May 31, 2011

Blinded by the Light: The Internet Enemy Within

Truth can be painful. In a relative sense today, most of what you, I, and pretty much everyone else writes, says, and thinks about the Internet is, frankly, pretty much crap.

Please don't misunderstand!

I'm not saying that we're all wrong, or that the topics under consideration aren't interesting or even important in an absolute, individual sense.

But on the scale of importance and relevance given current events, we are largely whistling in the dark, missing the forest for the trees, and yes, being blinded by the light.

The scope of topics that divert us is enormous. We ponder the screen brightness, battery life, and cpu speed of the latest smartphones. We argue about cookies and Web ads and the ever growing streams of music and video. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), spam, and "follower" counts make for nearly endless speculation. We worry over ISP competition, bandwidth caps, and Net Neutrality. And then of course there's Lady Gaga.

All issues of interest and importance, to various people, and various organizations, in many varied ways.

Yet all of these -- even the policy issues such as net neutrality with which I've spent so much time -- pale into, if not insignificance, at least a pale shadow in comparison with the much more major and fundamental threats facing the Internet and its users today.

Around the world, the intentions of various governments as relates to the Internet and related technologies are becoming very clear.

Among the aspects now in play by national governments around the world:

  • Countries that legally perform confiscation and total data extraction of laptops, smartphones, and other devices from travelers, all without court orders or warrants of any kind
  • Countries demanding the right to inspect users' email and other data stored on "cloud" servers, again without warrants or court orders
  • Countries pushing for comprehensive data retention of users' Internet and other communications activities
  • Countries looking to require service providers to "decrypt and provide to government officials on demand" users' encrypted communications of all sorts
  • Countries that seize domain names -- even those of persons or firms in other countries -- without due process
  • Countries seeking to order DNS (Domain Name System) blocking of sites, even at the risk of major security and other technical collateral damages
  • Countries seeking to criminalize the mere linking to sites that the government declares to be illicit
  • Countries seeking to order government micromanagement and government censoring of search engine results to enforce government attempts to "bury" sites that the government prefers users be unable to access
  • And so on ...
Unfortunately, as you've probably already surmised, I'm not talking about, say, China for this list -- I'm referring to the United States of America under our current President and Congress (this isn't to suggest that there's a partisan skew in these issues -- both Democratic and Republican leaders of all stripes have become overwhelmingly equal opportunity offenders in these regards).

As the references below suggest, I've been writing about all of these topics, in various combinations, for quite sometime.

But when they're all listed together -- and remember, that's not a comprehensive list above -- somehow the forest starts to come into focus despite the trees that usually grab our attentions from day to day.

It's a very unpleasant list of government initiatives indeed, all of which can be argued to be of ostensible value to preserve order and security, and like so many of their historical brethren, especially when taken together, represent grave threats to free speech and civil rights, both on the Internet, and by extension, off the Internet as well.

This then is the complex of forces that represent a peak of importance on the "topic graph" -- a peak that pushes most of the other points down flat almost to invisibility.

This is the array of risks that renders so much of our daily technological chatter into so much relative insignificance.

Because without free speech on the Net, without communications and associated activities secure from government eavesdropping and interference, so many of our technology joys will be morphed into oppressive nightmares -- sadly at the hands of our largely well-meaning but often misguided and short-sighted leaders.

Lord Acton noted that, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." He wrote this in 1887, but this has always been so, and this truism applies with force all through human history in every guise, and certainly not limited only to technology realms.

Yet technological power over speech and communications is arguably the highest order of "absolute" -- and in the context of the global Internet all the more omnipotent.

The other topics of our Internet joys and concerns, from bandwidth to broadcast, from social to SEO, from gambling to Gaga, are all still certainly worthy of discussion, consideration, and many words yet to be written and said.

But if freedom is lost on the Internet, ultimately none of these other issues will likely be more than memories -- historical artifacts at best -- assuming that they're not on the censorship lists of tomorrow and so relegated to nothingness squared.

Just something to think about, to muse upon, before you send that next email, compose that next blog posting, or as you settle down to watch the upcoming video stream with tonight's entertainment on high.

Pleasant dreams. Be seeing you.



Why PROTECT IP Web Censorship Will Fail - But Lead to Much Worse

"Let Them Eat Bits": How We Can Save Freedom On the Internet

Why the Internet is the Most Important Thing in the World

The New Campaign to Demonize Google for Their Protection of the Constitution

Censorship, Governments, and Flagellating Google

Posted by Lauren at May 31, 2011 07:00 PM | Permalink
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