Track and Truth: Manning and the 'Other' Surveillance System
The tumble of revelations and developments involving the Internet has produced a pastiche of truths that, when examined closely, show links between what might usually be considered separate news stories.
This week we encounter a stunning ruling by the judge in the Bradley Manning case while, in a totally different setting, the people who come as close to governance of the World Wide Web as we get can't decide on a major Internet issue that significantly affects your freedom.
On Thursday, the Manning case's presiding judge Colonel Denise Lind -- who is also determining the verdict -- announced that she is going to consider the government's contention that Manning was "aiding the enemy" when he blew his whistle. The defense had moved that she drop that charge. Yesterday, my colleague John Grant wrote incisively on the social and political impact of this ruling. I want to say a bit about the view of the Internet that drives Colonel Lind's decision.
Meanwhile, the W3C (short of World Wide Web Consortium), which is is as close as we come to a world "authority" on web browser standards, continues to grapple with a major issue popularly called "Do Not Track". It's an attempt by the Consortium to agree on "standards" (the do-and-don't rules for web development) for tracking: the way that somebody you don't know, have never heard of and have certainly given no permission to is recording your every move on the Web and doing whatever the heck it wants with that information.
The two developments are linked by a profoundly perverted notion of the Internet and a destructive vision of what it should become. They highlight, taken in tandem, a truly frightening development.
Succintly put, if you have an Internet that acts as it's supposed to, everybody is going to have access to whatever is published. Effectively, anything you publish on the Internet could, given the right circumstances, "aid" an enemy and you'll never know it. That's the character of the Internet -- it's open. On the other hand, it's also supposed to protect your privacy: what you decide to publish is open, who and what you are isn't...until they started tracking.
The Manning issue is better known and merits a caveat: Judge Lind has not determined that Manning is guilty of "aiding the enemy". She might, at which point we at This Can't Be Happening will surely have a few things to say about her verdict, but the issue here is that she would even consider this ridiculous charge.
The law prohibits any military person from providing assistance of any kind to an enemy during a conflict. It's a horrible law full of contradictins and suppositions, starting with "what constitutes an enemy" when there is no declared war happening? But the prosecution's charge surpasses the law in foolishness.