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WHAT NEUTRALITY?

Submitted by admin on August 10, 2010 – 3:28 pmOne Comment
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by M.Martin

If the recently announced partnerships between Google, Verizon, and the CIA don’’t scare the hell out of you…they should.

In a Washington Post guest editorial entitled “A Stronger Internet“, Google and Verizon CEOs Eric Schmidt and Ivan Seiderberg jointly outlined their vision of “network neutrality”-a vision in which the concept of “legal applications or services” figures prominently in determining how quickly data makes it to your phone or desktop computer-if, indeed, it makes it at all.

Two interesting questions come to mind with regard to the concept of “legal” Internet traffic.  First, how does one define legality?  Do you apply the standards at the point of origin, points of passage, or the point of destination?  The first two are obvious absurdities: Internet content can originate anywhere on the planet, including server farms on abandoned artillery  platforms acting as sovereign nations.  In the process of getting from source to destination, Internet traffic packets can potentially be routed through switches anywhere on the planet (they usually don’t, but that’s another story); what’s “legal” in America will get you jailed in China-and what’s legal in Holland can easily get you jailed in America.  The only meaningful standard of legality for Internet traffic is necessarily destination-your phone, computer, or other Internet capable device.

This brings up the other interesting question:  how do you determine whether or not the digital packets traversing the public Internet are “legal”…unless you’re monitoring them?

Although not a contributor to the Washington Post piece, Google has acquired another interesting new partner-the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.  As recently reported in Wired and other news sources, Google and the CIA are joint investors in a company called “Recorded Future”, the purpose of which is to “scour tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come.”  If Google and the CIA are willing to go on record with something this intrusive, what are they collaborating on that remains secret?

And let’s not forget that Google’s other new buddy, Verizon, has a history of being one of the most compliant of the various communications giants that granted the Bush Administration carte blanche access to their customers phone calls and emails-going so far as to disclose information hundreds of times to the FBI between 2005 and 2007, without even requiring a court order before doing so.  Nor should we overlook Google’s own record of compliance with other governments hostile toward their own citizen’s privacy-most notably China.

Of course, law and order apologists in this country will trot out the same hackneyed truism they trot out in response to every erosion of privacy: “if you don’t have anything to hide, what are you afraid of?”  The problem with this attitude is that it flies in the face of one of the core concepts of the English body of common law upon which this country’s system of jurisprudence was originally founded-that one is considered innocent of crime until proven guilty.  A further problem is the fairly naive assumption that whatever a government defines as legal automatically bears the stamp of moral authority, and vice-versa (Ironically, many of these same law and order apologists are the same people who show up with firearms at tea party rallies and happily contemplate armed rebellion in response to an expansion of government that began long before the current U.S. President took office…but again, that’s another story).

But what really makes all of this particularly scary is the degree to which wired and wireless Internet traffic has become the essential glue that holds what’s left of American society together.  We are in the process of bargaining away the few remaining shreds of privacy and dignity we have left, in exchange for the ability to pay our bills online and update our Facebook statuses from our phones.  As paper checks, cash, and hard-wired land telephone lines give way to a ubiquitous  wireless ‘net-based infrastructure, there will  be continually fewer alternatives available for those not willing to live in either a survivalist compound or a cardboard box under a bypass.  It doesn’t particularly matter whether  you agree with a culture of surveillance or not, if it is literally the only game in town.

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