This is an interesting topic that sheds light on the powers of the government. Powers such as putting a law into effect to restrict or prevent some actions seem like integral parts to a stable governing structure, and they are, but when it comes to the Internet…things become different. Although the government has power in restricting what we view (think China or North Korea), this is only national governance and not international governance. In addition to the restrictions and enforcements that can be placed on the Internet, there are ways to workaround them. This past summer, my roommate was in China and as you may be familiar with, China has blocked access to the online social networking Facebook.com. Despite the restriction, he was still able to circumvent the limitation by accessing Facebook through a VPN or using a proxy server. While China could govern its internet users, their governing ability truly is limited as my roommate has demonstrated.
On a side note, the government still does maintain significant power in governing the internet activity in their country.
The government is understood to be “all-seeing” and “all-knowing”–sort of like a watered down version of big brother. Although that may not be a favorable view, it’s not far from the truth. The government, and more specifically, the NSA, stores a lot of information that we may consider to be private information pertaining to us. While some may argue that it is just the government who is storing our private information, and this information is only useful if you or somebody you know may pose a threat to the nation, this is an issue that we must still focus in on and worry about. While there definitely is not a single person going through everyone’s private information and communications, the fact of the matter is: you don’t know how this information will be used in the future, nor do you know who is looking at this information and who has access to it as well. These are all very important and legitimate concerns for good reason. Let’s take an example below.
Assuming the NSA was a well-established entity well before the 1950s that collected private data, the red scare of the 50’s could have panned out very differently than it did. In an event like that, one that nobody really could have predicted or foresaw, all the information of the past becomes useful information. All your communications that involved the words, “communism” or “socialism” will be scrutinized by the government. Depending on what was exchanged in these communications and the details collected by the NSA, you could be prosecuted despite the establishment of freedoms such as the freedoms of speech association. And while the red scare was mostly built off of baseless finger-pointing and targeted mostly politicians, who is to say that the finger-pointing would be baseless and limited to politicians when a database with like-information is available to the government to peruse?
While the government may never be able to truly achieve international governance, as that would require coordination between nations all over the world, it is important to note that the government does have national governance over the internet. While it may not have uncompromising power, its ability to punish through tracking internet activity and storing data makes up for its lack of an ability to fully suppress. This should serve as a reminder to all: be careful in what you say online, for what you say online is online forever.