Navigating the streets of Internet freedom
With so many complexities when it comes to Internet access in the United States, the lines of where freedom are and are not extended can be difficult to see.
For a long time, it seemed as if Americans could do almost anything they wanted on the Internet. Emails disclosing personal information or talking behind people's backs used to be sent off on a whim while people would seemingly purchase anything from anywhere. In short, users seemingly have access to almost any form of data that they want, some more illegal than others.
The deep web and the black market
Recently, one of the less heard of aspects of the internet, known as the "Silk Road," was shut down by the government because of the effective black market that operated through the network. This aspect of the internet went relatively unnoticed for quite some time because of its operation on what was known as the "deep web." Time Magazine explains that this online market place was hosted on a network of websites that was invisible to most internet users because it could only be accessed through the use of certain software known as Tor.
The network was initially funded by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and has since been used as a nonprofit for many kinds of users. This includes journalists and activists in countries where internet access is limited by governments.
However, criminals can also use the network as well, which was the case with the Silk Road. Operating as an online marketplace in which customers could purchase anything from illegal drugs to firearms, the online network was in operation from around January 2011, until only recently when the federal government shut down operations. While the actions on the Silk Road were certainly illegal, it raises some interesting questions about the nature of Internet freedom.
The Internet as a city
A recent blog on the Hill explains that online freedom can be seen as a sort of digital city. Many websites, will look like the downtown Broadway, while there are certainly streets that are not as nice. In fact, there are even parts of town that one should avoid all together in the event that information like credit cards or identity is stolen.
The blog argues that there are certain vulnerabilities that one encounters when surfing the web, but sometimes the biggest exploiters of these vulnerabilities can be the federal government themselves. With the recent data mining and surveillance programs being revealed to the world through the leaks of Edward Snowden, it argues that the government needs to take a more collaborative approach so as to not limit users' rights. While there are certainly illicit ways to use the internet, one wonders if all out surveillance of the "city streets" is really the right answer.