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Internet Fascism and the Surveillance State – Article by Ben O’Neill

Internet Fascism and the Surveillance State – Article by Ben O’Neill

The New Renaissance Hat
Ben O’Neill
July 16, 2013

What is the purpose of telecommunication and internet surveillance?

The NSA presents its surveillance operations as being directed toward security issues, claiming that the programs are needed to counter terrorist attacks. Bald assertions of plots foiled are intended to bolster this claim.[1] However, secret NSA documents reveal that their surveillance is used to gather intelligence to achieve political goals for the US government. Agency documents show extensive surveillance of communications from allied governments, including the targeting of embassies and missions.[2] Reports from an NSA whistleblower also allege that the agency has targeted and intercepted communications from a range of high-level political and judicial officials, anti-war groups, US banking firms and other major companies and non-government organizations.[3] This suggests that the goal of surveillance is the further political empowerment of the NSA and the US government.

Ostensibly, the goal of the NSA surveillance is to prevent terrorist acts that would harm or kill people in the United States. But in reality, the primary goal is to enable greater control of that population (and others) by the US government. When questioned about this issue, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake was unequivocal about the goal of the NSA: “to own the internet and find out what everybody is doing.”[4]

“To own the internet” — Public-private partnerships in mass surveillance

The internet is, by its very nature, a decentralized arrangement, created by the interaction of many private and government servers operating on telecommunications networks throughout the world. This has always been a major bugbear of advocates for government control, who have denigrated this decentralized arrangement as being “lawless.” Since it began to expand as a tool of mass communication for ordinary people, advocates for greater government power have fought a long battle to bring the internet “under control” — i.e., under their control.

The goal of government “ownership of the internet” entails accessing the facilities that route traffic through the network. This is gradually being done through government control of the network infrastructure and the gradual domination of the primary telecommunications and internet companies that provide the facilities for routing traffic through the network. Indeed, one noteworthy aspect of the mass surveillance system of the NSA is that it has allegedly involved extensive cooperation with many “private” firms operating under US law. This has allegedly included major security, telecommunications and internet companies, as well as producers of network software and hardware.

Examples of such “public-private partnerships” are set out in leaked documents of the NSA. An unnamed US telecommunications company is reported to provide the NSA with mass surveillance data on the communications of non-US people under its FAIRVIEW program.[5] Several major computing and internet companies have also been explicitly named in top secret internal NSA material as being current providers for the agency under its PRISM program.[6] Several of these companies have issued denials disavowing any participation in, or prior knowledge of the program, but this has been met with some scepticism.[7] (Indeed, given that the NSA did not anticipate public release of its own internal training material, it is unlikely that the agency would have any cause to lie about the companies they work with in this material. This suggests that the material may be accurate.)

Many of these companies have supplied the NSA with data from their own customers, or created systems which allow the agency access to the information flowing through telecommunications networks. They have done so without disclosure to their own customers of the surveillance that has occurred, by using the blanket advisement that they “comply with lawful requests for information.” By virtue of being subject to the jurisdiction of US statutes, all of these companies have been legally prohibited from discussing any of their dealings with the NSA and they have been well placed for retaliatory action by the many regulatory agencies of the US government if they do not cooperate. In any case, it appears from present reports that many companies have been active partners of the agency, assisting the NSA with illegal surveillance activities by supplying data under programs with no legitimate legal basis.

This has been a common historical pattern in the rise of totalitarian States, which have often sought to incorporate large business concerns into their network of power. Indeed, the very notion of “public-private partnerships” in this sector readily brings to mind the worst aspects of fascist economic systems that have historically existed. The actions of US companies that have cooperated in the NSA’s mass surveillance operations calls into question the “private” status of these companies. In many ways these companies have acted as an extension of the US government, providing information illegally, in exchange for privileges and intelligence. According to media reports, “Such cooperation is an extremely delicate issue for the companies involved. Many have promised their customers data confidentiality in their terms and conditions. Furthermore, they are obliged to follow the laws of the countries in which they do business. As such, their cooperation deals with the NSA are top secret. Even in internal NSA documents, they are only referred to by the use of code names.”[8]

We began this discussion by asking the purpose of telecommunication and internet surveillance. The answer lies in the uses to which those surveillance powers are being put, and will inevitably be put, as the capacity of the NSA expands. The true purpose of the NSA is not to keep us safe. Its goal is to own the internet, to own our communications, to own our private thoughts — to own us.

Ben O’Neill is a lecturer in statistics at the University of New South Wales (ADFA) in Canberra, Australia. He has formerly practiced as a lawyer and as a political adviser in Canberra. He is a Templeton Fellow at the Independent Institute, where he won first prize in the 2009 Sir John Templeton Fellowship essay contest. Send him mail. See Ben O’Neill’s article archives.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.


[1] Mathes, M. (2013) At least 50 spy programs foiled by terror plots: NSA . The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 2013.

[2] MacAskill, E. (2013) New NSA leaks show how US is bugging its European allies . The Guardian, 1 June 2013.

[3] Burghardt, T. (2013) NSA spying and intelligence collection: a giant blackmail machine and “warrantless wiretapping program.” Global Research , 24 June 2013. Reports are from NSA whistleblower Russ Tice, who is a former intelligence analyst at the NSA.

[4] Wolverton, J. (2012) Classified drips and leaks. The New American, 6 August 2012. Emphasis added. Capitalization of “Internet” removed.

[5] Greenwald, G. (2013) The NSA’s mass and indiscriminate spying on Brazilians . The Guardian, 7 July 2013.

[6] Gelman, B. and Poitras, L. (2013) US, British intelligence mining data from nine US internet companies in broad secret program . The Washington Post, 7 June 2013. See also NSA slides explain the PRISM data-collecting program . The Washington Post, 6 June 2013.

