Can Government Control the 'Net?
By Staff News & Analysis - June 23, 2010

Aussie pols want compulsory AV software and firewalls … As the Australian Government continues to grapple with the issue of how best to protect the nation from internet nastiness, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications has just lobbed a major new element into the debate in the form of a mega-report on cyber-crime. The report – entitled Hackers, Fraudsters and Botnets: Tackling the Problem of Cyber Crime – is a 260-page opus, published this week and compiled under the chairmanship of Ms Belinda Neal MP. In the foreword, Ms Neal writes that "the interests and needs of consumers and business [should] generally be elevated in the national Cyber Security Strategy". Some of the steps that can be taken immediately include a national coordination point to oversee this broader strategy, a national cyber- crime reporting centre, better coordination and training for law enforcement agencies and public- private information sharing on a wider range of cyber-crime types. These conclusions were based on evidence that the Committee heard, to the effect that Australian consumers (and businesses) were being targeted by cyber criminals as never before, with a total cost to Australian business as high as $649m a year. – The A Register

Dominant Social Theme: Well, of course it can, and for your own good, too …

Free-Market Analysis: Or maybe not. We have watched with interest as government attacks against the Internet have become more formalized in China, the UK and, of course, America. The Chinese attacks are obvious and known in aggregate as the Great Firewall. In Australia, the government is seeking to move in the Chinese direction, as we can see from the article excerpted above. In America, Senator Joseph Lieberman has recently introduced a bill that would grant the US president considerable power to "shut down" the Internet in a time of major crisis or war.

It has always been the Bell's contention that new communication technology upsets systems of governance. The focus of the Daily Bell, therefore, has been to analyze the (Western) elite's dominant social themes and then to determine whether or not the Internet was exposing them and rendering them less effective. In this article we will revisit a dominant social theme (global warming) and then summarize the reasons why we do not think that governments will have an easy time controlling or censoring the 'Net.

Begin at the beginning. When those behind the Daily Bell began this sort of analysis nearly 10 years ago (a project that has resulted in the Daily Bell in its current incarnation) the idea that the Internet was a modern Gutenberg press was not even considered by most. And the idea of a power elite that exercised societal mind control via fear-based promotions was way too "far out" for almost all but the most rabid "conspiratorialists" to consider. But we believe that time – and power elite actions – have proved much of the Daily Bell's contentions correct.

For proof of the idea that a power elite can exercise control over even the most far-fetched dominant social theme, we need look no further than global warming. This is the perfect example of a fear-based promotion that would never have come about if not for a small group of families and individuals that utilize such memes regularly to further consolidate power and wealth. In the case of global warming, the idea was to scare as many people as possible into surrendering yet more money and power to institutions of global governance conveniently provided by the elite, like flycatchers, for just such purposes. (The UN, etc.)

But due to a fortuitous capture of emails, the global warming promotion has recently unraveled amidst jaw-dropping revelations. It quickly became clear, as one analyzed these emails and the resultant news stories, that a very small coterie of individuals at certain journals, universities, NGOs and at the United Nations itself had been responsible for many of the conclusions that had led to a global, societal consensus that the world must ban the production of carbon dioxide.

In fact, from our view, any objective individual looking at the pattern as it was revealed would certainly grant the possibility that such individuals were in a sense "seeded' in certain critical positions. This is analogous to what intelligence agencies do in authoritarian cultures when they want to control the flow of information and news. One does not need an overwhelming army of opinion molders, merely the right person at the right place and time.

Of course, on so many levels, the idea of reducing carbon dioxide to reduce global warming didn't work logically. Carbon dioxide is only a tiny percentage of the water vapor in the atmosphere that could be said to be "trapping" sunlight and creating a warming cycle. One therefore might as well try to empty the oceans to reduce evaporation. And then there is the idea that the earth is warming in the first place. In fact, it may be cooling.

No matter what the earth is doing, the idea that the handful of human beings that currently occupy its surface (all of whom could fit into the state of Connecticut with room to spare) can affect the weather is as ludicrous as it is arrogant. But nonetheless, the elite behind such promotions almost pulled it off. Now, of course, most people are not so concerned about global warming in the West, as surveys show. It is as if some mass hysteria has lifted.

This hasn't stopped the elite by the way. One of the hallmarks of a dominant social theme is its continued existence even after it has been discredited. Thus we were not surprised when the BP oil spill in the Gulf suddenly reignited legislative "solutions," especially in America, that were put into place to counter global warming. By hook or crook, the elite is determined to get its carbon tax, its tax-and-trade marketplace and ultimately its carbon-based monetary system.

But we think, if it does happen, it will be something of a pyrrhic victory. That's because these fear-based promotions need the equivalent of a willing suspension of disbelief to work well. If people don't believe in the social mechanisms that support the promotions, and if people are suspicious of the promotions themselves, then they will not support them. This is an important point for those who want to fully understand the elite's dominant social themes – and why they worked well in the 20th century but may not work nearly so well in the 21st.

