Since the advent of communications technology, elite groups have manipulated the system to their advantage. For instance, in ancient Egypt, the entire system of writing was developed in hierarchical fashion so that only highly educated priests could understand it. In medieval Europe, the Holy Gospel itself was not fit for mass consumption, and only the ordained were allowed to study and interpret it for the common people. Even the printing press facilitated a standardization of ideas, validating only the “printed word.” In the 21st century, the Internet is under attack. Knowledge is once again vulnerable to monopolization by the powerful.
On Aug. 19, U.K. intelligence officials raided the offices of The Guardian newspaper in London, destroying documents provided by former National Security Agency official Edward Snowden. The reasoning of the intelligence officials who destroyed the materials was that The Guardian “had its debate and it was time to stop.” The partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald was unlawfully held and questioned for hours in connection to the recent stream of articles.
Throughout the summer, the United States government worked tirelessly to paint Edward Snowden as an opportunist and a traitor who put the security of our country in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority approved the use of domestic drones for aerial surveillance, and Congress rejected limits on National Security Agency data mining. The imbalance of knowledge between citizens and U.S. intelligence agencies is startling. At this rate, we will soon be living in a police state in which the government has access to all of our personal information, while we aren’t entitled to a debate about abuses of power. This monopolization of information is characteristic of a fascist state, not a thriving democracy.
Given recent developments, we must reconsider the concept of “security.” Whose security are we really preserving through domestic drone surveillance? It’s certainly not the security of the average American, if a suspicious Internet search leads to a suspension of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, a reasonable expectation of privacy. Almost any Internet activity can be monitored under the NSA PRISM program. This method of information hoarding doesn’t protect civilians; it protects the Pentagon. We must strike a balance between “protection” and silencing of dissident voices.
The Internet isn’t merely a source of hilarious cat videos, it’s a leveling force. As people around the world learn how to use the technology, it becomes more difficult for those in power to maintain control. In order to prevent the dissemination of truth, governments are claiming a monopoly of information and telling us it is for our own good. Transparency is spun as “traitorous.” In addition, four companies (Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo) control how we use the Internet and don’t advocate for protection of our privacy, selling our information to private marketers.
While the Internet gives us great access to knowledge, our personal information is offered to both private and government organizations on a silver platter. We cannot sit back idly and allow the most revolutionary communications technology in history to be usurped by those who do not have our interests in mind.