The Internet evolved into what it is today, predominantly an information and message sharing network, due to the unwillingness of those tasked with using the Internet during its beginnings to use it for only research, but to use it as a ‘high-speed, federally subsidized electronic post- office’ (Sterling 1993). This transformed into the wonderful (and at times really not so wonderful) world of cyberspace, founded on the basic concept that information should be free, we should be independent from government, and that government had no place in such an anarchic place (Barlow 1996) . The Internet has evolved and spread to such a point where cyberspace and our idea of what the Internet ‘is’ is almost completely independent from the actual infrastructure on which it runs. As such,
‘electronic interdependence has recreated the world in the image of a global village-‘ Marshall McLuhan.
This phenomenon of continuous change and a leap away from the limiting function of physical information systems, has challenged traditional norms and concepts of privacy and ownership. The IT and Tech industries of countries all around the world are growing into one of the largest segments of individual GDP, for instance, the digital economy (the technology sector) is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, growing 3 times faster than any other sector (Rushe 2012). Therefore, naturally, it should follow that those with a vested interesting in maintaining growth would want to extend some sort of control over the digital economy and the information which courses throughout its veins.
However this tendency towards control goes against the notion that the Internet should be free, and unregulated, especially because no one nation owns the Internet anymore, as nodes became distributed throughout the world while the Internet spread from country to country. Though the Chinese government may see controlling their own citizens’ exposure to information and messages on the Internet as a top priority, the United States’ obsession with control has pushed further than their own borders. Proposed legislation such as SOPA, PIPA and CISPA could threaten the freedom of Internet citizens throughout the world, despite the fact that it is not their right to control this digital network that belongs to everyone.
However, the necessary democratic processes which have kept acts such as these from being passed have not stopped the U.S. from abusing their position as a major player in the technology industry in order to cater to their increasing paranoia concerning terrorism and supporting their highly lucrative entertainment industry.
The recent NSA scandal has blown wide open the debate surrounding Internet ownership, surveillance and the role of government in cyberspace. The scandal involed the United States of America’s National Security Agency scanning and obtaining user data, such as videos, audio, emails, and documents, from sites like Google, Skype and Yahoo among others, user data predominantly gathered from the accounts of non-U.S. citizens; the British GCHQ security agency was also engaging in a similar type of behaviour (Gellman & Poitras 2013). This kind of behaviour violates the privacy of citizens of cyberspace all around the world, forcing us to question how independent we can be from being controlled by corporations and governments, and how much right we have to privacy on such an unregulated, uncontrolled space as the Internet. Look at the Terms and Conditions of many internet companies, such as Google, and you will find that by clicking that ‘Agree’ button you have signed away your right to say no to unwarranted scanning of your information and messages no matter who you are (Tuffley 2013).
So how far have we really come from the controlled, ‘ask to connect and communicate’ world of telegrams and telephones? In a time when Internet-based private companies provide services which support most of our communications, and our governments have seeped onto the Internet and can even semi-hack spaces like Tor (Stilgherrian 2013), can we really declare ourselves ‘independent’?
Barlow, J. P. 1996, A Declaration of The Independence of Cyberspace, accessed 13/08/13, https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html
Kelly, K 1999 ‘This new economy’, New Rules for the new Economy, accessed 13/08/13, http://www.kk.org/newrules/newrules-intro.html
Sterling, B. 1993, ‘A Short History of the Internet’, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February, Yale Divinity Library