Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The United States Of Surveillance

Wired.com has a story about the biggest threat to the open internet, and a threat to democracy in general:
When he was head of the country’s national intelligence, he scared President Bush with visions of e-doom, prompting the president to sign a comprehensive secret order that unleashed tens of billions of dollars into the military’s black budget so they could start making firewalls and building malware into military equipment.
And now McConnell is back in civilian life as a vice president at the secretive defense contracting giant Booz Allen Hamilton. He’s out in front of Congress and the media, peddling the same Cybaremaggedon! gloom.
And now he says we need to re-engineer the internet.
"We need to develop an early-warning system to monitor cyberspace, identify intrusions and locate the source of attacks with a trail of evidence that can support diplomatic, military and legal options — and we must be able to do this in milliseconds. More specifically, we need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment — who did it, from where, why and what was the result — more manageable. The technologies are already available from public and private sources and can be further developed if we have the will to build them into our systems and to work with our allies and trading partners so they will do the same."
Re-read that sentence. He’s talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation if the U.S. government doesn’t like what’s written in an e-mail, what search terms were used, what movies were downloaded. Or the tech could be useful if a computer got hijacked without your knowledge and used as part of a botnet.

The importance of the internet to democracy in this country cannot be overstated. It is virtually the only place where people can get decent information on what their government is actually doing. The mainstream media has for some time now served the corporate and government elite, and the main thing that is keeping them from putting the finishing touches on an alternate reality is the internet, which keeps them from having a stranglehold on the free flow of information.

It is no accident that the Chinese government, which brooks no political dissent, has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to internet freedom. In fact, if one were to design a totalitarian state from scratch, there would be no question that the internet as we know it would have to be banned completely. 

In the United States, of course, such drastic measures would be met with fierce resistance. And so if there was an effort to restrict internet freedom, it would have to be done gradually. What McConnell is proposing is one of the first steps.

We can debate whether this is some secret conspiracy by the ruling elite to consolidate control of political speech,  or just another way to keep the "Defense" department cash flowing, or a benign but misguided attempt to "secure" the nation at the expense of our basic freedoms. (I tend to avoid unproven conspiracy theories.) But for the purposes of deciding on a course of action, the distinction is largely academic. We absolutely must fight this.

I expect progressives and libertarians to fight this. But I'm really curious to see if this becomes an issue for Tea Party types, who say that they are opposed to big government and to government intrusion. I can't think of a more appropriate issue for them to take up.

Now is the time to put an end to this. Once the government is given these powers, it will be impossible to take them back. We are faced today with a choice: We can continue along the path towards an Orwellian media state, in which the government controls what the people think by controlling the information they receive and in which the government knows nearly everything you do, or we can accept that we will never live in a perfectly secure world, and at least fight for our freedom to think and act.

1 comment:

  1. In a democracy the majority can force a minority to do it's biding. I would say the internet is more analogous to a republic in that people can participate if they so chose. Allowing for greater individual freedom.

    I like the stance that you have on conspiracy theories. It doesn't matter whether there is one or not, if we allow the government to take control of the internet, it will be abused. We need to secure our freedoms.

    Great article. Keep fighting the good fight!