The collateral damage of surveillance
The sum total of these actions may be enough to reduce the positive impacts of the Internet -- very quickly, at that. If enough people believe the Internet is not safe anymore, they will stop using it in their typical ways. They may stop researching sensitive personal matters and cease communicating with friends and families about their lives for the very rational fear that a nameless government contractor is watching them in real time, recording their conversation.
This is not a question of trying to find criminals or terrorists, nor is it a case of most people not being "important" enough for the government to care about. When they can cast such a wide net and retain all of that information, your "importance" as a potential terrorist suspect doesn't really matter. If they've recorded a Skype chat you had with your parents, your children, or friends, run it through their speech-to-text converter, and stored that text in a database, the government now knows intimate, personal details about your health, life, and plans, all easily searchable and all collected without any demonstrable need or warrant.
This will also make many people think twice about purchasing hardware that could conceivably be turned into a surveillance device. Beyond the obvious example of the smartphone, I think Microsoft has made a huge blunder with the Xbox One. To release a new gaming console for everyone's living room that requires a constant Internet connection, features a camera that works in the dark, is required for operation, and never stops looking or listening even when it's "off" raised some privacy questions initially. But launching it a few weeks before Microsoft was listed as a company reportedly working with the NSA on covert surveillance of millions of people? That's the stuff of pure fiction -- except it isn't.
We can't know exactly how much damage these entities are going to do to the Internet while they all vie for control; we can only hope that a massive public outcry can slow down or halt the effects. Otherwise, we'll find the single greatest collaborative invention in the history of the world reduced to an unusable pile of rubble.
This story, "The end of the open Internet as we know it?," 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.