It’s been a dark time in Australia when it comes to our lives in digital spaces. Both sides of government voted to instate draconian, opaque and dangerous new legislation to increase surveillance. They have traded the people’s freedom and right to privacy for “increased national security” – a term I am yet to understand. Now we can be watched, monitored and investigated at any time without our consent and with no impartial oversight.
Australia however is not alone in its pursuit of greater surveillance. Similar efforts are underway in Canada and the UK, perhaps trying to replicate the truly horrifying efforts of the US. Despite these efforts little has been discussed by the general public and even less about the implications of these measures. Its complex but it is vital as John Oliver pointed out vividly in his recent interview with Edward Snowden:
So what happens when we are forced into trading the open web for something that needs to be encrypted, secure, private and hidden simply to avoid someone watching over your shoulder noting your every move? Is the concept of “security” actually cannibalising itself to the point where safety and privacy are eliminated rather than upheld?
At the same time one area that really hasn’t been discussed at all is how we as a people are being forced behind a firewall and to surrender the distributed commons that is the web.
Want email? Just get inside Gmail or Outlook – just don’t use a local service because Australian big brother is watching that. Don’t worry though because the NSA is watching the others.
Want to communicate with friends and family? Just use this app that has built in encryption. Don’t worry that now you’re being surveilled by a corporate vulture who on-sell your data to the highest bidder.
Want to read the news? Just do it inside Facebook!
App this and app that. The Web is Dead. Access is no longer free.
The vectors of information have been taken over, monetised and passage is paid by surrendering our data. The commons has been taken away and eroded by corporate interests and government surveillance and all of this has happened before.
During the agricultural revolution this process was known as “enclosure“:
the term is also used for the process that ended the ancient system of arable farming in open fields. Under enclosure, such land is fenced (enclosed) and deeded or entitled to one or more owners.
I’d say the web as it was, an open commons of information, is being enclosed. The Information Revolution, or whatever you want to call it, is following the same script.
Just like the before the process is being accomplished in two ways:
- “by buying the ground rights and all common rights to accomplish exclusive rights of use, which increased the value”. Hello Silicon Valley and startup culture where the aim is not to contribute to the commons, but get bought out by someone bigger. Data is the asset and the value point is not in what your app can do – but how many users and how much data you can get!
- “by passing laws causing or forcing enclosure, such as Parliamentary enclosure”. Hello Australian government! Your actions – implicit or explicit,implied or not will have the same effect. “Come inside our walled garden, its safe in here!” they’ll say. Government surveillance destroys the commons and forces people to seek safety and privacy somewhere else.
For labour the fallout of enclosure was considered a positive sum, but that requires you to completely disregard the hunger, suffering and displacement that occurred. Sure, eventually displaced workers found jobs and their labour fuelled the industrial revolution but many died and many lost centuries of knowledge, wisdom and connection. They lost their identity and cultural heritage as they were forced off the land. This process was repeated as part of global colonisation, not because it was good, but because it worked. It worked to establish a new ruling class and elite. It effectively worked to dispossess the people of all they had so they had to trade their agrarian subsistence for the exploitation of the workhouse. It reduced skilled and knowledgable agronomists to become simply cogs in the machine.
So what looms ahead in our revolution? What do we lose as we’re slowly being enclosed?
Let’s not forget that there is value in the commons.
It’s not in efficiency or profitability it’s in building social cohesion. It becomes a place to share, to cooperate and collaborate. It becomes a place to dance and feast and celebrate as well as to mourn and cry and grieve. The commons is the heart of a community, something that urban planners are finally starting to understand. You don’t achieve social cohesion without the commons and housing projects around the world provide all the evidence you need to understand that. By focussing on efforts on building housing and not a community the commons was left off the plans and what ensued was complete social chaos.
So when I look at what’s happening on the web I wonder what is to come…
What if we lose the commons? What happens if the web is enclosed?
Image used https://flic.kr/p/nZotpM