June 08, 2013

Internet Shattered: Spies, Spooks, and Disgust

I've spent literally my entire adult life (and even before) working on Internet technologies and policies, one way or another, reaching back to early ARPANET days at UCLA -- a project rooted in Department of Defense funding, it's worthwhile to remember.

Over that time, there have been many related high points and low points, events joyful or upsetting, but never -- not even close -- have I felt so completely, utterly disgusted with a situation associated with the Net as I am today.

The apparently true facts we're learning about our own government's spying abuses against its own citizens are bad enough. But we also are faced with stomaching the incredibly hypocritical and disingenuous pronouncements of intelligence agencies, administration officials, and Congressional leaders, as they point fingers back and forth about who knew what when, who approved which program, and why we citizens shouldn't be at all concerned.

To make matters worse, mixed in with misinformation and purposeful obfuscations, these actions have played directly into the hands of conspiracy theorists who are now working overtime to damage the very parties most in a position to help hold back unacceptable government prying into our affairs.

It is in fact the major Web services providers like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and others, who have become the most effective holding lines against government overreaching. Most smaller firms or individuals don't have the financial or legal resources to fight back against overly broad data demands and other government abuses.

Thanks to the damage done by distorted dribbling of information over the last few days about telephone metadata collection, PRISM, and now new stories and government generated gobbledygook explanations just today, people all over the world are confused and upset, wondering how deeply the USA is spying on the Internet and its users, the telephone system, and perhaps their supermarket loyalty cards.

Even though the major Web firms categorically denied providing "back door" en masse data access to NSA, and accurately asserted that all data requests are vetted by those firms (and sometimes pushed back against in court), the last few days' worth of false charges have led to a torrent of people flooding comments and postings (not to mention my inbox). Their rants proclaim that the firms are lying, they're in bed with the government, this is proof you can't believe anything these companies say, and gigabytes of other assorted paranoid rot. I won't even address these ravings here. They generally demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge regarding both global-scale software engineering and the legal process. They're illogical, irrational, and are most appropriately filed in Area 51, right next to the outer space aliens' rumpus room.

The government has been feeding this conspiratorial mindset against these firms for years. It has tried its best to scare the hell out Internet users, by attempting to falsely convince them that cookies are evil incarnate, open Wi-Fi access ports are somehow to be considered private, and that anonymous ad personalization systems will kill the family dog, if not your children.

All the while, we see now that the real abuses have been orchestrated and planned from within the Beltway for many years, by officials totally convinced that they are so much smarter, so much more worldly, so much more entitled than the rest of us, that they've evolved the art of political and bureaucratic hypocrisy and insanely exaggerated secrecy to a level unimagined by the most skillful con men and swindlers in history.

In this case, we're not just being swindled out of uncountable hundreds of billions of dollars being sucked into black budget "everything is called terrorism now!" ratholes, but we've been cheated by the politicians, spooks, and spies out of something even more important in the long run -- trust.

No matter how ostensibly laudable their motives, these officials and minions with their vast and secretive funding, are steadfast in their belief that the American people cannot be trusted -- after all, we're just the little people compared with the giant brains of Congress and the intelligence agencies. Pat us on the head, tell us some scary stories (leave out the inconvenient details of course), and scoot us all back to our rooms.

Now hear this!

We're on to you. Not just here in the U.S. but other governments around the world who are playing the same games with their citizens. We don't need any wacky conspiracy theories -- the facts that are demonstrable are sufficient.

We know that you desperately fear an Internet that you can't control, where every byte of data and every activity log isn't unencrypted and available at your immediate beck and call.

We know you want to control what sites are available and what sites say, dictate the results search engines may show, and generally treat the Net as your own global intelligence fetish supreme.

How about this? If you believe you can honestly make the case that you need to know everyone we call on the phone, have access on demand to virtually everything we do on our computers, and otherwise treat us with such suffocatingly, "loving" contempt -- get out here and convince us.

No more hiding behind vast secrecy that serves your own desire for agency empire building far more than actual national security needs. No more smoke screens blown at Congress pressuring them to approve your schemes without details or debate on the theory that they're just too secret for Congress to really trouble itself about.

And enough of trying to turn us against the very Internet firms that have the ethical and legal stamina not to let us be flattened like worms under your national security steamroller.

While we're at it, oh spies, spooks, and affiliated politicos, one other piece of free advice.

Go grab or download yourself a copy of the Constitution of the United States. It's widely available, at least for the moment. Pay particular attention to the Bill of Rights.

Take it home. Discuss it with your spouse and children -- your children in particular probably already understand it far better than you do.

Those documents were written by a bunch of rather ordinary men of extraordinary vision and resolve. They knew that even a well-meaning government can easily descend into abuse and tyranny, and they knew that protecting fundamental rights requires not treating everyone as a potential suspect, or everything they do or say as subject to access and analysis by the King's representatives and sycophants.

They knew what freedom meant, while your actions now -- regardless of your motives -- are treating their efforts with vast contempt.

We are proud to be Americans, but we are also enormously saddened and disgusted by your behavior.

And that's the truth.


Posted by Lauren at June 8, 2013 04:38 PM | Permalink
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