The disturbing visions of a rigidly regimented world in which every citizen's conceivable utterance and action will be monitored by "Big Brother" first projected in the imaginary fictional space of George Orwell's magisterial dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is now here--literally.
Yahoo! Tech has just reported that the UK has launched a frighteningly massive project to archive every single Internet communication that emanates from the UK!According to the report, government will not only have access to but will archive information about the identity of every email sender and receiver in the UK, the Web addresses they visit, records of their Internet-based telephone calls, etc.
Now, that is scary, really scary.
The report says this project, which formally took off today, is, in fact, a European Union directive. The UK is merely the first country to carry out this directive. In the next couple of months, perhaps weeks, other European countries will follow suit. It's entirely conceivable that, in no time, this practice will spread to most, if not all, parts of the world.
AS Yahoo! Tech's Christopher Null notes, "The privacy implications of the rule are enormous, as everything UK citizens do online will now be under the watchful eye of EU's powerful Home Office."
The data collected from snuffing the computers of all Internet users in the UK will putatively be used to fight "crime and terrorism."
Now, let me be clear: I absolutely have no problems with governments devising creative ways to fight the increasingly sophisticated and transnational character of the evils of crime and terrorism. What I do have problems with, however, is the idea that we must violate the basic liberties of even law-abiding members of the society in our bid to fight crime and terrorism.
There has to be a way to monitor suspicious communication on the Internet without gratuitously transgressing into people's safe spaces.
It is counterproductive, in my view, to be overzealous in the defense of what you believe to be the truth. Iron-clad censorship in defense of the Truth inflicts incalculable violence on the Truth. It was John Milton who famously declared in his Areopagitica (a 1644 polemical tract against censorship) thus:
And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?
Let's see the outrage this latest assault on privacy will generate in the world, especially in the "civilized world." When China, Iran and other absolutist regimes regulate what their citizens can see and can't see on the Internet, they are often rightly condemned by advocates of free speech.
In fact, when it came to light sometime ago that Yahoo and Google cooperated with the Chinese Government to censor search results and reveal the identity of dissidents, they were roundly condemned by all lovers of freedom and guardians of privacy rights, including the governments of the EU who have now unleashed by far the most intrusive invasion of privacy on the Internet.