fees for the reading software in the Personal Assistant. For some books one had to pay by the minute. So one had to pay many fees, just to read a book. This was good for the publishers and also good for the government as they collected a lot of taxes on the reading fees. The government could also selectively disable the reading of any passage of any book stored in a Personal Assistant. Books could even be remotely updated. But this had created a new problem, namely reading addiction. In the 1990s reading addiction was hardly a problem, as books could be borrowed for free, or nearly so, from a public library. But in the 2020 there were many people who spent their entire income on reading books and they had to commit crimes to finance their addiction. In order to fight reading addiction a "War on Literature" campaign seemed to be a logical step. But the publishers were not very keen to adopt this campaign as they derived significant profits from reading addiction. By the public the campaign was met with outright hostility. In many cities not a single book was handed in for destruction on Media Recycling Day, even though people knew that it could be their last chance to get rid of their paper books without going to prison.

All in all, an unstable National Information Infrastructure, a worrying result of a search experiment and a failed "War on Literature" campaign were already enough to make the president nervous, but the worst had yet to come. At 1:05pm the president had received a call from the Pentagon. The person on the other end of the line, a leading security expert, was completely panicked. A few days ago there had been a small problem with the surveillance camera network in Salt Lake City, but all of a sudden the problem seemed to spread all over the country, like a computer virus. Surveillance cameras started to malfunction everywhere from Boston to Los Angeles. In Las Vegas there wasn't even a single surveillance camera that worked. Suddenly the conversation was aborted, but that was almost normal these days. The president tried to call back to the pentagon, but he could not get through. Surveillance cameras were the cornerstone of crime prevention. They were in every street, in every public building and in most private homes. When cameras first appeared in private homes, many people covered the lenses to prevent spying by the police, but they soon discovered that the benefits of crime prevention far outweighed the disadvantage of being watched. Lens covering had become so rare that the president didn't even take the trouble to amend the "Anti Circumvention Act of 1998" to make it a felony. But now this cornerstone of crime prevention was falling apart.

At 2:00pm the president managed to contact the Pentagon again. "Someone must have started a war on the U.S.A., but we don't know who!", a very panicked general told the president. "We still have control over our nukes, but we don't know where to drop 'em!" The president knew the U.S.A. was vulnerable to information warfare, but could it be so bad? The worst thing was that most people were unable to vote because the networks were down. Or was it the worst thing? Electric power distribution, communications, air traffic control, transportation and warfare, all of them depended on the National Information Infrastructure, which was being attacked. Old-fashioned backup systems, such as analog radios were badly maintained or abolished altogether. During the last decade the NII had been so reliable, that most people didn't think that it could ever fail. But now it did fail and the president couldn't even talk to the Pentagon most of the time.

At 3:00pm a confiscated amateur radio transceiver was delivered to the White House. This way the president could at least talk to the Pentagon. Even though the conversation was not encrypted, the risk of being tapped was minimal, as radio receivers had been outlawed for a long time. In the early 1990s they started to outlaw scanners that could get the cellular telephone frequencies, but in 2000 all scanners were outlawed. Shortwave receivers were next and when analog AM and FM broadcasting ended in 2004, all ordinary radios had to be handed in. All transmissions were digital and legal receivers could only receive the signals that they were authorized to receive. Radio and TV were tightly integrated with the National Information Infrastructure. The radio amateur to whom the president owed his ability to communicate with the Pentagon, was sentenced to 10 years in prison plus a lifetime denial of access to any and all NII services.

What the president didn't know at that time, was that that very same radio amateur was no longer in prison. He was walking on the highway from Boston to Washington DC with a machine gun in the hand. He also carried a portable communications receiver. He was part of a large crowd that completely filled all of the twelve lanes of the highway. No car could get through. Millions of people were marching to Washington DC to clean out the White House, but neither the Army, nor the President could possibly know as all surveillance and communications systems were down. The radio amateur, let's call him Tom, was playing with the portable receiver that he had looted from a police department. There were a few Asian and African shortwave stations. The satellite-based foreign FM stations were gone. Tom tried to scan the amateur bands. Radio amateur transmissions were banned everywhere in the world and Tom was very surprised to hear anything on the bands. He was even more surprised that it turned out to be no one less that the president of the United States of America!

The president was getting more and more nervous. There were massive movements of people from cities where law enforcement had no control and where surveillance was impossible. There were enormous crowds on roads where traffic control was completely disabled. The Army rushed to prisons that were reported to be attacked. When the Army arrived there, all prisoners were already gone. Many police officers were joining the crowds instead of fighting them.

People were already marching in the streets of Washington DC, millions of people were coming and most of them had guns. They were determined to enter the White House and take over the government. And they didn't want to kill the president, they even didn't want him to go to jail, they just wanted him to give up his position as a president. But the president had become so desperate that he had committed suicide. His last words were: "I heated the frog too quickly and now it's jumping into my face".

How could the situation go out of control so easily and how could the National Information Infrastructure be attacked to easily? After the year 2000 laws were in place to outlaw all kinds of hacking, not just breaking into someone else's systems, but also reverse engineering of software and even programming on one's own machines. Even the development and use of free software whose source code was available to all, was outlawed. Linus Torvalds had received a life sentence and Richard Stallman was even sentenced to death. Because all hacking was outlawed, security measures had been, so to say, less than perfect. When escrowed cryptosystems were originally introduced, law enforcement officials had to obtain two keys from two independent institutions in order to perform a wiretap. Later only one key was needed and eventually no keys needed to be obtained at all. So every police officer could perform a wiretap on his own and also everybody with a stolen police computer. Some hackers had managed to go underground. They preserved PCs of the 1990s, old Gnu operating systems and lots of banned literature. Their original goal was the release of Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, but eventually they went much further.

During the days that followed, the Constitution was restored and it was extended with additional articles to protect the freedom of citizens. Articles were added that guaranteed the right to read and to share information, the right to use strong cryptography, the right to program one's own computer, the guarantee not to be extradited to other countries for publications on the Internet that happened to be accessible to citizens of those foreign countries, the guarantee not to be sentenced for obscenity that was published from a state where that material was legal and many more rights and guarantees. The Fully Informed Jury Amendment was also added. Durations of copyrights were reduced. Richard Stallman was released from death row and he was elected as the new president. Linus Torvalds became the Minister of Education.

The American government also kept an eye on the situation in Europe. Could the European hackers help themselves or could they use a little help from the American people. In Europe the situation was still nearly as bad as it had been in the United States of America. Their government was not even formally a democracy. A march to Brussels couldn't be far away.