Who Owns the Internet: Surveillance and Legislation in the New World
The internet has changed the game in so many ways and in so short a time that we’re still reeling from its impact. In many ways we’re still blinded by the sheer chaos left in the wake of the internet’s adoption by the masses. We haven’t yet become used to the idea that half our lives are piped through fibre optic cables so despite this massive change in the world of information, the physical world is still organised in much the same way it has been for centuries because we’re still taking time to adapt to the new paradigm of total informational freedom. Just as colonial settlers in America took time to adapt to the thousands of square miles of ‘unclaimed’ land during that period of lawlessness depicted as the Wild West, new citizens of the internet are colonising unexplored spaces of the mind and it’s just as wild and lawless as the American frontier.
This December the Swedish government orchestrated a raid on the world’s most prolific torrent hosting website, The Pirate Bay. There have been successful community efforts to keep the site alive during court proceedings, but it seems that avenues to illegal content sharing on ‘the surface web’ are becoming ever more scarce. Even the deep web is losing the battle for unconstrained freedom on the internet with the Silk Road being shut down in November of last year. One year on and alleged owner of reincarnated Silk Road 2.0 is arrested under several charges that will result in a life sentence if he is found guilty.
We seem to be in the midst of a global war for the freedom of both the personal and the collective freedom of mind. Every day marks a constant struggle by governments and businesses to bring down piracy organisations and other unlawful entities. Are we on our way to stabilisation and regulation for the billions of internet users out there? Do governments and law institutions have any place on the internet, and if so, how far should they be allowed to go?
Just like the Wild West, lines are being drawn in every direction and land is constantly changing hands. The foundations of another new world are being built, but this world is far more expansive than all the continents combined.
What we can see through our computer-portals is a world that stretches far beyond our solar system and back again, right down into the quanta of atoms and deep into our imaginations. We can see not only our collective history, but the personal history of hundreds of millions of people born into a technological society in the last few decades. Like a huge trawling net, our information is caught and stored and digested. The global web of information reaches deep into the past, affording a detailed insight into human history. It even stretches to the future with algorithms that digest all of our information, allowing us to make predictions and organise time and space in ways that were never before possible.
Of course the initial land-grab that was the American frontier has seen a thorough demarcation and regulation process that has transformed it into the United States of America. But unlike the US, the internet has no boundaries or borders, no ocean to declare the land has ended. The only boundary is the limit of the mind to create new things, new rules and new space in the new world. The process of demarcation and regulation on the internet is already well underway, but whether or not we’re moving in the right direction remains a continuous source of uncertainty. The more liberal of you will agree that policy should be guided by consensus, regardless of the power structure supporting a government. It may seem that here in Britain policies have been introduced year after year that shut doors, barricade avenues and tape off entire districts of the internet without so much as a nod to the general public for their thoughts on the matter, but we actually have relative freedom on the internet compared to, say, China. What a relief! The trouble is that such levels of freedom are only made possibly under such a conservative regime because the UK has one of the most pervasive surveillance networks the world has ever seen.
In fact, Britain has found its way onto the Reporters Without Borders’ shortlist of the world’s least internet-friendly countries along with Iran, China and North Korea. Britain’s geographical location affords a high level of control over the web’s global infrastructure and they seem to be abusing that power with reckless abandon. The war for informational freedom is being fought every day, but this time there is nothing that tells our senses we are at war. There are no flashes or fireballs or cracks of thunder as machines create corpse after corpse. The war for our minds is being fought in relative silence and it takes greater intelligence and sensitivity than ever to understand where the battle lines are being drawn.
There is, I would argue, a correlation between computer use and the amount a person can learn over a given period of time. The more we use computers, the more we ought to be ‘switched on’ to the issues that govern the infinite internet. The more we use computers, the smarter and more sensitive we get. The more we use computers, the better our weaponry to stand against the forces that seek to diminish our voices. If liberty on the internet is something that we value, there’s no time to sit around and hope that the forces of good prevail. We are the force of change. Only an active consideration of the way our actions affect change can steer the good ship humanity down the course marked ‘sanity’.