Beware of even democratic regimes which want to wiretap
EXCLUSIVE: Eben Moglen says freedom depends on the Net
Our world is increasingly held together by the network of digital communications networks we call the Internet. Business, government, politics, science and the arts have all been fundamentally transformed by the fact that everyone’s connected to everyone else, everywhere, and no one needs to get permission to collaborate, trade, or create.
Used at its best, in freedom, the Net can abolish ignorance and free the full power of human creativity and genius. Used at its worst, under forms of state control that well-intentioned public officials around the world are calling for, it can eradicate the very possibility of human freedom. What happens will depend entirely on what the citizens of democracies like India demand.
Governments are threatened, both rightly and wrongly, by what happens when everyone’s connected to everybody else. Rightly, because dangerous people will conspire, and anti-social and destructive acts will be undertaken that might otherwise be impossible to accomplish. Wrongly, because political dissent and legitimate movements for social change are enabled by the Net, like all other valuable forms of social expression, and governments will inevitably try to control such movements in ways that amount to tyranny.
Today, all around the world, governments are using their legitimate concerns about terrorism and crime as an excuse to control the Net. States as different as the US, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UK, France, as well as India, are trying to exercise unprecedented levels of power over the Net. They want to be able to conduct comprehensive surveillance of every packet passing through the Net, within or even outside their borders. That means the equivalent of listening to every telephone call, reading every email and SMS and recording every transfer of money or business transaction. But given the way we use the Net, it also means the equivalent of monitoring everyone’s television to see what they are watching at all times, as well as spying on everyone while they are reading every newspaper, magazine or book, noting every page they read and how long they spend reading it. Soon, as every mobile device has GPS inside, it will mean tracking every human being’s movements, too.
No government has ever had such control over the lives of its subjects in the history of the world. But every government that is currently seeking to be able to “wiretap” the Net is actually asking for technical facilities to be created, for ‘backdoors’ and holes to be opened in the facilities that make the Net, so as to permit all this monitoring, surveillance and control to be exercised anywhere, throughout society, at any time.
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