An insane internet for a dysfunctional world

Lily Kuo’s terrifying article on Quartz, “China has more internet monitors than soldiersdescribes how China’s internet is monitored by more than two million people, half a million more than the Asian giant’s standing army. Internet censorship is a flourishing business in China, employing so-called public opinion analysts to keep track of what the country’s half-a-billion web users.

But China’s reality is simply a super-size version of what goes on in the United States, where between 30,000 and 40,000 people, along with a very long list of subcontractors, are employed by the (National Security Agency (NSA), one of the government’s most bloated bodies, and which is only smaller because, as anybody engaged in manufacturing in China knows, anything that can be done manually there is done manually.

Nothing that Chinese web users write on the webs and social networks available to them—a triumph of the particular tools of that country, which are mostly clones of those in the west— has anything to do with the peculiarities of China, and much more to do with the existence of government restrictions to assure monitoring: nothing fails to be monitored and controlled by this impressive army of censors.

The situation, in reality is not very different to that in the United States, where the NSA is able to access 75% of all web traffic, and where everything indicates that the barrier has now been lifted, allowing for perfectly inoffensive people who have expressed their concern about the NSA’s abuses to also be monitored and punished. At the risk of sounding paranoid, while bearing in mind that I travel to the United States regularly, and that I have recently expressed my opinions about the NSA’s activities both on my Spanish-language website and on Medium in English, do I now face the risk of obstacles or restrictions the next time I visit there?

The way that the web is now being used is increasingly senseless. Tools to avoid tracking and data collection such as Abine’s or the recently launched Disconnect.me are growing in popularity in parallel to the news stories on surveillance in what we can now call the post-Snowden era. The use of networks such as Tor is no longer limited to those looking for an extra layer of security, and instead is becoming popular among all kinds of people, while the authorities struggle to intercept it. Countries such as Germany, which initially were indignant about the extent to which both the government and ordinary people were subjected to surveillance by a supposed friend such as the United States have since been found out to have been intercepting web traffic in central nodes.

We now have the utterly insane situation whereby half of web users seem to be spying on the other half, while others are desperately using tools to prevent this, doing all they can to decipher what’s out there, and others just want to find somewhere they can escape the madness. This is a demented web for a dysfunctional world in which the very tools that could make the world a better place and connect us all have become something sinister that threatens our privacy and basic human rights.

When we apply common sense, dysfunctional situations tend to disappear. In the not-too-distant future, will we remember today as simply an absurd phase in the development of humankind that fortunately came to an end, and Barack Obama as the sinister personality that sadly came to be its incarnation?