Tech's Repressive Dark Side Threatens Us All

The tech sector protested at the time that the government's controls would gradually go away as China's economy and the people's desire for freedom grew. Several years later, it's clear that this is not happening. Instead, the government has intensified its demands for further controls. Though its plan to require the installation of censorship software on every new computer has been "delayed," there's little doubt that it will continue to pursue the effort. With the precedent of the search engines' sellout, it's hard to have any confidence that Dell, HP, and others will resist.

Well, what about Web 2.0? Won't that get around the statists in Iran and China? The Financial Times summarizes the grim situation:

That [government] stifling of web freedoms that many people around the world take for granted [is] being accompanied by more novel means of combating cyber opponents. Those methods range from directing stealthy technological attacks that shut down dissident websites to unleashing swarms of paid commentators to argue the government position on supposedly independent blogs.

Both carry the added attraction of deniability: many regimes are employing advanced repressive techniques that are hard to identify in action, let alone circumvent. At a time when new communication technologies, from text messaging to Twitter, promise to put greater power in the hands of the individual, these techniques are having a chilling effect. Internet experts from more open societies fear that this will lead to greater self-censorship by organizations and individuals, which they see as the most effective tool of all.

If some of the techniques described seem strangely familiar to some U.S. readers, it's probably because they're here -- and not necessarily always in light form.

Isn't a leftie troll in a do-nothing government job or on a "community organizer's" payroll, with plenty of time to comment or blog, for all practical purposes a de facto "paid commentator"?

Isn't taking in millions in small, deliberately untraceable contributions during a presidential election campaign, in clear violation of established laws -- contributions that arguably enabled that candidate to drown out his opponent -- eerily close to an "advanced repressive technique"?

Finally, our president and Congress are clearly attempting to move the U.S. economy sharply away from our leaning-towards-capitalist model -- never mind that it is the one that has rewarded innovation and enterprise and has been, for all its faults, the greatest wealth creator and living standard-raiser in human history. Instead, the Obama economy is evolving into one of "gets vs. get-nots." It benefits soulless glad-handers who can work a government-dominated patronage, grant, loan, and reward system through personal connections and/or payoffs, to the detriment of those who simply want to make a better mousetrap and better serve customers. The "get vs. get-not" model is one that is all too often divorced from the need to actually accomplish or build something of value. The money keeps flowing and the accomplishment seldom if ever arrives.

As the "get vs. get-not" model becomes more dominant, one's very success, failure, or even existence in business will become ever more dependent on the whims of the visibly powerful, as well as their invisible bureaucrats and apparatchiks, any one of whom might be offended by someone's expressed opinion, political preference, or even their personal acquaintances. Isn't the prospect of "greater self-censorship" in the name of continued business just around the corner?

On America's Independence Day and from that day forward, Americans, and especially their political leaders, need to remind themselves that freedom isn't free, that its triumph and preservation are not guaranteed, and that technology isn't automatically going to make getting or preserving it any easier.