A persistent meme in political discourse has been the advent of a new world war. As global terrorism and the threat of rogue states has supplanted war between superpowerful nations as the face of contemporary armed conflict, “World War III” is increasingly portrayed as some manner of world-sweeping difficulty that is anything but nations aligned against each other to engage in conventional warfare. Albert Einstein, presaging nuclear annihilation, once said that World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones. What even Einstein could not predict, however, is that the next “world war,” already upon us, is a war for the mind. It is a fight for your opinions, and thus for your soul, and its battleground is the network of networks we call the Internet.
Melodramatic as this may sound, it is entirely true. For most Americans and for the overwhelming majority of citizens in industrialized nations, the Internet is an essential component of their communications and entertainment infrastructure. It is the vessel through which they receive the majority of their exposure to popular culture, eclipsing, of late, even the television in its pervasive persistence. It has, in fact, absorbed televised entertainment and news, as it puts out of business both print news and televised journalism.
The Internet now effortlessly connects us to the wider world in which our sociopolitical context is formed. We listen to radio talk-show hosts from across the country and around the world through audio streaming on the Internet. We stay in touch with friends and family through e-mail and, increasingly, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps much more importantly for those of you reading this, we get our news and our political commentary, reinforcing our political beliefs and lending support to our political worldview, through sites like this one – and through discussion boards where we gather with those of like mind.
What would be the result, then, of suddenly cutting you off from your access to the Internet, either entirely or through bandwidth and content restrictions? It would be a violation of your First Amendment rights greater than any power grab or infringement on civil rights that has been perpetrated by governments past and present, because of the sheer scope of those affected. Every modern citizen, with few exceptions, relies on the Internet to varying degrees. Those who seek to control and constrain the Internet, therefore, are the world’s worst would-be tyrants, whose efforts must be resisted at all costs.
Internet service provider Time Warner angered many users last week when it announced the expansion of its metered Internet program, in which bandwidth usage caps are placed on users and a tiered pricing structure is applied. Customers who go over their limit are charged per the gigabyte of offense. Even as some irate customers are making plans to change Internet providers, some of those providers are themselves talking about implementing similar limits and charge-per-use schemes. This leaves most customers with nowhere to go, forced to choose between changing their Internet use habits, paying through the nose for the overages, or sitting and seething in frustration when exceeding their bandwidth caps leaves them locked out of their accounts.
The change has been brought about, perhaps cynically in the case of a cable provider like Time Warner, because streaming video over the Internet is cutting into services that were previously provided by near-monopolistic cable television providers. Much more importantly, however, the evolution of ISP pricing reflects the skyrocketing rates of Internet usage and data transfer, nationally and worldwide. The ever-greater burden on the nation’s networks has even been the subject of concern in national defense circles. Our military’s computer infrastructure suffers from the same issues as do our civilian networks.
WorldNetDaily reported on Saturday that a pair of recently introduced Senate bills would give the President sweeping powers to control the Internet, including a complete shut-down of this all-important network of networks for “cyber emergencies.” If you are not now hearing the warning wail of the sirens of tyranny, you should be. Obama’s dystopian, socialist, tyrannical agenda has only just begun, using the current “economic crisis” as both rationalization and rationale for an increase in government control over our private lives that has been unequaled since FDR’s day.
In Technocracy, we have discussed the dangers of lack of net neutrality and the implementation of thoughtcrime that results when governments attempt to constrain what you may read (and therefore what you may think). The battle to control the Internet is this battle to establish thoughtcrime writ large. It is the culmination of every lesser attempt by governments and private entities alike to control some portion of what you access online, because it addresses the medium rather than the media it carries.
We tread a very fine line between the rights to freedom of speech and to assembly, which are natural rights, and a claim of access to others’ venues. You have the right to speak, but not the guarantee to be heard; you have the right to assemble, but not on your neighbor’s property. The Internet, as a curious shared resource that is at once both public and private, is arguably a public necessity (as a component of infrastructure) but one that is privately owned (as brought to you through paid service providers, to whose equipment you don’t have a right of access or ownership). What is easily discerned, however, is the difference between private citizens exchanging information and data of their own free will, and invasive government interference with that activity. The former is protected by the First Amendment. The latter is an unconstitutional violation of your civil rights, of the type in which the Obama administration has indicated it is only too willing to engage.
If we refuse to fight this battle for the Internet, we allow private and public entities to turn us into thought-criminals by robbing us of our civil rights. I have no desire to live in Orwell’s dystopia as interpreted by Barack Hussein Obama.