Anonymity and the Government

Michael From our Perspective

A few weeks ago, I outlined the top US presidential candidates’ opinions on government surveillance and privacy. While most of them support the USA PATRIOT Act era eavesdropping, a few publicly oppose it. Rick Perry has played both sides of the fence, and Hillary Clinton has kept her distance from the subject.

But more and more I find myself wondering if it even matters who we elect president when it comes to this issue. It seems Obama was a strong choice to protect free speech and privacy. The liberal Senator who practiced constitutional law spoke strongly about the rights inherent in being an American citizen. It seems now, though, that we have a different Barack Obama when it comes to this.

Was it because he used an anti-eavesdropping stance simply in order to gain popularity? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is the change that comes when you sit in the big chair and bear the burden of an entire nation.

The Artificial Intelligence of Governments

Instead what I fear is that, much like artificial intelligence and robots in science fiction novels and movies, government has become self-aware. Government itself- not only the nation and its people- fight for self-preservation. Governments everywhere, have had a taste of power. They will sacrifice the core of their existence- the people that created it and for whom it is for- to maintain it.

Because of a government’s self-awareness, it knows that it is inherently unstable. The concept, formation, implementation, and subsequent destruction of government is a single fluid movement. Entire governments are conceptualized, formed, and then destroyed almost overnight.

Compare this with the stagnant structure of social structure in the rest of the animal kingdom and the human idea of governance seems increasingly amateur. From an outside perspective it probably looks like we have no freaking clue what we are doing.

With the emergence of this new technology known as the internet, the government is once again in fear. It smells it’s decaying stranglehold on society and equates that directly with its own death.

This is evident in the way the US government has treated those who challenge the idea of what the government believes the internet should be. Like a smothering mother- who doesn’t necessarily smother out of love, but instead out of some mental deficiency that drives the need to control all that is around her.

The government, like the smothering mother just described, does not appreciate individualism. Sure it might say to be an individual, it might even seemingly encourage it, but it doesn’t actually foster it. Underneath the calm surface it wants, instead, for people to stay in line. To conform to its own principles that ensures its own self-preservation.

The Necessity of Anonymity- the Bane of a Government’s Existence

For evidence I point to governments’ attack on privacy. Privacy and anonymity themselves sponsor honesty. They allow a human to be who they truly are. Witnesses to crimes often times will not testify without promise of anonymity; charities and financial benefactors often times use anonymity for a variety of reasons; whistleblowers, journalists, and dissidents all rely heavily on the promise of anonymity to find the fortitude to do what is right.

Indeed, perhaps this human need for anonymity is a flaw, but it is a human flaw- one that cannot be changed. Save for individual acts- like Edward Snowden identifying himself. Although he did so largely because he would be identified sooner rather than later and it gave him a strategic edge. I digress.

The governments’ battle on privacy, anonymity, and thus individualism for the sake of its own self-preservation is palpable. In May, the creator of underweb site, Ross Ulbricht of the Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That’s simply ludicrous.

An extremely talented man of 31 years will now spend the rest of his existence behind bars for creating a piece of software. For simply taking mental advantage of the possibilities that this current era had provided him. John McAfee put it best in a recent blog post:

How did we arrive at a place where a bar owner is not arrested when his patrons make shady deals in his booths while having dinner, but we sentence a man to life imprisonment because he creates the same environment on the internet?  Am I the only one here who sees the insanity of this?

To further McAfee’s point, we do not prosecute gun manufacturers for producing weapons that criminals use to kill people. Because those same guns also protect people. We have rallies and political debates, people get heated and come to blows, when gun ownership is debated. So with the same token, we should not prosecute a man who simply created an anonymous marketplace.

YouTube is not responsible for pirated content that users upload; but Ross Ulbricht will serve two life sentences, a twenty year sentence, a fifteen year sentence, and a five year sentence. Perhaps the crime that he is most guilty of is not being a corporation with near-limitless resources.

Other threats to anonymity- and thus honesty- are: Australia’s anti-piracy law that threatens a wide range of websites including VPNs; Canada’s C-51 bill that allows the parliament to constantly peer over your shoulder; and David Cameron’s idea to put an end to encryption in the UK.

Anonymity is Key

In 1953 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of the US v. Rumely. In the deciding remarks, Justice William Douglas had this to say

The finger of government leveled against the press is ominous. Once the government can demand of a publisher the names of the purchasers of his publications, the free press as we know it disappears. Then the spectre of a government agent will look over the shoulder of everyone who reads. The purchase of a book or pamphlet today may result in a subpoena tomorrow. Fear of criticism goes with every person into the bookstall.

And what is the internet but a form of press?

I can only hope that Mr. Ulbricht’s appeals are successful and he is released.

For now, one of the best ways to maintain your privacy is use a respected VPN. Services like LiquidVPN do not keep any logs of your internet browsing history and encrypt your internet traffic as you surf.

feature image courtesy of Keoni Cabral via flickr

be an individual and share this post!