Kim Dotcom & the Illusion of Freedom

I’m still stuck on the following dependent clause:  “In a dramatic series of tweets,…”

I can’t help it. That’s just funny.  Because for me personally, the verb tweet will never quite convey the kind of gravity that begs for an adjective like dramatic.  But that’s just my personal taste for what Roy Blount Jr. calls “sonicy” in discussing the correlation between the sound of words and their meanings.  Nevertheless, “In a dramatic series of tweets,” writes Kaveh Waddell for National Journal, the infamous Kim Dotcom declared himself “HIlary’s worst nightmare” with his vow to establish a foothold for his New Zealand Internet Party here in the United States – a party that has yet to gain an actual foothold in New Zealand, by the way.

One might think that Dotcom’s status as a fugitive from U.S. justice, continuing to fight extradition for mass intellectual property infringement, racketeering, and a few other charges, would preclude his laying the groundwork for a new political party in this country, but we do live in strange, some might say psychotic, times, so never say never.  At least never say never about what Dotcom represents to some people.  I think it’s safe to say that Kim Schmidtz himself has no future in American politics in any literal sense and is unlikely to be Hilary’s “biggest nightmare,” if Mrs. Clinton decides to run in 2016, but this particular corpulent criminal still spews a rhetoric that resonates with young and understandably frustrated American citizens.  And by rhetoric I mean an echo chamber from which there is no escape.

I know what the Green Party is, but what the hell is the Internet Party? It makes as much sense to me as the Paved Sidewalk Party. The “internet” is a work of infrastructure.  The current manner in which the internet is used is not the only way in which it could have been or can be used or might be used in the future. In fact, the design and economics of Web 2.0 are in many ways an aberration of the visions of some of the web’s early pioneers.  The internet had its roots in sharing information among colleagues, in openness, and in building a better world through information, but that is not quite the internet we have today.  The internet we have today belongs to a handful of corporate owners, who more than a decade ago, traded in any lofty visions they might have had for the wealth derived from advertising and the power derived by designing the most sophisticated, yet ironically voluntary, surveillance state in global history.

Kim Dotcom himself may be a joke (let’s hope so), but the rhetoric he coughs up, the rhetoric still being shouted from Silicon Valley is in reality just the cosmic background noise of long-exploded dreams of the digital pioneers who no longer influence the evolution of the web we are using. I believe that many people are desperate for new answers, fed up with government both left and right, and continue to buy this premise that “a free and open internet,” the central plank of any Internet Party, is essential for a more progressive, less authoritarian future.  But who defines what a “free and open internet” is?  Should such a political party become manifest in the U.S., that definition will surely come from the financial backers of that party, and they will be the same plutocrats whom we empower and enrich with every tweet, text, status update, and agreement to their terms of service we don’t bother to read.

The EFF’s Maria Sutton yesterday wrote yet another post asserting that the DMCA, the legal mechanism used to request takedowns of material that infringes copyright is the quickest and easiest way for “state officials to censor online speech.”  Hmm.  The documentary film  Terms and Conditions May Apply highlights three or four cases in which citizens were subjected to, shall we say, unfortunate encounters with various authorities resulting from innocuous posts and searches online.  The lesson is that privacy is dead, any of us can be un-anonymized, and companies like Google and Facebook are not only profiting from all our voluntary data sharing but are the surveillance database for the government agencies we’re supposed to be concerned about.  People like Maria Sutton write articles about videos on YouTube being taken down, even temporarily, as though to imply that this kind of “censorship” is the leading edge of a slippery slope.  But anyone who thinks this way doesn’t realize we’re already in the middle of the avalanche. A free and open internet my ass.  Sutton even cites one anecdote of a takedown in Saudi Arabia without any acknowledgement that free speech in that country has a long way to go past its murderous history before we need to worry about the temporary removal of some videos from YouTube.  People get shot for speaking their minds, and speech somehow survives.  And in the U.S., where speech is everything, our overvaluation of these social media toys, as though speech itself depends on their unfettered existence, is probably the fastest way to bring about the end of free speech because it’s not a one-way street.  These platforms enable us to, as my son says, “spy on ourselves.”

And the real irony of this misguided premise — that it’s those bastard copyright holders who foster censorship — is that intellectual property rights are about the only thing left that Google, Facebook, et al can’t quite get their hands on.  We’ve already ceded privacy and potentially some rather more serious expectations of civil liberty.  After all, there is no legal guarantee of privacy, and by volunteering information through social media, we actually waive our 4th Amendment rights with regard to government use of that data.  But intellectual property law remains.  It says that what I author belongs to me, and you can’t have it unless I say so.  Kim Dotcom made millions breaking that law and called it “freedom,” and the tech billionaires who would back an “internet party” would like to see those laws gone.  They’ll tell you it’s for the good of society.  I say, it’s because it’s the only form of speech left for them to steal.

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