The Feudal Internet
October 25, 2013 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Government power is also increasing on the Internet. Long gone are the days of an Internet without borders,

The internet was built on government power. It was an infant of the cold war, first and foremost. Without the need for DARPA (nothing of the sort existed after WWI, for example), there would be less need for the internet, and it wouldn't be available, turnkey style, for an Al Gore to come along and force a bill opening it to everyone.

That's why I don't really find the NSA issues that big. Its the Verizons of this world we must fear. They have both corporate and government power and power that affects all our lives. Nearly every part of it.

But I saw some flexed muscle on these issues last year. That was great. Whatever the name of that bill, it was dropped in a heartbeat. Keep that up.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 PM on October 25, 2013

Thanks for posting this, homunculus.
posted by anemone of the state at 9:01 PM on October 25, 2013

Its the Verizons of this world we must fear.

I like this statement.I have very big problems with the big telecom companies at home in Canada. Could you (or someone) explain this point a bit more?
posted by quiet earth at 9:12 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Its the Verizons of this world we must fear.

Meh. They can only do what a President or former Senator allows them to do through retroactive immunity. Anyhoo, interesting post, cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:16 PM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Its the Verizons of this world we must fear.

Don't be evil, Google. It's a nice thought.
Great post BTW.
posted by J.W. at 11:55 PM on October 25, 2013

The internet was built on government power.

Yeah, when I was (much) younger I worked for DARPA for a couple of years, and one of my purviews was keeping the master list of institutions and companies allowed to use the internet. The printed out spreadsheet fit on a 3x4 or so piece of my wall. So sudden alarm about government power on the internet does make me snort.
posted by tavella at 12:09 AM on October 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

You make an excellent point IronMouth. The government funded the initial research for the internet, therefore we should be ok with ubiquitous government surveillance.
posted by Balna Watya at 12:42 AM on October 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

The government built the roads, so we should be OK with cameras at every crossing.
posted by hat_eater at 4:14 AM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

They can only do what a President or former Senator allows them to do through retroactive immunity.

As long as the game is rigged to allow those corporations to buy Presidents and Senators, they have nothing to worry about.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:25 AM on October 26, 2013

It seems more quid pro quo than that. For every Lavabit that got strong-armed right out of existence, there are a Google, Amazon, and Facebook that were already turning a blind eye to human rights when the NSA came a-knocking. That the trust people (mis)place in the current government, law, and corporate entities to properly check each other is the lifeblood of this machine, and any further collusion is just to grease the wheels.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 6:58 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Awesome article.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:07 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find Schneier valuable but he has some big blindspots. In his google talk he had a couple of questionable blanket statements:

"Google knows what kind of porn every one of us likes."


"We all watch Game of Thrones."

Maybe the tribe in the google conference room really is that homogeneous, but both of those seem obviously false. And this ignores an issue which might be important for human outliers such as those who don't include google within their porn life or watch Game of Thrones. The Internet provides some small shreds of power to marginalized folk who are otherwise extremely powerless. Unless your domain of outlying is a threat to the powers that be, e.g. you are a terrorist, the NSA does not care what you are doing. The danger for these folks would be some kind of a unabomber dystopian (and perhaps very unlikely) scenario where the powers that be grow so paranoid that they feel threatened by any measurable large deviation from normal.
posted by bukvich at 8:09 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

bukvich, I find Schneier's hyperbole about Googled porn much less reckless than the thoroughly debunked claim that the NSA only cares about monitoring terrorists.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:10 AM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I struggle with exactly what the "internet" is. The closet physical thing I can envision are the BGP peering points, but those are subject to contractual terms, so in my mind "the internet" is not a thing but rather a large set of agreements based on a loosely-defined idea.

So I guess I'm saying I'm not surprised about the big carriers coming in and dictating what "the internet" will become, seeing as how they are taking on a lot of the up-front financial burdens to build out the infrastructure those agreements that make up "the internet" will depend upon.

Now, maybe a small player could start a kickstarter asking for 100 million dollars to attempt to break into the "Tier 1" carrier status? There's a huge barrier to entry, and the top dogs have been there since the 80's, consolidating power.

It will be interesting to see how the next 20 years play out.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:42 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's why I don't really find the NSA issues that big.

I suggest you read some history regarding state surveillance in this country, and get back to us.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:50 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think he was being literal, about Game of Thrones especially. People generally really really don't get what Google and Experian do to earn money. People tend to think they are Google cutomers, not Google's product.

Have enjoyed Bruce since the clipper chip days. He had a great quote recently. Journo (or MIT pr person) asked Bruce to elaborate in his 5 tips to avoid being spied on. Bruce said, "My five tips are shit." Unrealistic. Used example of libertarians telling people to just not use credit cards. Because everybody uses credt cards and watches GoT.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:21 AM on October 26, 2013

some history regarding state surveillance in this country

NSA Snooped on Innocent Americans’ Private Calls from Iraq, Former Operators Charge
posted by homunculus at 12:19 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

As long as we're talking about Internet Important Person stuff that sounds suspicious, that Anil Dash(?) bit about how (bluntly rephrased) "you're responsible for what your users say" seems a little like what a dude would say if he wanted to justify decapitation strikes and bullying against site owners instead of the more laborious process of going after individual users. Chat formed this in terms of "erosion of common carrier doctrine" or something but I don't know about that.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:33 PM on October 26, 2013

My favorite tidbit: "All isn’t lost for distributed power, though. For institutional power the Internet is a change in degree, but for distributed power it’s a change of kind. The Internet gives decentralized groups – for the first time – access to coordination. This can be incredibly empowering, as we saw in the SOPA/PIPA debate, Gezi, and Brazil. It can invert power dynamics, even in the presence of surveillance censorship and use control. "

The critical debates according to this author:
We’re at the beginning of some critical debates about the future of the Internet: the proper role of law enforcement, the character of ubiquitous surveillance, the collection and retention of our entire life’s history, how automatic algorithms should judge us, government control over the Internet, cyberwar rules of engagement, national sovereignty on the Internet, limitations on the power of corporations over our data, the ramifications of information consumerism, and so on.
posted by aniola at 2:45 PM on October 26, 2013

Excellent article. I'd observe that the industrial revolution focuses considerable power amongst very few, but it spawned responses like communism and unions that eventually rectified it. Now communism was obviously a much worse form of industrial revolution based oppression, but that revolutionary threat was essential to western reforms. Of course, the thread also created the military-industrial complex that undermined western democracy.

All power is a threat, Ironmouth. Verizon has a "freedom to abuse" that is inappropriate for such a powerful organization. Yet, they aren't exactly known for initiating taps on activists phone lines, that requires government. Both corporations and government must be weakened.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:19 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Surveillance as a Business Model
posted by homunculus at 10:53 AM on November 25, 2013

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