I believe that the Internet is one of the major feats of human endeavour. As it enables the instant and almost free transmission of data, it holds the power to connect, educate and entertain billions. How easy it is to follow a course at MIT, Skype to colleagues in Japan, conduct a worldwide business, or even find the perfect partner – all at marginal cost. Now this powerful network has reared it’s ugly head against us as it can store, analyse, classify and corrupt all our on-line activities without us even knowing.
This frightening fact, so early predicted by some, changes the nature of the game. The Internet, once confined to large computers and wires, has become ubiquitous and will, before long, spawn all activities, on-line and off. Our phones and laptops are equipped to record text, sound, voice and location, and since we carry them everywhere these little eyes and ears have infested the realm of our whole life. At the same time they are so convenient and seductive that we will not get rid of them any time soon.
Recently much attention was paid to Apps that tacitly collect users data in exchange for (almost) free functionality. However, this is nothing compared to what states can do with their unlimited power and ability to wrought or bend the laws. In the name of safety and the protection of our freedom, they destroy what they are bound to secure. By their acts, they effectively kill the private sphere, as was done in (former) communist states - and who would want to live there.
Since last week we know that whoever thinks there is one state that is not actively pushing these new possibilities is wrong. Thanks to the extraordinary act of courage by Edward Snowden, who sacrificed his life to alarm us, we have another proof of the extent and the intentions of the governments we mostly trust.
So what can we do? I see several options. Get off the grid, like some people have done? This is extremely difficult and requires ever increasing sacrifices. Massively mislead the system by sending false or contradictory information? As the analysing powers increase at lightning speed, this is a race we cannot win, and dangerous to the individual too. Build alternative technical infrastructures that are immune to tinkering? This will bring only temporary relief, as the nature of the state is currently set at total control. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The only option I see is pressing our legal representatives to combat the status quo. There is no such thing as a risk-free society, and the rights of individuals to privacy demand to be safeguarded. Our governments should be checked much more than they currently are, especially in the field of security and surveillance. We have to know how often the system is employed, what it's results are, at what cost - and how this interferes with human basic rights. 9-11 has opened the black box of the control state, now it is time to inspect it and gently close it, while we still can.
This is not a dark story. As with all technology, the Internet is a double-edged sword that can be used for the good and for the bad, and mostly both at the same time. With the proper caution, determination and mindset, it will stay the boon for society that it was intended to be. Since we all have a lot to lose, let’s help to keep it that way.