Passive acceptance of surveillance is the greatest threat to Internet freedom

Preserving privacy, democracy and freedom of speech are the big issues, if only we can see through the distracting murk that governments use to obscure that fact.

The uncomfortable balance between the ruling elite and the governed is and always has been contentious and subject to periodic revision and upheaval.  This is an issue for another forum.  It is important though to realize that  criminality does exist on both sides of this rift throughout the world.  On one side are terrorists, drug dealers, pedophiles, street gangs and all manner of scammers and petty opportunists, while on the other side there is corruption, oppression, exploitation, venality, censorship, relentless indoctrination and various forms of state sponsored terrorism on a much more impressive scale than can possibly be achieved by the little criminal.    These far more hideous crimes tend to be overlooked and lost behind a deluge of propagandistic vilification of minor but psychologically sensational criminals with emphasis upon the big four:  terrorists, child pornographers, money launderers and drug dealers.

It is the responsibility of those with resources to aid those without.

Whether we in the West  live in a benign democracy or a surveillance state is not the question.   Much of the world does live under stifling repression, repression which is increasingly undergirded and enhanced by technological and informational advancements which support the power of those with access to resources to exploit those without them.  Clearly it is the duty of those who can support democratic technologies to do so for the sake of the rest of the world and to resist the propaganda about the importance of surveillance in the fight against little criminals.  Governments have found that rage over one pedophile can trump rage over the mistreatment of hundreds of political prisoners or extrajudicial assassinations and a wide range of far more significantly massive crimes against humanity and this argument is endlessly repeated to a largely acquiescing public and to the detriment of the victims of oppression.

Even if  one is indeed blessed with living in an entirely benign and benevolent state, it is a great disservice to those who are not so fortunate to abandon all effort to establish and maintain a free and secure Internet

Even when government surveillance excesses are brought to light, a common response of law abiding citizens of “democracies” is to accept intrusive scrutiny, assuming that having broken no law they have nothing to fear and that it is all justifiable and required in the war on terror.  An appropriate response to this would be: “Let’s assume that one’s government does indeed use its surveillance power only in apprehending criminals and that it is never used against political opponents, never used for political manipulation and propaganda, never used to persecute, intimidate and coerce dissidents, educators, legislators,  judges and the press.   Even if  one is indeed blessed with living in an entirely benign and benevolent state, it is a great disservice to those who are not so fortunate to abandon all effort to establish and maintain a free and secure Internet and to ensure that requisite security tools and channels remain available. are a number of programs and services which provide varying levels of Internet security and anonymity, ranging in difficulty from simply using a different search engine up to learning and using new software and a new operating system.  A simple-to-harder spectrum of these is listed in our Internet Privacy and Free Speech Resources Page.   Reset The Net’s  Privacy Pack provides a very accessible privacy package which includes the free, user supported TOR Browser Bundle, TAILS operating system and GnuPG encryption which are are perhaps the most obvious privacy and security solutions.  These  have proven crucial for freedom fighters, dissidents, journalists and activists from China to the Sudan, Myanmar to Argentina.

It is hard to trust any closed-source proprietary software whose backdoors and nefarious agendas cannot be seen and can be inserted, updated (or deleted and then disavowed) with every software update.  Only open source software provides a reasonable measure of security and confidence.

Only if a significant volume of traffic comes through anonymous channels will privacy flourish.

Figures are hard to come by but it is probably safe to assume that much of the encrypted or anonymous traffic on the internet is used either by criminals or activist groups.  This fact makes it easier for governments to make a case for eliminating these and other such services and for websites to block them.  It is already the case that a number of sites will not accept connections from TOR and the ISPs in some countries attempt to block access to TOR.   For these services to survive and flourish, they must become more widely used, used for everyday surfing, all email communication and chat, even for the non-anonymous act of purchasing and subscribing.  Only if a significant volume of traffic comes through anonymous channels will privacy flourish and be recognized as a viable and important user base which websites and services will need to cater to, realizing that that valuable traffic will be lost if they do not do so.

Internet communications is a world of postcards.  We need to start using envelopes.

Just as it is our right to pick up a paper and read it without having to identify ourselves to every conceivable agency and entity that has access to that information, it is perhaps our responsibility to ensure that others anywhere on the net also have that privilege.  If a conscientious citizen of a democracy desires to show some solidarity with the people of repressive regimes, it is the responsibility of law-abiding citizens to support the use of anonymity and encryption and to use them for all everyday communication as a matter of course.   It is also the responsibility of software developers to make this as easy as possible and preferably the program default.  Only with widespread use of secure internet will it be available to those who need it most.  The internet has developed as an open and visible medium with all communications open to view by anyone handling them.  It is mail without envelopes — everything is sent on postcards.   Perhaps if there were no pernicious entities about and the world were more benign this might be acceptable but as things stand, people should probably start using envelopes and it is critical that the use of envelopes become accepted.

The big criminals acquire massive power

The question of whether or not to use and thus support internet security comes down to one of which criminals pose the biggest threat, the little ones or the big ones.  While the big ones do threaten to do serious damage to democracy, the little ones pose more of a threat to the established order.  It is therefore not unexpected to find that the citizen is constantly inundated with fearsome tales of terror and high-psychological-impact crimes and often persuaded to relinquish his or her rights in order to provide the state with powers over the individual.  The propaganda of the established order is designed to have that effect and thus the big crimes go unregarded and the big criminals acquire massive power.

Democratic mechanisms are rendered docile and impotent

Those whose countries do permit secure communication free from surveillance really should be using that democratizing freedom to aid those whose regimes attempt to regulate all human thought.  Unfortunately, democracy itself can only exist when there is an informed and educated populace actively participating in the governmental mechanism.  Recent tendencies toward obfuscating the workings of government while all aspects of life for the private citizen are swept up and analyzed render democratic mechanisms docile and impotent.








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