The Threat to the Internet

Enclosure is the process whereby previously common resources are claimed as private property. The most significant early instance of enclousure was in early-modern England where common grazing lands were fenced or hedged off in the name of profit and efficiency. The emigrants to  the New World took the radical idea of private property and made it absolutely central to their founding philosophy.

At present the internet stands as a proto-commons, perhaps the most significant commons there has been. The scale and reach of the internet and the instantaneous, global communication it allows is unprecedented. The possibility of peer-to-peer, or group-to-group collaboration and free distribution of knowledge and information has potential which is still being explored. But the power of this commons is a threat to vested interests and the powerful. There are currently numerous attempts to limit the freedom of those using the internet and especially to co-opt it as a government surveillance tool.

In the US the controversial SOPA and PIPA acts, not yet law, would amount to govnernment censorship of the internet. In Britain, the coalition’s Draft Communications Bill would make it possible for the authorities to collect huge quantities of data without the safeguards currently in place.

The internet is not a collection of blue lights zipping round the globe, as it is ordinarily visualised on screen. It is a vast infrastructure project which was begun by the US military and expanded by global corporations and national governments. Who controls the network, in the form of the cables, the IP addresses, the switches and servers is of great strategic significance. As the move to enclose the internet commons gathes pace the importance of an infrastructure independent of corporations and governments will increase.

There are already people working along these lines. The Free Network Foundation has the technology to bypass the internet, which was blooded during the Occupy protests in New York. There is bound to be a move towards these ideas, if people are aware of the threat to the internet as it stands. If the censors are to succeed, a vitally important window of opportunity may close. Truly, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

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