The recent Edward Snowden story seems to have sent shock waves around the Internet intelligentsia… the post-Cluetrain, quasi-libertarian, web-enabled social-network of Web 2.0, or whatever it is we call it nowadays.
It wasn’t the fact that US State security had been so easily and openly compromised that seemed to shock people, but it was more a sudden sense of lost innocence that seemed to permeate the buzz-o-sphere.
When is “private”, no longer private?
Are Google, Facebook et al giving the Fed unlimited access to their/our data? Are they lying? Are they telling the truth? Whose data is it, anyway? Is the government now spying on its citizens like the old East German Stasi? And what if they weren’t? Would terrorists suddenly start having a field day?
As citizens, what are entitled to know about the inner workings of our government?
I don’t have the answers. But I have been watching the big Internet companies get larger and more powerful, getting thirstier and thirstier for our data, while alternative, more “Open Web” models become increasingly marginalized.
This palpable sense of lost innocence brought to mind the words of Don McLean’s “American Pie” song, which I turned into the cartoon above.
This sorrow-inducing tension between open and closed culture has always been with us, just the Internet makes everything in our lives so easily accessible, recordable and trackable. This makes us all the more aware of it.
Who knows? This may be the US Government’s “Dell Hell” moment: with millions of Government employees now wired up to the Internet, people are able to expose what they perceive to be injustice with a few key strokes. Will the government be forced to be more open knowing that covert operations will be exposed?
It feels a little like the early days of social media when big companies first realized that their customers and employees had been handed a strange, new power. Presumably, the government will continue to ratchet up the penalties and prosecutions for giving up ‘state secrets’, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more of these Edward Snowden incidents, not less. Time will tell.