Saturday, December 18, 2010

Internet Privacy

A federal appeals court has ruled that police need a warrant in order to access e-mails. From a short-sighted point of view, this is a huge civil liberties victory. From my perspective, it may be a stepping stone into a paradigm shift in how the internet is viewed.

“What the hell are you blathering about?”

I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about: the idea of digital information as property.

Step away from the idea of police for a second and consider online media. Like millions of Americans, I download a large amount of movies and songs from the internet for free. If I like a movie or album a lot, I go out and buy it, even though I have it for free on my computer. I even download albums I already own for free.


Downloaded media is superior to traditionally purchased media (for many reasons), but I buy the media I like because if I don’t, the types of music and movies I like will cease to be made.

What the hell does this have to do with reading e-mails without a warrant?

The idea of digital information as “property” may lead to a situation where the internet is seen and treated quite differently than it is today. To me, downloading a song off the internet isn’t stealing. No one loses anything when I do it; the information is digitally multiplied without anything being taken away from the original.

When the police ask an ISP for your e-mails, they don’t cease to be sent. From the perspective of your use, nothing has changed. Your e-mail is basically like a song, and the police are basically a fan downloading it for their own personal use.

“Bret, you’re full of shit.”

Maybe. But it’s not just about internet music and movies.

WikiLeaks is heavily reliant on this concept. I view the copying of confidential information to not only lack criminality, but also to be an important tool for freedom. Rulings like this, which defend the illusion of privacy, may be seen as setting precedent when it comes to digital information. If the government is not allowed to intercept information from citizens, you better believe citizens won’t be granted the right to know what the government is saying and doing.

Please realize: I’m not saying I like the idea of the police having full access to everything, though I fail to see the earth-shattering consequences of it. I asked before for a worst-case scenario as to what horrible things could happen if law enforcement had access to e-mails, and I was largely met with ignorant tangents that failed to address my question. I assume nothing has changed, but if some creative soul has come up with a true nightmare scenario, please to share it with me.

Here’s what I’m afraid of: I’m afraid the internet and its content will be under attack. I am afraid of copyright law wiping the bulk of the internet blank. I am afraid of whistle-blowers being imprisoned for “stealing” digital information. I am basically afraid of our obsession with privacy leading to the internet being shuttered.

I don’t believe in slippery slopes. In fact, I revel in running downhill in the wintry recesses of the mind. I don’t assume that this sort of decision will lead to anything awful, but I am forced to consider the possible unintended consequences. Freedom cuts both ways, and the digital age (thus far) has been all about freedom.

Consider this: all of your e-mails are still stored, even if the government can’t look at them without a warrant. In fact, I don’t even understand why this is a “victory,” since getting a warrant is easier than patting your head while rubbing your tummy (or rubbing out protest while patting yourself on the back). Hell, the Pentagon employs hackers who are good enough to simply steal any of the information they want anyway, warrant and permission be damned.

From my perspective, this is a nice token victory, but I don’t see it having any real positive ramifications. Rather, I see the door being opened on a new vision of how the internet will be viewed from a legal standpoint, and it’s not very rosy.

Your e-mails are still being stored, your privacy is still an illusion, and the government has now taken the perspective that the virtual world is no different than the material one. I’m not looking forward to them screwing up my online experience like they have with the world outside my home, and I have no one to thank but a couple of snake-oil salesmen.

What? You didn’t actually read the court case?

Remember those Enzyte commercials selling “natural male enhancement,” with that goofy looking smiley guy? Well, that company was selling trash in a pill that did absolutely nothing, and the government went after them for false-advertising. During the investigation, they obtained e-mails without a warrant.

So, in summation: old yuppies who couldn’t get hard wouldn’t pony-up for Viagra (or were too embarrassed to go to their doctor to get a prescription), so they bought a pill which did nothing, sued the company… and the end result is that porn may start to be very difficult to find on the internet.

Ironic, in a way…

Well, I’m going to go e-mail myself some porn (while it’s still available online) so it can safely be stored in the privacy of my inbox.

My closing thought: most people mistakenly think they have privacy, when actually no one gives a shit about them. Privacy is a myth, ask any celebrity.


  1. You're confusing two different things.

    Anyway, now you're afraid of copyright? You keep saying you support intellectual property laws (when of course, no one can own a mere idea, even if expressed in specific words, notes, images, etc.).

    Abolish copyright and you'd still have the issue of the state and it's other laws (though copyright is a current tool of massive state control and oppression, leading to more and more draconian measures including control of the Internet).

    Again you equate an individual downloading a song with the police snooping on your emails, but why are the police doing it? Only to find something to prosecute someone for, not because they're fans of your work. The issue is one of the state's power and authority, not of "privacy" per se, or digital media. If you still can't comprehend something that basic, you're not worth any serious person's time.

