Law in the Internet Society
-- DavidKellam

Academia has long considered itself a platform for change and revolutionary thought. However, some disastrous failure has resulted in the obviation of the most important conversation of our time. A critical discussion involving the current trajectory of internet privacy and data consumption has not been explored sufficiently in the academic setting in which it might best be had.

This is evident in my generation’s mainstream attitude towards the impending extinction of privacy and the internet activity that empowers it: sure, we are tracked and monitored; our online identity is auctioned to interests we will not identify with motives we cannot know. So what? I’m not doing anything wrong.

Unfortunately, this is about as robust a conversation on data privacy as one will find in a university hallway. This lethal acquiescence has taken place because the potential misuse of our personal information is not a topic with which my contemporaries are informed. However, some historical highlights of our internet, and our government’s attitude towards it, might make the smart-phone generation a bit less trusting of the current scheme.

Examples of Federal and Corporate Misuse

During the 90’s, several parties had dramatically different fantasies concerning the privacy of our online future, and the debate over encryption took its first form. Generally, privacy advocates argued for accessible encryption to offset the consequences of an inherently insecure structure, while others feared that an encrypted internet would provide too available a platform for organized criminals. Ultimately, it appeared, privacy advocates were successful, and a new standard was born on the U.S. network.

However, the United States implemented export controls on new encryption software to keep it from the international community, and, essentially, to fill other networks with substandard encryption to which the U.S. would have access. While many of these policies were reversed towards the end of Clinton’s presidency and the (alleged) end of the Pyrrhic Crypto Wars, international consumers are still subject to insecurity because protocols stemming from these regulations remain in the default settings of many online systems, and commonplace cybercriminals are now able to exploit these vulnerabilities.

It isn’t just the vestige of 90’s security vulnerabilities that negatively impact our modern internet environment. Unbeknownst to many of my peers, the NSA continues to undermine encryption standards through these formerly implemented backdoors, intrusion into VPNs, NSA roving bugs, etcetera. Furthermore, federally accepted channels of data merchandising have constructed economies of our most private information, and, generally, none of our browsing, purchasing behavior, or information gathering goes unmonitored.

Academic Arrogance and Millennial Apathy

The above examples of federal disregard for our online interests, and of federal support of corporations that attack our privacy and censor our access to information, are among many that should make my generation wary. However, while the government has been criticized for these practices, particularly since 2013, these criticisms have not built enough momentum for substantive impact to occur because the former privacy advocates are being replaced with a generation either blind or indifferent to the consequences. The fact that we haven’t taken to the streets over Ajit Pai’s recently approved plan as we have over other contemporary political issues makes clear that our hierarchy of priorities does not include concerns over disastrous internet regulation. And, while the gutting of net neutrality will be bound in the same judicial red-tape as the initiative that it undermined, it couldn’t be more obvious now that the federal government has no intention to accommodate our growing need for online protection.

Social Awareness through Academic Channels

Unfortunately, mainstream media is subservient to the data trade and financially interested in the possibility of having their messages augmented by service providers who can silence competing small-scale media outfits. Thus, any movement to reverse the trend in policy that undermines our private access to information will lack an important channel.

However, while not immune to the corporate reach that has motivated these policies, academia may have a chance, but is currently too busy overregulating professors and uninviting controversial speakers to engage in the discourse necessary to resist federal and corporate abuse of the internet. My inbox has been bombarded all year with university and student organization statements on contentious protests, disputed speakers, safespaces and the like, but not a word has been given on the concerted executive and legislative movement that may enable service providers to censor any online information with which their corporate interests are inconsistent.

However, the millennial generation and those succeeding it will bear much of the negative impact of a new, completely controlled infobahn. As such, academia should restructure its priorities and provide the educational resources necessary for our otherwise uninformed generation to add data privacy to the list of concerns. If these concerns were to manifest in a cognizable movement, society by-and-large might begin to disapprove of legislators that are bought and sold by service providers, Google, and Facebook.

Unfortunately, however, the millennials that could initiate such a movement do nearly all of their mobilization on the platforms that these titans control. Thus, it is not only necessary to make us aware of the current threats, but also to discourage the use of platforms that contribute to them. If mobilization could again occur outside of Facebook, and instead, on anonymous forums run by organizations with privacy in mind, there could be some hope of slowing the implementation of policy that may take away our ability to mobilize altogether.

If academia is to be successful in this, millennials may demand new anonymous forums, and a new market could form. With the formation of this new market, Facebook and Google’s bilateral data-control structure, as well as the ISPs, will certainly respond with more pressure on legislators. However, they will do so with fewer resources and a less certain market future. Furthermore, if the movement grows to its necessary size, incumbents subservient to corporate interests could be replaced with those subservient to their now-privacy-conscious constituency, and policy may move towards my ultimate goal of online freedom and anonymity, rather than swiftly away from it.

I'm not sure why the focus here is so much on the failure of "academia," as though the primary reason people who don't go to schools about technology or privacy aren't learning something about technology or privacy were that sociology (or even law) professors weren't doing their jobs right. This could be true: I'm pretty sure they aren't doing their jobs right in some respect or another, because I'm not. But nothing said here makes it the teachers' fault.

As for the much-criticized "mainstream media," it too has many faults. Mostly, I think, the recent past is littered with bad compromises with platform companies who controlled advertising. This can hardly be blamed altogether on companies that previously used advertising revenue to fund their journalism. And what I thought when I wrote "The Invisible Barbecue" I still think: the problem of how to report what happened at the end of the 20th century was not solved by institutions that a decade later were in danger of not wanting to solve it anymore. The 2016 election and its fallout changed all that, maybe completely.

So I think the best route to improvement here would be to concentrate less on who is not doing the relevant teaching than on how to overcome the "I'm not doing anything wrong so why should I care?" argument at the street level, where your teaching is.


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r5 - 22 Apr 2018 - 16:56:50 - EbenMoglen
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