December 9, 2010
These are fascinating times if you watch the goings-on on the internet. I believe that we are seeing the start of a war being waged over the freedom of the web.
The benefits that have been brought to us as individuals, corporations, governments and – almost – everybody it seems, by an open internet, are under threat. Right now. Today.
Hopefully, it is self-evident that the development of the internet as an open, free and relatively unregulated environment has provided massive benefits. I don’t want to have to justify that an open internet is a positive thing. It is.
However, much of what we are taking for granted is under threat. The battle between those that want regulation and those that want freedom has stepped up significantly.
Why? Just one word…
Wikileaks threatens everything. Actually, that isn’t much of an exaggeration!
The hundreds of thousands of documents now being published, day by day, threaten many of the established power bases in the world. Over the last few days I have browsed the releases for the previous day, and the content is explosive.
Details about criminal gangs and organised crime networks in Bulgaria, Morocco, Tunisia and Brazil. Information about politicians from around the world, their agendas, skills and characteristics. Negotiating positions between the US and many other nations. Energy policy. Climate negotiations. Foreign policy. And on and on.
And I didn’t even mention Iraq yet…
This morning I went to an event hosted by The Lisbon Council, where Web 2.0 evangelist and author Anthony D. Williams described it thus, “The game has fundamentally changed“.
We all view transparency as being a good thing, but he asks excellent questions:
How much transparency is acceptable?
How much transparency is responsible?
Actions taking place suggest that the ‘old world’ power bases (governments and politicians) are doing their best to stifle the releases. I think we can all understand why.
The freezing of assets in Switzerland of Mr Assange and Wikileaks smacks of old school hostility. The charges against him – causing him to be in prison in the UK – may well be valid. But their timing does seem to be related to the releases. His extradition from the UK to Sweden and then (possibly) from Sweden to United States will be a major test of the European Arrest Warrant. If he finds his way to an American prison, there will surely be huge popular discontent. There can be no higher profile test for it. If it fails, MEPs will fear for their seats and careers.
Do governments really want to make him a martyr?
And these leaks are just the tip of the iceberg. If Wikileaks continues, there will be releases every day for years to come!
But what of the other side? Hackers have, it seems, pulled down the sites of Mastercard, Visa and PayPal in recent days. This brings into question our whole concept of payment security online. Was the reason that these sites were not under attack simply that the hackers couldn’t be bothered? If they could suddenly do this at such short notice, just how secure have our online payments been?
Back in June, the United States Senate was discussing a kill switch so that President Obama could switch off the internet if he felt it necessary!
And we thought that the Great Firewall of China was heavyhanded!!
I am told by a person that really ought to know (but refuses to be quoted) that it is no longer possible to switch the internet off. Apparently, DNS servers would be cut. This would not close the web, but make it very, very slow.
In response, I have it on equally good (and equally unquotable authority) that peer to peer hosting is being developed to prevent this from being much of a problem. That would change the internet again. Big government be damned.
Can the rest of the world afford to have the internet shut down because American national security demands it? The rest of us (and America too) rely on it for far too much. The rest of the world cannot afford for America to even have this option. Something may need to change.
Another interesting fact is that like Wikipedia, Wikileaks has been requesting funds from internet users – and they have been paying up! There are many, many people that want to see such transparency, and, one would imagine, many people that would like to see the United States with a bloody nose.
This is the same force of mobilised online people power that helped President Obama to be elected. Now, it threatens the legitimacy of the American government.
In many ways, for us casual bystanders, this is little more than idle tittle-tattle liable to be ignored the following day. In the old days of publishing, todays news is tomorrows fish and chip wrapping. Not any longer. Stories stay online permanently now. This is embarrasing forever.
If these are stopped, what will happen next time? There will be a next time. Mr Assange has already announced it! American banking is next in line.
The question then, is what lengths will governments be willing to go to to stop further leaks? The future of the internet really could be at stake if governments decide that they must prevail. The loss of an open internet would be a huge blow for the world.
So many jobs and so much revenue is generated online, that economies could fall. This isn’t an exaggeration. The USA, for example, famously has very little manufacturing. They are a service economy. Can you imagine modern customer services without a website or email?
But what if they can’t or don’t win. What if freedom and transparency wins? Then government must lose and change to meet these new conditions. That change would cause huge upheaval in every level of society.
Neither outcome looks good.
I don’t know any of the answers. I wish I did. I’m sorry. I just know that this is a power game on a huge scale – and we are all caught in the middle of it.
What do you think?financialguy