It’s time to take a break from more frivolous pursuits on the internet – “the world’s greatest cat video data base,” according to comedian John Oliver and consider what’s at stake every time you go online.
The conversation about privacy was amplified dramatically by Edward Snowden’s revelations of U.S. government surveillance of citizens and his subsequent flight to Russia one year ago. The ensuing controversy about Snowden’s possible motivations - juxtaposed against the question of the motivations of governments the world over – is making us question what the internet is and should be. It’s worth pointing out that newly installed NSA chief Michael Rogers has stated that Snowden “is probably not” a spy.
Here in the U.S. and all over the world, the actual anniversary of Snowden’s leak of classified documents has been fixed as a day of not just protest but of action. The Guardian, who first broke the story, has published a list of movements planned all over the world.
The U.S.-based Reset the Net campaign, organized by Fight for the Future is to be not just a day of education and action about internet privacy. Intended as the first day of a continuing movement to arm everyday users with tools to protect online privacy, the “year of fighting back” is supported by some of the world’s largest websites and services, including WordPress, BoingBoing, Redit, and Imgur. Those who sign up to join the campaign will be given access to free privacy tools.
There’s intense cynicism about privacy among netizens right now. Many have blithely clicked that button that allows Facebook - or fill in the blank with any popular social media platform - to access contact lists, friends, and more, in order to secure easy access to another service. But consider what’s really at stake when the NSA accesses your data without your permission. Law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear, we often hear. Without context though, is your every footprint in the digital space an absolutely clear stamp of your intent? As the political landscape shifts and changes over time, will your activity - even just casual research - present an unassailable picture of you as a non-threat to the prevailing agenda?
As we all so clearly must remember, this comes on the heels of the FCC ruling to provide a two-tiered internet system and the current protest underway to reverse that January 14 decision. By now we’ve surely all heard about and drawn up sides on the net neutrality issue. The current open, free-wheeling internet has given rise to political movements, startups, and disruptive technology. A different internet is now a distinct possibility: a pay-to-play, record-keeping internet where a disruptive platform started by the young and the poor (think Facebook) wouldn’t have the same chance that it had ten years ago. It’s very likely that it would have no chance at all.
Will you be joining the campaign? Have you wondered what your elected officials know about you? It could be much more than you know about them. It also pays to wonder about the fate of campaigns like Reset the Net if private individuals had to pay for faster service to access it. And don’t even mention what would happen to our seemingly limitless trove of cat videos.