Hey NSA/GCHQ. How's it going? I'm writing this in Evernote and, being a cloud service, let's presume it's getting harvested. I'm sure nothing I'll say would be likely to trigger your early warning systems, but just, you know - saying hello. It's the principle, really. Some random thoughts, thanks for storing a backup for me. These may seem a bit shrill - watching the UK's massive "meh" has made me that way.
Libertarians vindicated then? A supposedly liberal-minded law professor as US president, this is what we get. The enabling tech is, historically, hardly out of the womb - but we've now seen the state's response to it as clearly as one could hope for - and it turns the internet on its head. We've volunteered to integrate monitoring devices into our personal and working lives and, on the whole, seem happy to trade the tangible convenience gained for what may seem like entirely abstract 'privacy' issues (as Henry Porter laments). I know, I'm so far doing the same.
Politicians' easy dismissal - and Hague's truly astonishing nothing to fear quote - do they genuinely see no potential threat from political change in the future? Dumbasses. Contrast all this to the reaction to ID cards. Opposition there boiled down to "all that information in one database, scary!" What do we have instead? A public/private mashup including some companies that reach right into the tiniest corners of our lives, producing a data nexus that has soooo much more potential than the ID card system (as the NSA/GCHQ partnership has recognised and worked to exploit).
People generally think about the threat back-to-front, imagining the worst scenario being the Chinese experience: monitored, blocked, controlled. In the future, the risk may instead come from the information in the gaps (exformation is not a nice word!) The result is that, if a tiny minority attempt to challenge the setup, they'll show up in big flashy lights against the general background acceptance of our voluntarily adopted pocket tracking devices and Breaking Bad viewing machines.
It's easy enough to picture a future where everyone posts to facebook or a version of it. Over time, a social norm becomes a requirement in business and then eventually a state requirement: failing to let the world know how breakfast was immediately singles you out as deviant. There must be some reason why you'd withold your status update; every good citizen shows they're happy to be transparent. You have nothing to fear, after all, right?
The same applies to the location information collectable just from triangulating via masts. Given some half-decent demographic information and a search engine I could knock up some algorithm for matching "radical leanings" to phone location, providing a handy system for identifying gathering of trouble types. Fuck it, why not go the whole hog and build in an auto-drone attack, while we're waxing dystopian? Note the kind of phone data already gathered from triangulation - GPS not required, all already available to security services, all already matched against one firm's existing demographic data.
This reminds me of an almost quaint-seeming ritual we'd go through at some direct action meetings: removing batteries from mobiles. We didn't do this until we were all in the room. Up to that point, we could just have been a bunch of friends at the pub. Imagine a map of a city's triangulated phone positions, down to the 200m square resolution (I think) that `smart steps' above promises: you'd see a mass of indistinguishable signals. But code in a simple test: flash red any set of signals that deactivate within a nine-square block within an hour time window. The very act of removing our phone signals more or less simultaneously would be easily detectable. If you have nothing to hide, why are you deactivating your personal tracking device? If several of you are doing it...?
The internet was always an international relations 101 lesson waiting to be learned. It's been sold as a light-speed hi-tech manifestation of Freedom - that flowed very well with the grain of a certain kind of Freem n Moxy propaganda. If the net genuinely threatens the main power blocks controlling it (the US currently) you'll soon see how natural that freedom really is. Again, another good call today for engineers to get stuck in to reversing the "US betrayal of the internet". But it's an open question: wasn't this idea of the Net as a neutral substrate always nonsense?
As that article suggests, though, maybe the answer is Hayekian (or I read it that way): to neuter totalitarian power build up, you distribute it. The internet can, obviously, be exactly that kind of structure - but it's still cables and satellites and routers. Realistically, can the internet ever develop genuine immunity to exploitation and control? What happens now?