  2. I do support copyright as a concept. Come on... you must be familiar with the idea that I don't simply oppose something outright just because the version we have right this second is flawed. I feel the same way about copyright as I do about government: the idea is sound, our current practice just needs correction.

    Copyright is necessary, especially in this day and age. I could burn 2 or more CD's onto one and sell it for 3 bucks at a profit if I were legally permitted to do so. This isn't right. Neither is charging 20 bucks for 12 tracks, only one of which you want... but I digress.

    I'm not sure I can respond to the rest of the comment without pointing out what a fucking retard you are, so I'll politely abstain.

  3. It seems like we lose either way we go.

  4. I think internet "privacy" has always been a farce the Defense Department created the internet so my thought is that they have always been able to look into anyone's emails or anything else on an individuals computer anytime they want too how would we really know otherwise. I agree with you Privacy is a myth and American freedom is becoming one very quickly. Following.

  5. Copyright is necessary, especially in this day and age

    I still haven't seen you present any cogent argument for this ridiculous assertion.

    I feel the same way about copyright as I do about government: the idea is sound, our current practice just needs correction.

    If the fundamental basis of the idea is unsound or irrational, it can't be corrected, it can only be abolished. This issue with IP is simple; can someone claim ownership of something that is NOT limited in supply, like a song? You mention this yourself in the post. In fact, you make at least one argument of why copyright is not needed; you go out and buy stuff you really like after sampling it for free.

    Then you go and contradict yourself with this moronic statement: "Copyright is necessary, especially in this day and age."

    No, it's not. And if you can show any evidence that artists stop producing without copyright, I'd like to see it (it won't happen). It's not even about artists, it's about the big corporations that control those copyrights (the ones lobbying for more IP laws and prosecutions of violators). For someone who hates corporations (or pretends to) you sure love the same laws and regulations they support.

    I could burn 2 or more CD's onto one and sell it for 3 bucks at a profit if I were legally permitted to do so. This isn't right.

    What's wrong with that? Are you saying you don't have the right to do what you want with your own property (your blank CDs)? That's the issue, and you support the copyright Nazi tyranny, apparently.

    Good god, Bret, you sound like one of those fucking copyright police propaganda notices that try to scare innocent people with the FBI.

    You really are a phony, you asshole.

  6. You can burn whatever you want, you can give them to whoever you want, but as soon as it becomes a business model, it's wrong. I think it's very simple. The gray area is... what if you give a mix tape to a woman and she bangs you: is it a violation of copyright and prostitution? I would say barter is a non-taxable, non-regulatable transaction (based on no authority but my own opinion).

    If you're going to bootleg music, at least make it live music, then you went through the work of going to a concert and smuggling in a recording device.

    Again, you put so many words in my mouth I don't have the patience to sort through it all. I'm not defending ideas I didn't even present.

  7. You can burn whatever you want, you can give them to whoever you want,

    According to the law, no, you can't. To violate copyright law as it exists, there does not have to be any profit motive.

  8. but as soon as it becomes a business model, it's wrong

    No argument from you as usual. Again, why is it wrong?

    I'm not defending ideas I didn't even present.

    Good, because you can't even defend those you supposedly did.

  9. Of course, the whole profit "business model" thing misses the point. Who are the targets of the copyright insanity we are witnessing? Those who are sharing movies,books and music for free.

    Why? Because it interferes with the fascist business model of large corporations that rely on "intellectual property" to make their illegitimate, state-supported profits.

  10. Actually, lots of people are prosecuted for selling bootleg DVDs and CDs literally on the street, far more often than people are prosecuted for free file sharing.

  11. Bret, those bootlegs are not what worries the big capitalist corporations, and you know it. They've been around for decades, and long before the Internet was a mass phenomenon. What concerns them and explains the stepped up copyright craziness is that they know copyright is essentially dead in the Internet age, at least without a tyrannical enforcement system that exerts (or attempts to) ever more control of the digital universe with ever more intrusive laws.

    And the only reason why more people are prosecuted for physical DVDs and CDs (if true; and I have no reason to doubt that) is because only a relative few engage in that activity and they are easier to catch than the millions who download "illegally" online. People are prosecuted (or sued) for downloading, but it's to make an example of them to scare the masses that anyone could be next. It's intimidation that they rely on, with the hope that more state enforcement and control of the online community will prevent the "theft" of their "property

  12. those bootlegs are not what worries the big capitalist corporations

    ... what's your point? Why do I care what they want? I'm saying how the law ought to be in my view, not what people I don't even agree with want. People shouldn't make their living off of copyright violation, but free transfer is totally fine in my opinion.

    You should really consider just addressing what I'm saying, not assume I support anything remotely related to things I'm talking about. Remember how ridiculous it is for me to say you support Somalia? That's sort of like this: you're associating me and my ideas with an imperfect example which you can easily refute. Very lazy.


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