top secret

Recently, I mentioned Truthy, a proposed government project to monitor non-progressive views on the Internet. Realistically, there is probably no way of simply preventing this trend. Not when you consider that universities today graduate some arts majors who would otherwise end up as baristas, and can be easily persuaded both of the importance of such a project to society and the benefit to themselves of helping in some way.

Indeed, at the Washington Post, we read,

At some point, a compendium of condemnations against the Obama administration’s record of media transparency (actually, opacity) must be assembled. Notable quotations in this vein come from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who said, “It is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering”; New York Times reporter James Risen, who said, “I think Obama hates the press”; and CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, who said, “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”

USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page has added a sharper edge to this set of knives. Speaking Saturday at a White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seminar, Page called the current White House not only “more restrictive” but also “more dangerous” to the press than any other in history, a clear reference to the Obama administration’s leak investigations and its naming of Fox News’s James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act.

This is odd news coming from the “Beltway Social Register,” but we have every reason to believe it is true. I wrote about the growth of this kind of government here in 2012:

I have no reason to doubt that the unflattering things that Klein writes about Barack and Michelle Obama are true, because they would likely be true of anyone who made it to the top in an age of imperial presidency. The Obamas dissed the Kennedys and the Clintons, as Klein says, but does anyone doubt that those power families would have done the same to the Obamas, given a chance? They all know the rules by which they play, live, and govern lavishly.

The challenge any reformer faces is as great as the Civil War. Even a “successful” transition back to less dependence (and correspondingly more right to sit in judgment on government) would involve mass social disruption. Most of the world’s peoples who find themselves in this fix have opted for messianism, which Klein excoriates without seeming to understand it (see pp. 62-64).

Put simply, the dependent subjects need the President to have near-divine status. His rainbow halo is their only hope for continued sustenance. They will grant such a man vast powers and overlook vast failings or future threats, as long as they continue to feel personally secure under his rule. And despite the current US balance sheet, they do still feel secure.

That said, it is likely a bipartisan problem. Canada, for what it is worth, has majority Conservative government and I keep hearing comparable types of complaints.

The only thing the American Republicans have going for them in this electoral situation is that they owe nothing to the dying mainstream media that have served their opponents so well in recent years. But from the point of view of people like me who wish to preserve news gathering from hordes of government snoops, sneaks, spies, and snitches — who are always acting with the best of intentions, of course—is that enough reassurance?

Just to recap: The Internet means that today people can easily find out what is going on without having to locate a specific medium. We had municipal elections yesterday in Ontario (province of Canada). I found out who was elected mayor in both Ottawa (capital of Canada) and Toronto, our biggest city—without consulting any local medium or paying anyone anything.

Patience is requested from readers who have never known what life was like before the cell phone or the Internet. When I might have had to call a friend “long distance” in Toronto or go to a local full service news dealer to get hold of one of the Toronto papers (in case the Ottawa papers weren’t paying much attention to the Toronto election because they were busy with our own). In those days, information was costly and/or time-consuming. Now it isn’t.

A charitable way of understanding government efforts to reign in the Internet via intrusive projects like “Truthy” (who says Stephen Colbert is right anyway? Isn’t that a partisan opinion too?) might be this: Governments are having a hard time coping with the fire hose of information, are feeling vulnerable, and would like to just turn it off.

To go back to the days when citizens just could not find out so much, so quickly.

The problem is, as readers will readily see, there is a difference between being unable to find out information because the technology doesn’t exist and being forbidden to have it or persecuted for having it, even though the technology does exist.

That is why Internet freedom matters so much now.

Note: Some readers may chide me because it only “costs” a dollar for the newspaper and nothing for radio or TV. Until we count the contribution made by advertising or—in the case of public broadcasting—tax and donation dollars. These media were never cheap even when they were free.

See also: Is your telephone company paid to snoop on you? Telephone companies get paid to tell governments about their customers.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...