Internet Perspective



The United States used to be leader of the world in so many ways, but now we're just ranked number one in military spending and our per capita prison population. That these are the only ways we seem able to excel anymore is more than a shame, it is a crime.

In December 2005, The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had established a program, with the cooperation of American telecommunications firms, that included the interception of foreign Internet communications. What has been the result of this? In 2008, the majority of international Internet traffic flows around the United States and not through it, as it formerly did. Our increasing lack of respect for basic civil rights has resulted in our increasing isolation from the rest of the world. Where formerly, we were held up as an example to the world of a nation where democracy flourished and individual human rights were respected, today we are viewed by some as a failed state: one where the government pays lip service to noble ideals without respecting them or abiding by the rule of law.

Whether this is true or not, is a matter of opinion, but increasingly, the world holds a not very flattering opinion of the United States. Conservative pundits will tell you that this is because people hate us because we're so much better than they are and that they are jealous. Progressive pundits argue that, despite our rhetoric of peace, good will and prosperity for all, our actions with respect to other nations and other peoples of the world would convict us in any honest court of heinous and unforgivable crimes.

But the re-routing of the Internet around our country is not something that is being done by ideologues of either the left or the right. It is being done by pragmatic business people who do not want to expose themselves or their livelihood to risks they don't have to. And the kinds of laws we have been passing, presumably for our own security, are in fact very risky.

How are they risky? They are risky because many of these laws, such as the Patriot Act, allow appointed officials to make decisions and take actions in complete secrecy (amounting to anonymity) about which ordinary people have no legal recourse, nor any means of redress. Take for example, something simple, such as a transfer of financial information, such as, say, the internal accounting records of a multi-national corporation. Assume for a moment that the internal acronym of an administrative department of said corporation happens by chance to match the name (or code name, or suspected alias) of an alleged terrorist (or supposed sympathizer). All of a sudden, these records are being analyzed by scores of paranoid bureaucrats. This confidential, internal information is the legal property of the corporation. The U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but these new national security regulations sidestep the Bill of Rights on the theory that national security is more important than the law. The reason that this information is privileged is because it can be used to: take over the corporation, assist the corporation's competitors, manipulate the value of the stock, and many other purposes obviously not in the best interests of the corporation.

Another thing wrong with this seizure of confidential information is that the employees in country X have a legal expectation of privacy, which is now being violated. If this information is shared around within the National Security infrastructure (as it is supposed to be),and when any part of this information leaks to the International press, suddenly the corporation faces hundreds of giant law suits for not protecting the rights of it's employees.

It does not matter that the officials of the corporation were completely blameless and indeed ignorant of the offense. The prosecution will argue, with some merit, that it was their responsibility to anticipate this and to take steps to ensure that it did not happen... hence it makes good sense for these folks to route their Internet traffic around, rather than through our country.

So what if a few businesses reduce their dependence on our segment of the Internet? Imagine a community in which you live where people do not share things with you, because you're not trustworthy, a community where you are presumed guilty of things you have not done and where people whisper behind your back, but make fawning overtures to your face. That is not a healthy environment. It is not an environment that fosters peace and cooperation. When it is nations that we are talking about, and those nations are prominently and aggressively armed, it is a prescription for conflict. It is a recipe for war.

Some Americans still believe that war is not the answer. We believe that there are better ways to achieve consensus and cooperation with other human beings than brute force. We still believe in an America that is a friendly and beneficent partner with other nations, helping others to achieve some of the things we have ourselves accomplished. Our country should set an example to the world of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, of respect for others, of freedom and democracy. Every step we take away from these ideals does not make us more secure, it brings us closer to a dire peril. We stand today much more in peril of tyranny from within than of any terror from without. We must regain our internal security of individual and collective liberty and universal civil rights, if we are to have any chance of combating terrorism either at home or abroad.

This new trend of routing Internet traffic around the United States is a dangerous symptom of just how far out off course our nation has traveed, and how much ground we need to recover to become again a free nation in which all men and women are equals with civil rights and liberties that are the envy of the world.

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