U.S. President John Kennedy was shot dead; President Ronald Reagan was shot. President Trump, given his enemies, is leading a charmed life. But all three faced better odds than does today’s global internet. That magnificent, productive creation of human intelligence faces attacks from nearly every government on the planet. The global internet provides people everywhere more information and more organization than any government can willingly tolerate for long. It is just too bright a light on a shady business. Today’s corrupt politicians cannot allow it to live.
North Korea denies global internet access and punishes those who find a way around the ban. On a much larger scale, China does the same, using the “Great Firewall of China” to hold off the world while it provides the content and services approved for its citizens. Russia is entering the test phase of a similar system, one that can be entirely disconnected from the global internet. Iran, Turkey , some of the Arab states and recently Uganda set limits upon citizens’ access. The European Union is using draconian new copyright laws to stop the rapid spread of information. Another proposed new law is said to provide tools for censorship.
In the United States, government is moving on the internet with more circumspection; the Obama administration “net neutrality” rules intended to put the internet under government regulation were rescinded by the succeeding Trump administration. However, various states have passed their own regulations instead, creating an overlapping mess for the future to sort out. As of 2019, Internet service providers such as Twitter and Facebook are under fire for political censorship and in Congress, the House has nearly unanimously passed the “CASE Act”. If it becomes law, anyone accused of using copyrighted internet material can be subjected to immediate, large fines without court protection. Commercial sites that provide links to copyrighted news (e.g. the Drudge Report) may be out of business. Were this to prove a trend, U.S. internet news providers could be reduced to the major news media and private emails. Unfortunately, those surviving U.S. media seem to have now become as politicized as those elsewhere.
The unhindered global internet has proven an overflowing cornucopia for humanity on earth. It has expanded markets, multiplied scientific progress, accelerated education, widened health care and it is blending disparate cultures into increasing compatibility. It has proven perhaps the greatest treasure humanity has provided itself. Yet governments everywhere want that suppressed and controlled even more than they insist upon the control and suppression of Christian churches and free markets. All of those hand too much power to too many people, people outside of government. Such folk are too unpredictable and too hard to control; that is seen by any government as a threat, and it is. But governments that hamstring such threats protect themselves at the expense of human civilization. What if the bureaucrats had seen the threat in the invention of paper?
Significant technological progress began in China long before it took root in Europe but the Europeans who opened the sea lanes to Asia found China backward and asleep. Its government, feeling threatened, had suppressed technological progress, thereby offering Europe the lead. TANSTAAFL is a fundamental law of our universe: “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” Everything in human existence has its price. The cellphones of the nomadic, Moslem Fulani herdsmen in Africa provide access to both modern veterinary medicine and recipes for suicide vests and roadside bombs; Pandora’s box and the fruit of Adam’s tree were forbidden for a reason. The mandarins paid for their positions and institutions with future European hegemony. We can only imagine the price that will be paid for the strangulation of the free, global internet, an unending bill that we are handing off to our descendants. Perhaps Louis XV spoke for the mandarins and for all the politicians in human history when he famously said: “Apres moi, le deluge!.” Much will rest upon the willingness of the public to allow that to be the last word.