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Saturday, September 27, 2014

...sleepwalking into a precarious future

The fate of mankind, willful ignorance, an optimal information future...this weekend in Nantucket.

"(B)efore long, the digital universe would stop being an optional alternative but instead become all that we know, with email replacing regular mail as fully as the mobile phone did the landline, and Amazon and eBay did the “mom and pop” general store. All this, of course, means that certain quotidian miseries we face may now be force-multiplied by legion reserves in cyberspace. But what a difference a month makes. In just four weeks, I’ve grown more intensely concerned that beyond the obvious global threats – environmental, economic, military, etc – we are sleepwalking into a precarious future of unknown digital implications.

It began when I watched this year’s Sundance favourite The Internet’s Own Boy, directed by Brian Knappenberger. It’s a powerful documentary on the late cyber-visionary Aaron Swartz, who took his own life last year under duress it would be hard not to trace back to the US government’s decision to charge him with wire fraud and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, charges carrying a maximum penalty of $1m and 35 years in prison. His crime? To challenge the way information, once safeguarded for public use, is now increasingly being charged for by public and private institutions, perilously reducing the public’s rightful access to its cultural, scientific, and information heritage.

My concern deepened when I saw hordes queuing to buy the new iPhone 6, seemingly unaware of a recent development in Apple’s information security policy. In its annual transparency report, released just this month, a provision called the “warrant canary” that Apple has used to assure customers that it has “never received an order” under the Patriot Act to provide information to federal authorities was for the first time omitted, leaving masses of new iPhone buyers to dig themselves deeper into an ever more uncertain personal information coal mine."