Revelations via Edward Snowden about the NSA's practice of vacuuming up every smidgen of data about everyone from the internet continue to inspire efforts to envision the contours of our Panopticon society. The Panopticon was a design for an institution, a prison, imagined by the 19th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Such an edifice would allow a central observer to see all the inmates at all times, if that observer chose to look at any particular one. Guess we've wandered inside such a thing, at least those of us who inhabit the web.
Steven Levy has long chronicled the development of the tech industry. In the 80s he introduced a general audience to the existence of "hackers"; more recently he offered a journalistic window into Google. This month he has published an intriguing article in Wired titled How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet. The whole is worth reading. Here are some bits of Levy's well-sourced story.
Levy is a gentle observer, both of the tech companies who are his homies (and his bread and butter) and of the spooks who we've learned infest the same turf. He finds them very similar -- certain that they work from good purposes and uncomprehending that outsiders might question their reach or motives. Both kinds come across as a terrible mix of innocent and dangerous. Perhaps the NSA revelations have killed off any lingering generalized innocence about digital technology being inherently a force for freedom.
Again, the whole is worth reading.
When people who have been at home inside the circles of the great start asking real questions, be they reporters or tech executives, there may be room for those of us who have always been outside to move the colossus a smidgen. I hope so.