And this is very important to keep in mind when it comes to the Internet. The Anglo-American elite needs a WILLING suspension of disbelief. It is virtually impossible to keep a million, let alone a billion, people under control via dominant social themes if these themes are no longer considered credible. We would argue that because of the past 20 years of Internet information, many of themes have broken down and are no longer quite so believable. But more than that, we would argue that the MECHANISM ITSELF is fairly well understood now by a broad cross-section of individuals. And word-of-mouth is a powerful device.

That is why we have considerable doubts as to whether current Western efforts to control the Internet are going to be effectively pervasive. We are not of course predicting that governments will fail in imposing various forms of censorship on the 'Net as we know it. However, the truth-telling of the Internet is relatively widespread at this point; we think it will continue to frustrate and vitiate government attacks. Outright censorship and intimidation rarely works. Governments that impose such solutions are unstable and an inter-generational elite abhors instability. The idea that governments can simply "control" the Internet if they wish, has elements promotions itself.

One example is DARPA. Over and over we read how an excrescence of the Pentagon created the Internet. But when we researched the matter it soon became clear that what had created the Internet was the advent of the personal computer, invented by two 19-year-olds in a garage. The Internet would still today be nothing more than a secure connection between universities and libraries were it not for the PC which turned the 'Net from a militarized utility into a global democratic highway.

And of course there is more to come. The Internet is the province of creative hackers now, and extremely bright children and adults. It is a prime example of FA Hayek's spontaneous evolution. No, the idea that government can "control" the Internet is no more practical in our view than the idea that the governments could have controlled the Gutenberg press in its initial phases. Certainly, the princes of the era tried to control the Gutenberg press. They tried to license Bibles. They invented the concept of copyright, apparently. They confiscated and blacklisted books and various sacred texts. But the press, a new idea at the time, was unstoppable. It was the hot, new technology. Everyone wanted a piece of it.

The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of the Reason, the Enlightenment, the discovery and population of the New World, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, even the French Revolution can all be seen as deriving from the explosion of information provided by the Gutenberg press. Now we are well aware that some of these developments were more fortitudinous and helpful than others. And there is no doubt, then as now, that the elite attempted to influence and shape events as best it could via the creation of certain religious mass movements and the use of war. But nonetheless, no matter what one argues, the Gutenberg press very obviously gave rise at least to a 300-year interregnum of increased freedom and intellectual ferment.

We have no reason to doubt that the Internet will prove a most intractable invention for those who wish to control it, certainly in the short term. Technology will likely outstrip many of the trammels that the elite manufactures. And the larger Western populace, nowadays at least dimly aware of elite promotions, will be increasingly resistant to overt control of the 'Net. The willing suspension of disbelief that was supposed to be manufactured by the fear-based promotion of child porn and 'Net based financial flimflammery has failed, at least to a degree. These will be used as justifications of course, but they have not received a critical-mass "buy in" in our opinion.

The idea that government is going to move and "take over" the Internet – turning it into an arid, electronic version of the USSR – is possibly far-fetched. Of course, such perceptions shall become increasingly popular as governments steps up their efforts to control this exasperating, truth-telling technology. But young technologies are hard to control, as are the young innovators they attract.

The template for internet control, of course, is China, but even here (as we have mentioned previously) there are setbacks. The recent union strikes that received widespread publicity outside of China were in part supported by the very technology that China is supposedly good at controlling and suppressing. An independent military-analysis blog, the Strategy Page, recently analyzed the Chinese situation as follows:

The Chinese government recently suffered a major defeat when workers at several large car parts factories managed to organize and sustain a strike for higher wages. … The workers used cell phones and the Internet in creative ways, getting around government electronic surveillance to keep workers informed and maintain morale, and the strike … China has been losing a lot of these battles with modern communications. There are 400 million Internet users in China, and nearly twice as many cell phone users. Billions of dollars a year has been spent on controlling Internet use in China (the Golden Shield effort).

Similar, but far less successful, efforts have been made to control cell phone use. Users find ways around censorship (computerized systems that check texting for forbidden or suspicious words). Shutting down cell phone access to areas works, but forces the government to rely on military communications, which is far less effective than cell phones … Technology is a moving target. The growing popularity of smart phones (more personal-computer-like devices built into a cell phone) in China creates a device that is more capable of evading censorship and government control.

After Thoughts

The idea of a government takeover of the Internet is something of a dominant social theme in our view. It is one designed to reinforce a sense of the inevitability and pervasiveness of regulatory democracy and its growing authoritarianism. But it is not inevitable. Governments and the elites standing behind them will have their victories. But for all the reasons enunciated above, such victories may be neither powerful nor pervasive. And the elites may take a step back as they have done before.