November 29, 2013

Is The Internet Truly 'Democratic'?

Each discovery and innovation comes at a cost. The gift that Tim Berners-Lee gave the world in 1990 is no exception. While, the World Wide Web has revolutionised the very ways the global economy, various national governments and ordinary individuals function, the price tag it bears is significant. What are the focal points of dispute that I’m referring to here? Two questions. Are acts of espionage over the Internet healthy? Is surveillance over the web a necessary component of some greater good for a society, one that claims to be democratic? As per a 2013 report published in Web Index (the annual journal of the World Wide Web Consortium), the surge of online censorship and surveillance is a potential threat to the very “future of democracy”.

That incidences related to spying and surveillance (on the web) are causing tides that the Internet was not originally expected to influence is no surprise. The Internet threw open an age of information, where flow of information was expected to occur without bottlenecks or barricades – between individuals, groups, societies, nations, et cetera – the very prerequisite for democracy. It is not difficult to understand that this freedom of thought-and-information sharing is the quickest way to empowering commoners and allowing them to choose what’s best for their own future. But as I said before, no innovation is unconditional. The leakage of classified documents in the first half of this year by a former CIA employee and US National Security Agency contractor (Edward Snowden) shocked the world. It proved the existence of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs and how the US agency and its counterparts like the British GCHQ, Israel’s ISNU and Norway’s NIS – in their efforts to keep a close eye on all forms of communication between and within foreign terrorist groups – were accessing vast amounts of public user data from American and non-American Internet companies (including Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Skype, etc.), without the knowledge of the users. Invasion of privacy is what these surveillance programs sans court warrants – like PRISM, XKeyscore, Tempora and many others – would be termed. And think of the count of such invasions – here a fact to get you imagining – as per a certain British media outfit, in March 2013 alone, NSA collected 97 billion pieces of information from web networks around the world, of which 3 billion came from American networks. If we were to talk about each Internet-using Earthling being treated at-par, that would amount to 39 pieces of information (including voice communication and chats over the web) being recorded per person during the month of March 2013 alone – for the months of 2013, 429 facts about “YOU”. [Just wondering – is there a chance that your banking password could be one in that bunch?]

The question arises – has the Internet become a medium where freedom, privacy and democracy are just words you can type-in and not really experience? “We hack everyone, everywhere… The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under,” whistle-blower Snowden told a British media outfit in Hong Kong in recent months. Think he was lying or unsure? How much more truthful can a person get, one who is determined to wage war against the biggest superpower in the world (and one who knows that “Nothing good” will happen to him once the American and British and other governments get after him)? Again the question is – how much privacy can you disrespect in the name of national security?

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6 comments:

saqib ali said...

I also feel inappropriate surveillance and spying on the Internet is an invasion of one's privacy and it must be stopped immediately. The leakage of classified documents by a former CIA employee, Edward Snowden, is the turning point. Now we have to see how the world reacts.

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harrish kumar said...

I agree with Prof Chaudhuri about the privacy issues and that pertaining to democracy in his piece. Tim Berners-Lee has also mentioned that bold steps must be taken to protect our fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of opinion.

Naina Singh said...

Nobody has the right to take away one's freedom of speech and expression because without this right of privacy, there is no real freedom of opinion, and hence the very essence of democracy fails.

Manoj Kusshwaha said...

spying eyes is google but its getting to religious now

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