Why Internet surveillance will never work

Government monitoring of Internet traffic would snare everyone but the cyber criminals

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To be clear, I'm not talking about private or enterprise networks here. If a company owns the network and the Internet connection, it can block or hamper attempts to evade acceptable use of those resources through a variety of means, both proactive and reactive. Do not under any circumstances think that your use of Tor on a company network will go unnoticed. I am, however, talking about government monitoring of private broadband connections, filtering and inspecting the data at higher levels, and sharing information with private companies in order to combat "cyber security threats."

If you do not want the IRS to read your personal email, there are ways to ensure that can't happen. If you want to evade a content filter placed on a public network, such as public Wi-Fi or 3G or LTE network, that's just as simple, once you know how. This is how the tech works. Throwing laws at this perceived problem ultimately helps increase the odds that a bad actor will be able to communicate without interference or appraisal.

At no time in history was it possible to maintain constant surveillance on an entire population. Many authorities believe this opportunity now exists, but they are incorrect. It may now be easier to keep tabs on the mundane and inconsequential at the expense of the right to privacy, but by doing so, it becomes much harder to gain visibility into criminal communications. By trying to track everything, government will effectively limit its information gathering to that of law-abiding citizens and unskilled criminals. The smart ones, the ones that truly bear watching, will be nowhere to be found because they've long since evaded such measures.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe that this is a surmountable problem, and their answer is further, harsher restrictions on Internet traffic. The only effect this will have is to further burden an otherwise open network with blockades and further reduce its usability to share information globally or even regionally.

If we continue to see a pattern of governmental espionage (legal or otherwise) and content control exerted over the Internet, we run the very real risk of the past twenty years looked at as an aberration, a time when somehow, ideas and communication between people throughout the world was free and open. It will be a world essentially bookended by AOL-style cages, and as a race, we have nothing to gain by being placed in that box.

This story, "Why Internet surveillance will never work," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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