If you look at what people were saying about the Internet in general, say 15 or 20 years ago, in terms of its promise, it was incredibly wide-ranging, from political liberation to eliminating economic inequality to just individual growth. It was literally conceived of as — I don’t mean by the people who created it, but by the people who started using it — as this instrument of personal and political freedom.
And I think the surveillance state is not only threatening to undermine that promise but to completely reverse it, so that as we do more and more on the Internet, as we live more on the Internet, as we engage in more activity on the Internet — all of which we’re doing — states are exercising more and more control over the Internet, and especially monitoring over the Internet, and that means this instrument is being degraded from what its promise was, which was an instrument of freedom, into probably the worst means of — the most effective means of — human control and oppression ever known in human history, because there never existed a technology before to allow people’s every thought and word and conversation and interest and reading and just interest level and fears to be comprehensively chronicled in the way that the surveillance state allows.
And there’s an irony to the fact that this technology that once held such great promise in these areas is now posing the greatest threat to those same values. But I think that’s how all technological innovation ultimately ends up being fought over — that any technology can undermine the interests of the prevailing power factions and therefore it’s targeted for co-option by those same power factions, to prevent it from being used as a challenge against them, and ultimately to be used to further shield their power from challenge. And I think that’s exactly the battle we face when it comes to Internet freedom.