Mass surveillance and the future of the Internet

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We are the Guardians of our own privacy. The time for action is now.

In 2001 the US was infamously attacked in an organised strike against the Twin Towers in New York City.

This instigated a decade long war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and began the notorious “War on Terror” against loosely knit extremist group known as Al-Qaeda.

Twelve years later and now the internet, and our privacy is under a similar siege.

After the 9/11 bombings came the Patriot Act. I’m sure many of us have heard of this legislation being passed in the USA, and many of us have taken qualm with its legally binding mandate.

The act was turned into US law thanks to the extensive efforts of U.S. Congress and then-President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. It was intended to “protect our homeland,” said Bush at the time to his fellow Americans.

“It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary.

“Because we value the Constitution.”

What a load of utter bollocks.

And what a tremendously large heap of festering bullshit that has been uncovered in this last week. With the help of a one courageous Whistleblower Mr Snowden, “Who may or may not be a hero”, but still worthy of our praises nonetheless.

So while I am almost certain you have heard of the story, a brief reminder.

The Guardian leaked last week that the US government has been “mining” data from all over the world in an effort to catch “terrorists”. This has been going on for the last 7 years, and it is suspected many innocent American and international citizens have also been spied on.

More specifically they have been using “meta data”, which refers to the tell tale signs left by your internet and phone activity. They’re able to do this through the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” passed in 1978, which gives the US government the power to issue secret warrants for specific items, granted there is reasonable suspicion.

The broader powers used to justify these new intrusions of privacy however, have apparently been derived from a 550-Word Section of PATRIOT Act, and Section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act (FAA),  renewed for five years last December.

“Section 215 dramatically broadened the scope of that power. Now the government can seize…any tangible thing. In addition, 215 removed the limitation that it had to be a suspected spy or terrorist whose records were being sought. Now, anyone’s records can be sought.”

Information is collated from the likes of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple, who are now facing a battle to maintain trust after leak of the PRISM program.

Indeed, it is a truly harrowing thought to know our privacy has been undermined in such a sweeping program of information collation and retention.

And we ought to be scared.

“The more we accept perpetual government and corporate surveillance as the norm, the more we change our actions and behaviour to fit that expectation — subtly but inexorably corrupting the liberal ideal that each person should be free to live life as they choose without fear of anyone else interfering with it.

“A citizenry that’s constantly on guard for secret, unaccountable surveillance is one that’s constantly being remade along the lines the state would prefer.”

The fact remains that the ability to spy on your citizens like this is a real and seriously dangerous power for any government to have. And if history has shown us anything,  it’s that we cannot trust our governments to do the right thing. They are motivated by self interest – whether that be gaining another term in office, lining their pockets, or maintaining sadistic control over the population.

Sceptics and government sympathisers might contend that I am “pretending as if we are half way to Nazi Germany”. Regardless of if this or is not the case – that’s not my point at all. Simply that if we are to allow this abuse of power to slide, then we are one step closer to realising that horrific reality.

It is my opinion that we should always strive for utopia, we should endeavour to end all injustice in the world. If you are happy with this abuse of power, then you my friend are hindering the progression of society. You are impeding moral progress.

I find it both deeply frightening and somewhat upsetting that we had known about this kind of systematic surveillance for years but done nothing to stop it. In fact, Google head Eric Schmitz warned us about PRISM months in advance. 

Former highly placed intelligence official William Binney foretold this turn of events as early as 2006. There has been growing concern around the world, just how extensive and intrusive this data retention project is.

And it’s getting worse.

Amid Data Controversy, NSA has put the finishing touches on its biggest data farm to date in Utah, costing the US taxpayer $1.2 billion dollars to build, and even more to maintain.

This begs the question, is it all worth it?

“Consider some hard facts. In 2001, the year when America suffered an unprecedented terrorist attack — by far the biggest in its history — roughly 3,000 people died from terrorism in the U.S.

Let’s put that in context. That same year in the United States:

  • 71,372 died of diabetes.
  • 29,573 were killed by guns.
  • 13,290 were killed in drunk driving accidents.”

The number don’t lie – it is irrational to give up this much of our freedoms to fight the supposed terrorist threat.

Should we be afraid of extremist factions in distant lands that are antagonized by our aggressive foreign policy? Or should we be afraid of a totalitarian government that spies on our every move?

But we people are waking up – the time for action is now.

Emerging internet giants such as Mozilla, Reddit, 4Chan have joined coalition of 86 Internet Freedom and Civil Liberty groups asking Congress to end NSA surveillance.

People all over the world are proclaiming this is unjust, this is unnecessary and we simply won’t stand for it. And despite the propaganda, the ingenious slight and hand and trickery used when it comes to convincing us otherwise, the masses will not stand for this invasion of privacy. A senator recently denounced Snowden’s release of documents as an “act of treason”. Yet ironically enough Chinese citizens have called for their government to protect the whistleblower from the US heavy hand against whistleblowers  and I sincerely hope the Chinese government heeds this demand.

The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure as this scandal permeates, and the damaging leaks continue. We have come to know a great deal about the seriously disturbing nature of the US government this last week.  And Information chiefs worldwide are sounding alarm. Recently US senator Dianne Feinstein ordered the NSA to review monitoring program. It is only a matter of time until we abolish this law and system of surveillance.

But what we mustn’t do is resign ourselves to pessimism, we must not capitulate to apathy in the face of adversity. Because if we do succumb to inaction when confronted by these disturbing truths then how are things ever going to get any better?

At the end of the 18th century in San Domingo, a 12 year struggle by a handful of slaves against the might of imperialist Spain, France and England lead to the eventual formation of the first black state outside of Africa in 1804. Three years later the Atlantic Slave trade was abolished. Within a generation slavery worldwide was by and large abolished.

Let me give you those same words that evoked courage in the black rebels of that time, the courage that ended 150 years of oppression, racism and slavery.

“If self interest alone prevails with nations and their masters, there in another power. Nature speaks in louder tones than philosophy or self-interest.

“Those Lightning’s announce the thunder. A courageous chief is only wanted. Where is he, that great man whom nature owes to her vexed, oppressed and tormented children?

“He will appear, doubt it not; he will come forth and raise the sacred standard of liberty.”

You are that courageous chief my friend –  but so am I – we all are in fact. For together we can instigate monumental change in the world, if we stand united, if only we believe we can.

So I implore you, please believe. Because we can’t do this alone, and it won’t be easy. Nothing ever worth doing is. The internet I believe is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. Don’t let it fall into the wrong hands.

-By Suhail Patel


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  • Matt

    On the graph. Terrorists are people, Guns are not.

  • Matthew Stevens

    It is very concerning, especially as Snowden himself rightly noted that it is perhaps human nature to prefer to live safely and securely at the expense of one’s own freedom, and often turn a blind eye to what should at a basic, instinctive level, seriously concern anyone.

    “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery” – Thomas Jefferson

    Just one challenge for you though Su; does stuff like this not give you pause for thought about how socialism will/would/does work in practice and the larger government presence that it entails? and moreover don’t leaks like this point towards reducing the size and power of the state as the way to go to bring back true liberty and freedom?

    • admin

      “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery” Wonderful quote. It’s a shame they still allowed slavery in the constitution, but that was largely a political move at the time.

      I think Socialism needs individualism to be effective.

      But the government should not be granted powers like secret laws and the like. It’s too open to abuse.

      Our society is undeniably more transparent than ever, but this should apply to our governments as well. Everything must be done in the public eye under public scrutiny, so we can easily quell these attempts at abusing power.