Today’s New York Times Op-Ed piece by Eli Dourado at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University poses a great question – Can we ever trust the internet again? The simple answer is no, but I will get back to that in a bit.
The article does a great job discussing the nascent “open-hardware” movement to overcome the inherent vulnerabilities that have been built into the inherent structure of the internet by the NSA and consenting technology companies. And yes, there are numerous benefits to such a movement – universal access to the “blueprints” of the architecture and the ability to audit the system.
But the primary underlying argument put forward for movement in this direction – just because a company sells key internet hardware to the government means that they are easily coerced by the government – falls flat on its face. It maybe true that a company, wanting to be seen as a team player would in fact make such changes to its hardware designs, but it may also be just as untrue. And unsubstantiated claims such as this fail to move forward the argument for a more open and free internet.
To be clear, I support the open hardware movement in concept. Not to counter government efforts, but simply because I believe open hardware would likely bring us a better internet. It would allow open designs to compete for market share against proprietary designs. It would encourage innovation across both hardware and software. It would diversify the very nature of what the internet is and can do.
What it would not do is exclude or even reduce snooping and listening by the NSA and other global government agencies. Let’s be honest – we never should have assumed that the internet was free from government snooping in the first place. After all it did start as a government research project at DARPA.
To think that the government wasn’t interested in and paying attention to what was happening on the internet, given that it could be used for both good and bad, was just fantasy. Even with open hardware, because of the use of the internet to perpetuate crimes like terrorism, child pornography, human trafficking, money laundering, and others, we can and should always expect Big Brother to be looking over our shoulder. Like it or not, that is one of the roles we have given to government. We never should have trusted it in the first place and should not trust it now.
Go read Eli’s piece at the New York Times and tell me what you think.