We would like to believe that the world is a much different place than it was some 230 odd years ago when our founders were fighting both with both the pen and the musket for our inalienable rights.
We have taken for granted the freedom and liberty we have been given by documents such as the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and what once was considered an experiment is now an extreme point of contention any time it is the least bit infringed upon.
In the past weeks we have seen Edward Snowden, an ex-defense contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton come forward and expose some information that confirms what many of us have know for quite some time; that all of us are in some way, shape, or form, are assessed for risk, documented, and cataloged by this great nation we canonize as “the land of the free and home of the brave”.
Over the next few weeks and months without doubt there are going to be many opinions on both sides of the fence as to what is a better course of action. Should we be a nation that is safe but knowingly monitor information at the expense of the privacy of it’s citizens or uphold the principles set forth by the Fourth Amendment at the risk of another terrorist attack.
To this point, I find it wise to recall the words of one of our greatest forefathers and a personal hero of mine, Ben Franklin, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.
Even the free-est of nations still have an underlying mechanism of control required to maintain some semblance of authority. This conjecture is what makes us a nation of laws versus a dictatorship, an anarchist society or other oppressive regime. Fault does not lie in the inherit system but mainly in the individuals responsible for the governance of said system. Communism, socialism, and democracy all have their “on-paper” benefits until human nature is injected into the equation.
Since Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web and made what we call the “internet” mainstream, there has been an increasing government interest in this new way of communication. Fortunately enough, for the better part of 20 years, the government has been pretty good at letting this technology evolve outside the confines of law or control and as a result a new economy has been built.
We are at a point where, for a multitude of reasons, that the powers that be are looking to capitalize on this new industry. Whether it be finding ways to streamline interstate commerce to benefit state coffers, limit dissenters and freedom of speech, or leverage the immense data stores many household names such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and other have created, our government wants a piece of the action.
In previous generations the government, via legislation, economic sanctions, firepower, or a combination of the three, has always found a way to achieve its means. I believe we are at one of those crossroads where the government is making an attempt to seize control of the Internet but for the first time since the American Revolution, we the people, are in a position to fight back.
The average person serving in the current 113th congress is 57 years old. The average age of a senator currently serving is 62 years. Many of these leaders have a hard time using commonplace technology such as email, smartphones, and social media, yet are the decision makers when it comes to regulating these services.
Our governing body on both a federal and state level is so completely out of touch with the technological reality we live in that they will never be able to be ahead of the curve.
Many of these career politicians are more concerned with re-election at the expense of being a true visionary, and far too often, many spend their careers in public service ensuring legislation is put in place to minimize the chance of their backers being disrupted by any sort of innovation. To this point, while our leaders may command legislation, press, and money, they are slow to adapt and this always needs to be remembered in moments of disillusionment.
The marvel of the Internet is that is truly is a global force for change and it exists outside of any governing body or agenda. In countries such as China where content is censored, you’ll find VPNs and Facebook as commonplace as Coca-Cola, despite what the PRC might publicize. When oppressive regimes face protests and civil dissonance the traditional media outlets are circumvented and replaced by Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine.
The true power of the Internet is it’s inherent decentralization and the power it brings to communication and free speech. We control it’s future and any nation that believes otherwise is in for a rude awakening.
As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e., securing inherent and inalienable rights, with powers derived from the consent of the governed], it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
There will be many battles of its control in the coming months and years, and in any battle there will be victories, losses, heroic moments and betrayals. Edward Snowden’s story is still unfolding, and regardless of the outcome, I consider his actions of the same heroic caliber as any of our forefathers.