The government-waged war on privacy is getting more and more ridiculous. Turns out you can do pretty much anything you want if you can tie it to the Big Three Threats to civilization: terrorism, child porn, and music piracy.
F’rinstance, U.S. border guards are now allowed to snoop through your laptop whenever they feel like it, because to them, every laptop is a potential threat to the country. Their logic is becoming the norm in this Bush-era paranoia state we’re in: “Why, you might have it loaded with all sorts of un-American things, so how dare you protest! You’re obviously hiding something if you try to argue that privacy crap with us! That’s the kind of thing terrorists and child molesters do!” And if you refuse, they’ll just take your laptop and you’ll likely never see it again. At the very least they’ll hold you for intense questioning and who knows what else, and it’s all in the name of this false sense of security they’re trying to give us. They can do this to everyone, not just people visiting the country — doesn’t matter if you were born and raised here, let them sniff your data or else. It’s the old “treat ’em all like criminals” thing. (At one point it was even suggested that these goons could search your iPod for pirated music, but even they know what an impossible task that would be, for many reasons.)
Over in New York, Attorney General Cuomo has decided to wage his own personal war against child porn by trying to force ISPs to stop carrying newsgroups. If you’re not familiar with Usenet newsgroups, they’ve been around for nearly 15 years (if not more) and are a place where people discuss/argue/ponder a zillion different topics. Some of the newsgroups carry binary files like photos, music, movies, and software (though they’re posted as giant text messages, so you have to download and convert them into their intended form). Out of the 100,000+ newsgroups in existence, a small handful of the binary ones have been found to carry the occasional bit of unsavory illegal material posted by unknown creepos. Yes, this is bad…but Cuomo wants to make ISPs shut off access to ALL newsgroups, which means an entire universe of free and open discussion will be silenced. Obviously this doesn’t raise any red flags to him, because people on a Moral Quest (especially politicians) will stop at nothing to look like they’re doing something about a problem, no matter how stupid their solutions are. Cutting off all newsgroups is like ripping off someone’s arm to remove a hangnail. Or, as the linked story puts it: “By that standard of responsibility, an entire library should be burned down if a single obscene book happens to be found on its shelves.” He’s already convinced a few big ISPs in New York to cut off Usenet access to their customers for these bullshit reasons, and now he’s going after Comcast. You should be outraged even if you don’t access Usenet, because this is a government-sponsored attack on freedom of speech and it’s a dangerous path to take.
Across the pond, the battle against music piracy is reaching ludicrous levels of its own. Those poor Brits are already being spied on by their government in every possible way (while crime levels seem unaffected), and now it looks like six of their biggest ISPs have decided to collude with the government and sniff their customers’ internet traffic for file sharing. Looks like they haven’t decided on how to punish their file-sharing customers yet, but it could include bandwidth throttling (slowing it way down), filtering their access, or just kicking their asses off the Net altogether. But why stop there? Send squads of Network Legality Enforcers into their homes to root through their computers, DVD collections, and iPods! Tap their phone calls for blasphemous talk of piracy! Install microphones in their homes and monitor all conversations! Why not? Anyone against such measures is obviously a filthy, copyright-breaking, music-swapping terrorist scumbag.
There is already very little true privacy to be found on line, if any at all, but at this rate I think the idea of privacy of any kind is going to be just a quaint memory in a few short years. And for what? Fake security, control of information, and protecting the bloated salaries of media executives. I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to learn more about encryption.