Friday, November 22, 2013

Sir Tim Gets it Wrong Again

Once again the Technology division on the BBC News Web site seems to be providing Sir Tim Berners-Lee with a bully pulpit. This time he is speaking out against surveillance. An article introduced yesterday began with the following summary:
Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned that the democratic nature of the net is threatened by a "growing tide of surveillance and censorship".
I assume that the quote marks refer to what Berners-Lee actually said. However, on the basis of his past remarks, I suspect that he believes in "the democratic nature of the net." This would be a dangerous misconception. As it now exists, the Internet is probably the closest instance we have of a viable anarchy. As I observed last month, the very concept of governance is about as alien to the Internet community as you can get. At best the concept receives occasional lip service, but that kind of babble shuts down as soon as any questions about drafting a constitution arise.

In the physical world I am just as glad that I do not live in an anarchy. I may not like much of what government does, but I know that I would like things even less if government were entirely eliminated. In the early days of the Internet, anarchy did not seem to be too risky, since control resided in the hands of those with the necessary technical competence, whose sense of governance involved little more than common sense. These days anything I do on the Internet I do with caution. Common sense no longer prevails, and it is easier for more people to exercise power in more destructive ways. Indeed, anarchy is now so firmly established that the prospect of reining it in through governance is little more than an idle dream. It is about time for Sir Tim to wake up and start smelling the virtual Molotov cocktails!

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