I am not sure who told me about it but once I googled it I found a number of posts about a plan by France’s prime minister Sarkozy making one step further in the direction of turning Internet Service providers into deputy cops. You can read more about it on Eric Bangeman’s blog on ‘ISP’s as copyright cops.’ The Internet has the opportunity to be the great equalizer but it is used exactly the opposite way.
Well, you might say that it is acceptable to track Internet usage to catch those nasty people who defraud billions of the record companies, the poor artists and the people who pay for their music. I feel that it is not acceptable because where does it stop? And this is not about the poor artists because they see hardly ever more than 5% of the revenue that their music generates. We could start now a discussion about how acceptable or sensible the current copyright laws still are. Copyright and patent laws were originally made to protect the small artist or inventor but they have turned into a business tool for the global corporations to suppress the individual innovators in arts, science and engineering. Especially in countries with Anglican case law this works perfectly well because you can sue someone and you will not have to pay his legal fees even if you loose. Large corporations don’t have to win the cases on merit, they win because lawyers charge $500 an hour so a court battle that lasts several years costs as many millions. Normal people therefore have to throw in the towel. Only in cases where large corporations stand a chance of being sued for damages because of neglect or discrimination you will find the ambulance chasing lawyers offering their legal advice pro bono.
Which directly leads to a problem with Sarkozy’s plan that is even bigger – privacy. There is no court authorization involved in spying on the Internet user. France is not the first to step into this direction. The EU has adopted a directive that authorizes its members to perform telecommunication data retention. Germany has been on the forefront of this trend. Since 1st of January 2008 all German ISP and telephone providers have to store connection information and also emails for six month. At least has the German Supreme Court decided to put the unlimited use of the recorded data on hold. But they are still recorded! That is much like the post office being instructed to open each letter and keep a copy! Sounds like Communist Eastern Germany doesn’t it? Some in Germany call it ‘Stasi 2.0’. How much longer will it take until each phone call is recorded just in case? Whenever the government wants to spy on its citizens then it is to stop terrorists or catch child pornographers. Strange enough that mostly other people are caught ‘by chance’ for tax evasion. The German government can by the way request a citizens bank details without his knowledge.
The other direction to improve this data collection and correlation effort is a unique identifying number for all aspects of private life. For tax purposes those numbers already exist. In Spain for example you can virtually do nothing without this number, not even get a printed invoice! Well, the US is not much better. My PayPal records (and a few million others by means of data mining) were subpoenaed by the IRS because of my country of residence. There are legislation bills waiting to be approved in the US that will outdo the EU in empowering the government to spy on its citizens.
I can seriously recommend The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind (2008) by Robert B. Laughlin a Nobel laureate in physics. Laughlin proposes that governments and industry are restricting access to knowledge by becoming intellectual property owners, who want ideas to be treated like physical assets with their unauthorized acquisition prosecuted as theft. With the problem being a complex socio-political issue Laughlin has no offhand solutions ready, but then who has when most people don’t even acknowledge the problem. Laughlin – like me – proposes that the huge amount of information that we are flooded with everyday is mostly there to hide the political reality from us. We seem to know but it is so much that all this information produces is more noise and in the end more fear and therefore makes us pretty glad that the people ‘up there’ have a handle on things. That reminds me of the following popular quote:
‘The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre.’ Frank Zappa
Well, your freedom to have an opinion will never be taken away, as long as you don’t say it aloud.