The original vision of the Internet, where information and media is freely shared, without one’s computer strokes and searches being metered, tracked, traced, archived, dissected, marketed and warehoused in government data banks, is dead. And that’s what’s being lost by mainstream media in the ongoing Edward Snowden coverage.
The Snowden story is not about whether Snowden is a spy, or U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will seek the death penalty, or whether Russian President Vladamir Putin will let him stay, or what dark novels his Russian lawyer has given him, or what clean clothes he has. It is, as the U.K. Guardian notes, what Snowden has revealed about today’s Internet.
Snowden’s revelations are the end of a vision of unfettered Internet freedom. Over the past decade, we’ve heard all kinds of pronoucements that the Internet is in its death throes. Technically speaking, the net is bigger, more alive and more people are interconnected than ever. But what has died amid the Internet’s evolution?
In 2002, Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, wrote that big telecom companies were going to kill the net by charging for data use, like a utility charges for the water piped into one’s home. Gamers were particularly upset about that scenario. Today’s bigger and faster data pipes seem to have offset the fear of restricted access. But today’s Internet users pay just as Chester predicted.
Last year’s SOPA fights raised another Internet deathbed scenario: the prospect that there might be government censorship of content, because industries built on creating content could not stop its theft and demanded that Congress protect the intellectual property. The fight became so rancorous it killed congressional action. The Internet didn’t die, of course, but kept growing, with big technology firms increasingly capturing humanity’s keystrokes for their own marketing purposes.
A decade ago, few people forecast that the net’s growth would mean the disintegration of privacy for just about everyone who uses computers and digital devices. But that’s what’s at the heart of Snowden’s disclosures. And it’s not just a loss of personal privacy to the corporate sector—Google, Facebook, AT&T and the like—but its loss to the federal government’s spy agencies, police and secret courts.
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