The End of the Internet?

The government collects our texts and emails. Our columnist wonders why we’re so surprised.

(page 2 of 3)

Illustration by Jamie Jones

So what do we do now? Some people actually claim to be quitting the Internet. Pamela Jones, founder of the legal website Groklaw, decided to shut it down in the wake of revelations that email is, almost by definition, insecure. “There is now no shield from forced exposure,” she wrote in a farewell missive.

She cited Primo Levi’s writings on Auschwitz to argue that the absence of privacy is dehumanizing and concluded, “after all my research and some serious thinking things through... I can’t stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible.”

It took her this long to realize that? Hasn’t the Internet always been insecure? We pretty much wrote off privacy when we bought in. We revel in our lack of privacy. Big Brother wasn’t imposed on us; we friended him.

Maybe we shouldn’t quit the Internet. Maybe we should point out that it no longer exists. Note that I am speaking as someone who now keeps an iPad bedside and checks the news, the weather, my email, and my Twitter feed the instant I open my eyes in the morning. I am speaking as someone who greatly enjoys the tranquility of the one day a week we pack the dog off to daycare, but then spends much of that day watching him frolic—silently—on a webcam.

My boyfriend, Ed, and I recently spent two weeks in the Catskills at a house that had no cell service or cable TV. It did, however, have Wi-Fi. So Ed downloaded Line2, an app that allowed him to call and text using Wi-Fi, and I simply forwarded my cell phone to the house’s landline. All good, except that we experienced several daylong Internet outages. Ed repeatedly drove down the road to the nearest patch of cell phone coverage. We sometimes drove six miles to visit a coffee bar with free Wi-Fi and then farther for a hard copy of the New York Times. Without the Internet, we were obliged to drive.


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Oct 1, 2013 01:55 pm
 Posted by  13axxess

Isn't it ironic that the end of an article dealing with the effects of the internet on what we imagine privacy to be, there is an imperative to either use or create an "account" in order to participate in the discussion. We exhibit shameful ignorance about how the internet works - was designed to work. The underlying principle was and still is that Everything Is Connected To Everything. So, complaints about some of our information being available to entities we may now define as undesirable intruders are, I suggest, a bit late.

A parting thought about the subhead of the article: To imply that the government collects our texts and emails is alarmingly misleading. There are agencies that harvest metadata that affords them the ability to reconstruct the contents of a message, and to connect it to a sender and a recipient. That action is only triggered by a set of pre-determined criteria which are deemed to include potentially harmful, suspicious or outright threatening.

In short, put the cover back on the PANIC button; keep using the most transformative and ultimately positive invention since moveable type; and learn to do it within limits of common sense - like driving a car within limits of constraint that will minimize the chances for catastrophic outomes.

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