June 19, 2024
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June 19, 2024
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When you go online, you are likely to en­counter the Reset the Net campaign. Exactly one year after the first revelations from Edward Snowden about NSA spying, the campaign is designed to mobilize organizations and indi­viduals to resist government mass surveillance. The organizations involved, including the Elec­tronic Frontier Foundation, Google, and Reddit, want us all to take part in a “Thunderclap”—a boom intended to resonate through social me­dia platforms, promoting an anti-surveillance message. We’re also being offered The Privacy Pack—a selection of software and tips tailored to common computers, phones and tablets that, thankfully, “literally anyone can use.” In ad­dition, websites and the developers of mobile apps are urged to integrate encryption soft­ware into their services to better protect user data.

Older and wiser

The past year has thrown up some real questions about our expectations about pri­vacy online and the extent to which we ac­cept government surveillance. A certain an­tipathy and skepticism about going through conventional political channels to bring about change in this context has emerged, which ar­guably signals a failure of those elected to rep­resent us.

Unlike February’s The Day We Fight Back, which focused on putting pressure on Con­gress to make changes, Reset the Net is, in Ed­ward Snowden’s words, an opportunity to turn “political expression into practical action.” He argues that this is an initiative “to protect our universal human rights with the laws of nature rather than the laws of nations.”

Look who’s talking

It is perhaps questionable whether this campaign offers a real solution, despite the big names involved. There are more than 2 bil­lion people online and an awful lot of them will have to install encryption and privacy tools for this campaign to have any meaningful impact on mass surveillance programs such as Prism. It may well be that Reset the Net will be the very thing it doesn’t want to be—a public pressure movement rather than a practical solution.

It’s also interesting to see the campaign neglecting to address the role of the private sector in hoovering up our data in the first place. The relationship between Internet gi­ants like Google and the U.S. intelligence com­munity remains ambiguous, so their advice about locking out spies might be a little hard to swallow. Prism couldn’t exist without the sea of personal data that these corporations collect and redistribute hourly as part of their commercial activity.

The biggest irony, of course, is that we’re being urged to spread the word about Reset the Net and privacy abuse on Facebook, one of the most prolific providers of personal data to the NSA. This is particularly significant in light of the announcement that Facebook’s new mobile phone app will allow the corporation to listen to our phone calls in order to “improve user experience.” Looking critically at the pri­vate sector is as important as oversight of the NSA, but it has been overlooked by this cam­paign.

Beyond software updates

With Reset the Net, we are once again be­ing offered a technological solution to what is at heart a political problem: how we balance the often conflicting demands of personal pri­vacy and national security.

It’s exhilarating to witness and participate in online social movements that can bring about real change. The successful campaign against SOPA and PIPA shows how well it can work. These two bills, proposed in the U.S., sought to introduce prison sentences for ac­cessing pirated content. Websites linking to others that hosted copyright-infringing con­tent were also threatened with action, so Red­dit and Wired got on board. The petition as­sociated with the campaign attracted ten million signatures and the bills were eventually dropped by lawmakers.

The action taking place today is certain­ly evidence that governments will need to be much more responsive to public attitudes to­ward surveillance, a year after we first started to worry about it. But the private sector plays a role too. At least some of the companies in­volved should probably acknowledge that if they want us on board.


Madeline Carr does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would bene­fit from this article, and has no relevant affili­ations. The Conversation is funded by the fol­lowing universities: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, City, Durham, Glasgow Caledonian, Goldsmiths, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, The Open University, Queen›s University Belfast, Salford, Sheffield, Surrey, UCL and Warwick. It also receives fund­ing from: Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful EvidencTech companies want us all to reset the net. Reset the Net

Madeline Carr is a Lecturer in International Politics and the Cyber Dimension at Aberystwyth University

By Madeline Carr/www. theconversation

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