Digital America: knowledge is power

// Posted by on 02/21/2014 (4:46 PM)

Samantha Dalaí López

The internet being relatively new is rapidly becoming a political ground where the absence of physical frontiers allows the spread of data at incredibly fast rates. The appearance of organizations such as Wikileaks where people can share information that otherwise would be kept secret by the governments and institutions that control it all is a necessity. Why are things kept in secret in the first place? Well, because the government doesn’t want you to know what they’re doing to say it briefly. They say that it’s because then national security would be threatened but when you look at the information that they don’t want the public to know it becomes obvious that rather than being issues of security they are issues of politic and economic interest.  Whistleblowers, wikileaks and this information sharing centers, have uncovered many documents that report of the abuses committed by the governments which include human right violations such as the conditions at Guantanamo bay facilities, civilian deaths at Afghanistan and other places where U.S. has deployed military forces, the reports also include environmental crimes and economic corruption such as the practices that lead to Iceland’s bankruptcy and NSA’s illegal practices and overspendings. Of course this is to name a few, but obviously knowing this does not threaten ‘national security’ but instead reveals the abusive acts committed by governments.

 If the civilians cannot know what their governments are doing and if they knew and wouldn’t approve then there’s something wrong. Government is acting against the will of their people.

One of the questions that arises from this unjustified secrecy and lack of transparency on part of the government is, whose interests are they acting for?  Some of the organizations vouching for dismantling Wikileaks include banks and credit card companies…. That means economic entities that in no way should be that linked to government issues.

This is one side of the issue, the lack of transparency on part of the governments, but the exact opposite happens on part of the civilians. The NSA and the government in general have total access to civilian information. One of the recent leaks revealed how the U.S. government has access to a grand part of online information.  This is rather unjust, they won’t give away information but are capable of saving every single conversation on the internet, organize them, search for keywords and then spy on you because your conversation topics aren’t of their pleasure.  I’m not saying that they’re doing that to everyone, but they have the ability to do so and in my opinion that represents a threat on liberty and freedom of speech.  I believe that discussing ideas and sharing them with others that think the same way is a way of organizing but with governments watching over there’s no real freedom. There’s also the issue that the internet does not belong to a country, so the NSA can spy all over the world and not be stopped because they contract non-government companies (to whom they pay a lot) to do so. Recently it was confirmed that the US government spies on other governments which caused anger on part of many presidents and governments, so the threat is real. So civilians can’t know this information but entities outside of the government can do so and use the information in their favor. On the bright side, this is how information gets to us by whistleblowers.

I believe that the inequality on access to information is the main problem with this issue, while governments and secret organizations have all the information (and hence the power to use it for their own benefit), civilians have zero access to it, are being spied on and have no real liberty of organization or action. For example the boycott of wikileaks from these huge organizations like banks is an abuse and simply means that they don’t think people deserve to know what is really happening in the world, power is concentrated in a few hands and they’re not willing to give it over a bit.

 I believe in transparency and freedom, governments and their actions should be subjected to the will of the citizens and serve their interests.  If there’s any form of censorship on the internet and access to information it’s as if they were blindfolding and ignoring us. On the other hand I believe in privacy, the government shouldn’t know all what their citizens do because as an institution it has a lot of power that could be used against the individuals that don’t conform and this threat diminishes freedom of action and speech. In conclusion, the internet giving us access to information and the opportunity to organize ourselves offers a great weapon against the abuses of power. All of us should be watching over the powerful not the other way around.

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Deirdre said...

You made a great point about how the internet is a tool used by the entire world. Thus, the United States government may be asserting their power elsewhere and accessing information that is not even of their citizens. They might argue that they need this information for national security purposes. Edward Snowden has said that he thinks the government extends their power beyond their jurisdiction far too often and they invade personal privacy beyond what is “necessary and appropriate.” I would assume that you agree with this statement.
I like how you referred to our lack of information about the government as “inequality” that leaves power in the hands of very few people. Don’t you think, however, that the government should have far more information than the people (given that they are trained and sometimes elected and then can attain this information)? Just a thought. In an ideal world, I think the government would be transparent to the people and not need to hide things from us. But it appears that today, the people’s curiosity in what the government is doing may be making them even more secretive. Do you think this is true?

// 02/21/2014 at 5:08 pm

Mia said...

I agree with most of what you’re saying. Actually I agree with all of the overall sentiments. But I would like to touch on your discussion of the NSA being able to spy on internet users. To be fair, anyone with the knowledge to hack and invade someone else’s internet privacy is able to spy on another user. It’s not purely based on organization or status, but on ability. And as you said, there are no physical boundaries, so an internet user in the US with the knowledge and ability to spy on an internet user in India can, and vice versa. I don’t think it makes it right or ethical to be able to spy on another individual, and I definitely view it as an invasion of privacy, but I’d just like to point out that it’s not only the NSA that has the ability to do this.

That being said, it does seem like the US government has an unfair advantage in this information war. Being able to have classified information on networks apart from the internet does make it more difficult for citizens to spy on the government than it is for the government to spy on its citizens. But like you said, that’s where whistleblowers come in.

// 02/25/2014 at 2:09 pm