Cyberspace. The final frontier.
Back in 2003, Barrett Lyon, a computer scientist from California, embarked on the most ambitious cartography project since David Thompson. Using computer graphics, Lyon mapped the Internet, connecting network to network, power source to web server, in a human-created universe of infinite possibilities. At first glance the completed work, on display at Bostons Museum of Science and New Yorks Museum of Modern Art, resembles the Milky Way. Celestial. Divine. But like all things manmade, and every earthly frontier before it, the Internet courts corruption. Predictably, quests for money and power pose the greatest threats.
Right now in Ottawa, members of the ruling Conservative Party are preparing a bill that, if passed, will grant unprecedented online powers to federal officials. It was a campaign promise, wrapped in fear-mongering about terrorists and pedophiles, and sold by Harper in his trademark monotones. The bill will force Internet Service Providers (Shaw, Telus, etc.) to disclose personal information about customers (you and me) to government agents (cops, bureaucrats) and allow government surveillance and data interception (emails, chats, etc.) without court oversight. It will also unleash sweeping warrant powers for police wholl have carte blanche over personal information obtained online.
Of course, bad people should not find safe haven online. Like all arenas, the Internet must be policed and online crimes must be prosecuted. But cops and courts already own sufficient powers of online investigation, and any police action, online or on the street, must respect the Constitution and include judicial oversight. Harpers bill requires no evidence of wrongdoing before surveillance takes place. Its a prescription for government abuse and a great leap towards a police state in cyberspace.
The bill will also inflate Internet costs as ISPs restructure their networks and install surveillance technology, with costs passed down to the user.
Which leads to Big Telecom, and the quest to monopolize and monetize all things online.
Canadians pay more for the Internet than most others in the industrialized world. In the United Kingdom, for instance, Britons pay up to 50 per cent less than your average Canuck for Internet service. And if the big telecom companies in CanadaBell, Telus, Shawhave their way, youll pay more in the future.
Thankfully, organized resistance exists. Three years ago, Steve Anderson founded OpenMedia.ca, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Gastown. His mission, funded by citizens and independent ISPs, is to safeguard the open and affordable Internet.
Andersons OpenMedia is largely responsible for beating back Big Telecoms usage-based billing plans. His Stop the Meter petition has garnered more than 500,000 signatures and caught the eye of CRTC regulators and elected officials.
Without getting too technical, usage-based billing, already in place in Ontario, allows companies to charge additional Internet fees after users (you and me) eclipse a predetermined gigabyte threshold. (Gigabyte: a measurement unit for digital information such as video.) This scheme will affect everyone who downloads music, downloads movies, plays online videogames, uses Netflix, uses Skype, etc.
Andersons campaign has quelled Big Telecoms usage-based plans. Theyve backed off, for now. But the fight isnt over and Andersons worried. The advances Big Telecom companies are making to take control of the Internet, he says, to make the Internet more expensive to use, like usage-based billing, adding new fees to Internet use, is the biggest threat to Internet freedom in this country.
In 20 years, we may look back and lament the golden age of the Internet, when cyberspace was still relatively free and untamed. If the history of new frontiers is any guide, online freedom is destined to dwindle. The molesting hands of government will control and tax while corporate interests collude and exploit.
Yet hope remains. The promise of the Internet, to liberate and enlighten, galvanizes resistance from a broad cross-section of society. Its an international phenomenon, from straw huts to suburban bungalows. Despite attempts at suppression by authoritarian regimes, the Internet has served the people. Ironically, the greatest impediment to Internet oppression is the Internet itselfthe ever-growing, always blooming online universe that expands exponentially with each new transmission.