|"Internet - A Global Panopticon" is an excerpt from the eBook
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved. © 2013.
(Originally written in 1998)
Reflect, for a moment, about your personal knowledge of the history of the world. Recall how early civilizations communicated and, more importantly, the extent and scope of those communications. Imagine the capabilities of any known civilization or technology attempting to unify the planet in a singular communication effort.
Compare any that you may have imagined (telephones, ham radios, pony express) with the communication potential of the Internet. It is safe to say that the Internet provides the means for the most comprehensive global communications network in the history of the world.
With such a statement having been made, it would then be safe to proceed and assume such an entity could and would command the attention of powers and powerful people in an attempt to either manipulate the process or take steps to ensure their own protection from manipulation.
This of course leads us to government control (or lack thereof) of the Internet.
Reflect, for a moment, about your personal knowledge of the history of militaries, especially the United States military. Specifically, note any expertise at secrecy or contingency planning. Since the Internet was initially made a reality by a joint effort involving the U.S. Department of Defense and a few universities in 1969, these collaborators can be assumed as being the most experienced in the field of the practical application of internet technologies. Wouldn’t a self-preserving, world-leading government take extra strides to know more about this technology than any other institution or any other powerful, potentially interested party? Without a doubt.
We are now compelled to consider a dynamic probability similar to the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. Is it truly possible to govern cyberspace? Some have compared the internet to the invention of the printing press, in that they both make available vast quantities of knowledge in a way the world has never before seen. This basically allows people to make their own choices in lieu of authorities making those decisions for them. In this way it is fairly certain that individuals will be able to use the internet to gather information around traditional government structures. Not only that, but people can theoretically do this anonymously or invisibly.
Some internet experts contend that this desire to be anonymous is an urge so strong some people will not be able to resist hiding their true identity while participating. This may make way for a type of internet evolution. Strategically, it would be rather advantageous to remain ‘invisible’ if the knowledge or information being sought were of particular sensitivity or revealing nature to a powerful party. Perhaps it will be this stealthy group that eventually disbands any current ‘controlling’ entities. This anonymity at the hands of very experienced computer experts can be eternal. Imagine the impact of a global network of invisible experts leading a charge with an invisible army against any visible governing entities. At some point a revolution such as this would create a new governing body for the internet. Is there enough of an uprising to support such a revolution?
There are places online where people are able to network and share any information they are interested in. There are multitudes of topic related chat rooms, forums, and bulletin boards, as well as e-mail. The voice of the community at some of these ‘cyber-locales’ is much more direct in cyberspace than in person, for the most part. I would compare it to ‘Letters to the Editor’ in a publication, except for never having to reveal your identity. This aspect allows for an even more pointed attitude on the internet, stemming from certain ambivalence to consequences based on the assurance of one’s anonymity.
This noticeable communication generation is a child of the internet, in my opinion. Even if an argument can be made as to the heredity of this pattern of communication, it is my belief that the environment of the internet has adopted it in a way of its own. In fact, it could even be said that this mentality is in fact popular (or at least trendy) within the social sector of the internet community.
In some regions of cyber society, anonymity has generated notoriety, much like gang ‘tags’ are an anonymous way to be recognized within gang culture. I am talking about ‘hackers’. This brazen group of computer experts with invisible identities has already proven their capabilities to the United States government.
In 1997, the National Security Administration (NSA) hired a group of thirty-five hackers to simulate an infiltration upon the computer-connected and highly sensitive areas of our powerful government. They proved they could effectively manipulate the transportation, communication, economy, utilities and easily infiltrate military electronic systems. As confirmed by Fred B. Schneider, CS professor at Cornell University-"If somebody wanted to launch an attack [on the U.S.], it would not be at all difficult.”
It would appear to me that our global communications experiment we call the internet is entitled to the same unique individuality bestowed upon bodies of law and corporations: a state of having a certain momentum not unlike ‘a life of its own’. As with dynamic models such as these, the necessity of having to adapt continually mandates a perpetual changing within the entity. Unlike the others, the anonymity of the Internet will instigate certain vigilance within hackers to dole out justice at their convenience and leisure. This is exactly the methodology necessary to undermine any unwanted authority.
Traditional authority relies upon structure. I believe that if a group of like-minded, anti-authority, computer-powerful people decided to negotiate digital warfare, any traditional authority remaining on the Internet would be picked apart by hackers, to be replaced with vigilante, cyber-mob rule.