Paranoia. Suspicion. Mistrust. Disappointment. Helplessness.
This depressing list of terms can be attributed the overall mood of American society in the 21st century in regards to the state of our digital future. It has become almost a daily routine to wake up in the morning, make a fresh cup of coffee, turn on the news, and hear endless amounts of negativity coming from the technology and online security fronts. Let’s look at a few of the top headlines from the past week:
June 1st: “N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images” (The New York Times)
May 31st: “Google Receives 12,000 Requests To Be Forgotten From Europeans On Day One” (TechCrunch)
May 30th: “House Republican’s bill would kill FCC authority to enforce net neutrality” (The Daily Dot)
May 29th: “NSA releases Snowden email after denying its existence” (RT)
Many of these issues have already had their sources laid out. Some argue that the problem lies in mega corporations trying to gain an ever-growing monopoly over their customers (I’m looking at you, Comcast). Others will say that an older generation of Americans that is out of touch with the current state of technological progress is in charge of making critical decisions. Case in point: in a recent article published by Business Insider, “One U.S. Supreme Court justice referred to Netflix as ‘Netflick’…another seemed not to know that HBO is a cable channel, and a third appeared to think most software coding could be tossed off in a mere weekend.”
There’s also the fact that Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, is currently the chairman of the FCC. The FCC recently voted 3-2 in favor of moving forward, and there is now a window of 120 days where they are open to public comment. More on that in a moment.
Even those who do not pay ANY attention to technology news nowadays will recognize Edward Snowden’s name, but for every argument in favor of his status as an “American Hero” there is another that will dismiss him as a criminal and a traitor. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry recently suggested that Snowden “man up” and face the American justice system instead of “taking pot shots at his country.” As many already know, Kerry himself was a whistleblower at one time, speaking on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. His statements regarding Edward Snowden’s method of releasing information were most likely influenced by his own experience with speaking out against the US government.
However, is it possible for 21st century whistleblowers to have their statements heard through customary channels? Had he spoken to his supervisor or superior and voiced his opinions regarding the unconstitutional methods they were carrying out through programs like PRISM, would he have gotten any traction?
Regardless of the legality of his actions, though, there is no doubt that his work with The Guardian has permanently altered the course of cyber security and intelligence gathering operations in America. Government officials and tech experts are forced to confront the reality that Americans are now fully aware that their rights are in danger.
What can be done, though? It’s one thing to be aware of our situation, but it’s an entirely different beast to ensure that those who will be making the official decisions hear each and every one of our voices. Regarding net neutrality, I’m of the opinion that honest, widespread public opposition will not occur until all Americans begin to feel that their access to the open Internet is becoming inconvenient. I’m talking about sluggish connection speeds, data caps that seem to become even smaller as we consume more and more via the web, and an overall sense of “Hey, something’s changed and my daily routine has been altered! I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”
There are many who are already hard at work calling their representatives and making sure that plans like the recently revised net neutrality proposal are never let through. If you want to help, brush up on some of the recent developments and start calling the folks in Congress. We’re at a critical moment in history, one that may determine the future of the free Internet. There are all sorts of schematics and “what if?” scenarios floating around that show a future in which there are Internet “fast lanes” and slow lanes” similar to the ways that current providers offer bundle packages. Want to be able to use Google, Bing, Yahoo! and other search engines at an acceptable speed? Pay $X per month. What about using Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest? Here’s another bundle. That’s not to say that this is the direction we’re inevitably headed in, but it’s certainly a possibility.
My suggestion? Read through this Reddit comment. It has all the information you need to get in touch with the appropriate channels, including anything and everything you need to say to the folks over the phone. As I said before, though, make sure you’re familiar with what’s going on and why we as Americans must address this issue en masse. It may not seem like a big deal now, but it’ll be a very sad day if and when our internet freedoms are crippled due to a lack of appropriate action.
I’ll leave you with a video from John Oliver’s new show called Last Week Tonight. He explains the entire net neutrality situation in (hilarious) detail and breaks down the reasons why we must act now.