[7] McGarry, C. (2013) Page and Zuckerberg say NSA surveillance program is news to them . TechHive, 7 June 2013.

[8] Ibid Poitras, p. 3.

My Views on “Eden against the Colossus” – Ten Years Later – Article by G. Stolyarov II

My Views on “Eden against the Colossus” – Ten Years Later – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
June 8, 2013

Not long after the release of the Second Edition of my 2003-2004 science-fiction mystery novel Eden against the Colossus, I was asked whether any of the views I expressed in the novel had changed since then, and, if so, to what extent.

I still strongly adhere to most of the fundamental philosophical principles expressed in Eden against the Colossus: the existence of an objective reality, the necessity for reason and rigorous inquiry in discovering it, the supreme value of the individual, the virtue of enlightened self-interest, and the immense benefits of technological progress for improving, elevating, and extending the human condition.

In the introduction to the Second Edition I discussed how, in retrospect, the future society described in Eden against the Colossus seems like a pessimistic scenario of how far humanity would progress technologically during the 750 years since the writing of the novel (for instance, in the lack of autonomous artificial intelligence or indefinite life extension – through there are many advanced robots and the average lifespan has increased by perhaps a factor of three in the world initially presented in the novel). This is a world very much characterized by a stark good-versus-evil conflict – that of the individualists/technoprogressives versus the Malthusians/Neo-Luddites. In the novel I occasionally use the term “environmentalists” to describe the Malthusians/Neo-Luddites; today, I would make a subtler distinction between those environmentalists who favor free-market and/or technological solutions to the problems they perceive, and those who see the only solutions as a “return to Nature” and a curtailment of human population. My quarrel is, and has fundamentally always been, only with those environmentalists who seek to reject or limit technological progress – particularly those who would use force to impose their preferences on others. Today I would be more careful to describe my views as anti-Luddite, rather than anti-environmentalist, in order to recognize as possible allies those environmentalists who would embrace technology with incidental benefits such as the reduction of pollution or the more efficient use of resources.

Were I writing the novel today, the society which results as the outcome of the individualist/technoprogressive vision would look quite different as well. The Intergalactic Protectorate is a libertarian system, but a highly centralized one nonetheless. Through its storyline though not through its explicit philosophical ideas, Eden against the Colossus illustrates the vulnerabilities of such a system and the ease of turning the machinery of the Protectorate against the very ideals it is supposed to protect. This is true, I now realize, of any large, centralized institution – public or private, controlled by virtuous people, or by mediocrities or crooks. As an example of this, one needs only to consider how the vast, largely voluntary centralization of information on the Internet – during the age of dominant providers of social-networking, search, and content-hosting services – has enabled sweeping surveillance of virtually all Americans by the National Security Agency through “backdoors” into the systems of the dominant Internet companies. No one person – and no one institution – can be the sole effective guardian of liberty. On the other hand, a society filled with political experiments, as well as experiments in decentralized technologies applied to every area of life, would be much more robust against usurpations of power and incursions against individual rights. Undertakings such as seasteading, a decentralized Meshnet, and Bitcoin have intrigued me in recent years as ways to empower individuals by reducing their dependence on large institutions and decreasing the number of ways by which power asymmetry enables those with ill intentions to get away with inconveniencing or outright oppressing innocent people.

A truly libertarian future will not resemble today’s corporate America on an intergalactic scale, only with considerably less regulation and a more stringently written Constitution enforced by a fourth branch of government possessing negative power only – essentially, the society portrayed in Eden against the Colossus. If humanity is to achieve an intergalactic presence, it will likely be in the form of hundreds of thousands of diverse and autonomous networks of people, largely possessing fluid social and political structures. The balance of power in such a world would greatly favor individuals who are hyperempowered by technology. Furthermore, if technology is to have the ability to radically enhance human intelligence and reasoning, then many of the philosophical disputes that have recurred throughout history may, in future eras, be settled by a more rigorous and nuanced framing of the ideas under consideration. The intellectual conflicts of the future are not likely to be of the hitherto-encountered “capitalist versus socialist” or “technoprogressive versus environmentalist” variety – since the evolution of technology and culture, as well as the shifting dynamics of human societies, will raise new issues of focus which will lead to interesting and unanticipated alignments of persons of various perspectives. It would be entirely possible for some issues to unite erstwhile opponents – as principled libertarians and principled socialists today both detest crony corporatism, or as technoprogressives and some technology-friendly environmentalists today support nuclear power and organisms bioengineered to clean up pollution.

With regard to the personal lives of the characters of Eden against the Colossus, my view today no longer necessitates a glorification of ceaseless work, though productivity remains important to me without a doubt. The enjoyment of the fruits of productive work – and the ability to increase the proportion of one’s time spent in that enjoyment without diminishing one’s productivity – are among the outcomes made possible by technological progress. Such outcomes are insufficiently illustrated in Eden against the Colossus. Moreover, were I to write the novel today, I would have more greatly focused on the ability of a technological society to provide individuals with the opportunity to balance work, leisure, relationships, and a broad awareness of numerous areas of existence.

Along with all of these qualifying statements, however, I nonetheless emphasize my view that the fundamental essence of the conflict depicted in Eden against the Colossus is still a valid and vital subject for contemplation and for consideration of its relevance to our lives. As long as humankind continues to exist in anything resembling its present form, two fundamental motivations – the desire for improvement of the human condition and the desire for restrictive control that would suppress efforts to alter the status quo – will continue to be at odds, in whatever unforeseeable future embodiments they might come to possess. Perhaps sufficient technological progress will shift the balance of human biology, environment, and incentives further away from the command-and-control motive and closer toward the pure motives of amelioration and progress. One can certainly hope.