Internet Governance: We’re Only as Free as We Think We Are

Week 5 is in the books, and it was an enlightening one. The history of Internet regulation is fascinating, characterized by many different attempts to legislate content, speech and activity online. But for every new effort to regulate the Internet, there is someone who can find a loophole or find a new technology that hasn’t been regulated. As we’ve discussed more than once in this class, the speed of technology’s growth has easily outpaced the speed of legislation and rules.

But, what also stuck out to me about this week was the truly porous nature of the Internet. We all presented a case involving Internet regulations or ethics, and the common denominator in all of them was a notable lack of privacy, whether it was for a celebrity who was secretly videotaped, a blogger speaking out against his country’s religion, or people unknowingly tagged in photos through facial recognition software. People think of the Internet as the Wild West, where no one regulates what you do and people run amok. In that sense, it is the Wild West, but it’s also the Wild West where outlaws and government officials don’t have rules they have to follow, so your data, original content, browsing habits, etc. are all fair game. Remember, the Wild West was a fairly terrifying, unpredictable place to live, despite what the movies will have you believe.

We all want privacy, of course, but no one wants to make any sacrifices to get that privacy. Even if you were okay with the government moving in and becoming Big Brother of the Internet, you would still have your data exposed to their surveillance via the PATRIOT Act and possible data breaches, which they have proven vulnerable to.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know. Who’s responsible for security and regulation on the Internet when no one owns the Internet? I, for one, don’t have any expectation of privacy when I’m online. I keep my social media accounts updated on privacy settings and I watch my activity, but I know that anything I post could potentially be seen by anyone. Is that a grim world view? Yes, but I’m afraid it’s reality.

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