Passing Over Eisenhower

by Smari McCarthy

Passing Over Eisenhower

The Internet industries of America may just have inadvertently had their hats handed to them by the military industrial complex. Now it’s up to Europe to provide an alternative to the surveillance state.

Almost all of the major Internet industry giants are based in the United States. The reasons for this are historical and economical. The tradition of strong entrepreneurship practiced in the US since their inception, mixed with their purchasing power and history of acquiring any sufficiently profitable venture or fascinating technology from abroad, has put the US into a prime position to be the global leader in provision of Internet services.

That may just have ended. While US dominance over the roughly $11 trillion/year global Internet services market is still unchallenged, the damage that the revelations made about NSA’s vast global surveillance scheme may stymie their growth and perhaps even turn them into a localized recession in coming months and years.

The reason for this is Europe. While some Europeans are becoming increasingly comfortable with the notion of living in a surveillance state, most people on the European mainland still grow up hearing stories of totalitarian dictatorships, wars, genocides, and the Holocaust, and have a natural inclination to detest the notion of secret police. As more is learned of the US’s secret spying games – aided in part, it seems, by their English counterparts – outrage boils thickly in countries like France and Germany, where despite highly open and inclusive societies in some senses, the notions of privacy as practiced in the United States have often been thought of as quaint. While modern discourse on privacy is dominated by the philosophical foundations of the 4th Amendment, a slightly different, somewhat more subtle understanding of privacy reigns in European discourse, with an annoyingly elusive definition.

Over coming months and years, the US government’s betrayal of the people of the world will spur a new industry in Europe, not aimed necessarily at pure technological innovation, but rather simply creating secure, privacy-respecting alternatives to the software services provided by the US based companies that can no longer be trusted. We will see Czech and Hungarian startups bringing out new search engines and Croatian and Polish companies developing secure e-mail services. We’ll undoubtedly see surveillance-resistant chat software coming out of Austria and global map databases being developed in Estonia. Or something like that.

This is not to say that Europe is ready to take on such a massive task. There is a lot of soul-searching that needs to happen, both culturally and politically in Europe: while privacy is a shared value in most of the continent’s corners, due to the lingering fear of a return to totalitarianism – fueled in no small part by the ascension of the likes of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán to power – there is still a phantom of apprehension in the interactions between the tribes that make up Europe that seems to foreshadow balkanization. On top of this we have a schizophrenic political class that speaks of free trade one minute and restrictions the next, amongst whom are those who get raging hard-ons at the merest mention of censoring pornography or anything else they find offensive or overly stimulating.

That said, this may well turn out to be Europe’s decade in tech, and all because the United States failed to heed an important and timeless warning: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” Eisenhower’s parting words to a nation being enveloped in a cold war were colder still, as a man who had seen a beast grow out of hand during his years in office was urgently pointing at the writing on the wall. But the years passed and the beast grew – premonitions turning to loathsome misery with each passing President who failed to stop the surveillance state.

And now, the military-industrial complex may have destroyed the US’s Internet-industrial complex.

Just as the last two thirds of humanity are preparing to transition into cyberspace, the NSA’s actions have revealed it to be far more of a Wild West than any government feels comfortable admitting. The rule of law breaks down really fast when there’s no clear monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. There are few acts as violent as stealing everybody’s secrets. Almost two hundred countries are screaming for legitimacy, but the one that stayed the most silent – except when berating, say, Iran, for not respecting “Internet freedom” – was the one whose legitimacy had already been eradicated by their violations of the values upon which their country was founded.

Passing over Eisenhower may have been the death-knell for American democracy, but it’s exposure may sound the beginning of a new era of human rights. Those coming online for the first time a few years or decades from now may be faced with a world altogether different from the one we now live in, perhaps partly in that they will have a choice between the monitored networks of Oceania or the liberal cryptarchies of Eurasia. The market will undoubtedly have its say in what happens after that.

For now though, there is a plan emerging. The hackers and the human rights activists, the net-freedom-blah people and the technophiles have been awakening from the post-Arab spring burnout and remembering the things that need to be done to prevent the next Mubarek. Better, simpler, more usable cryptography. Peer-to-peer, verifiable, anonymous monetary systems and democratic decision making systems. Secure communications and full transparency within governance.

During the transition to this new European future, a lot of data is going to have to be stored – refugee data seeking asylum from the terrors of the Anglo-American surveillance state. While the governments of Sweden and the UK may be somewhat too eager to share the data flowing through their resident data centers with their American pals, there are a few countries, notably Iceland, who are willing to provide a strong legal environment, cheap renewable energy, and good connectivity to the rest of the world. Data centers are not the future, but they are the present, and for now there’s an amazing business opportunity out there for countries who are willing to stand up and defend data sovereignty, the notion that individuals have the right to privacy and control over the data they generate.

To those who wish to practice data sovereignty before it becomes cool, I’d say: Come to Iceland. Bring data.

6 responses to “Passing Over Eisenhower

  1. The proportion of the American economy devoted to the military has been in decline for about 50 years.

  2. This is the Iceland that just banned all access to pornography, is it? Why would I want to bring my data to that kind of information tyranny? Most of it’s porn!

  3. Yes – moral panics have little to do with the military.

    Iceland has no military.

  4. Julie near Chicago

    *Ssshhhh, Paul*. Somebody might hear you.

    They would be upset.

  5. Julie near Chicago

    (That was in response to Paul’s first comment. There are some people who seem to think that 98.739% of the U.S. budget goes to the military.)

  6. What interests me is who influenced Ike’s last speech (he was not in the habit of writing his own speeches by 1960 – partly because of ill health, partly because writing one’s own speeches had gone out of fashion since the New Deal created a fundamentally different form of American Federal government).

    Was it the same “New Conservatives” who had whispered in Eisenhower’s ear (“yes, in a literal way, what the Senator is saying is true – but he is a vulgar man obsessed with dragging distinguished families in the mud over Communist links that are no longer a danger, so in a higher sense he is not serving the truth, and the progress of America would be better off without the Senator) against Joe McCarthy only a few years before.

    Yes the ex boxer (known even in his boxing days for being “brave but not skilful”) was vulgar – he was a hard drinking Irish American who said what was in his mind (without calculation or planning) and whose tactic in any situation (regardless of the odds) was “head down – CHARGE!” . But the defeat (the stab-in-the-back betrayal) of the last serious effort to combat Communist influence in the United States (which was anything but the “spent force” that was “no longer a problem” [“dragging up the past in a way that causes distress to so many distinguished families”] that Eisenhower’s advisers told him it was) led to the leftist domination of American culture (from the media to the education system) that became obvious in the 1960s (not that McCarthy was specifically interested in cultural power – but the thing he was interested in, leftists in GOVERNMENT, is specifically linked to leftist cultural domination – for example it was a single rule change at the FCC in the early 1960s that handed over American television over to the left, whilst still keeping the guise that it was private).

    I rather suspect that the “New Conservatives” with their well cut suits and Yale accents (and their ability to whisper poison into an old man’s ear?) would not have been entirely upset with what has happened in the United States (indeed the Western world) since Eisenhower went into retirement.

    The present Manchurian President did not come from nowhere – and if he had a heart attack tomorrow it might make little difference.

    Before Ian jumps in – I am not making the mistake of confusing sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll with Communism (although Frankfurt School people worked on how to EXPLOIT this – not the same thing as creating it).

    Things like sober suited FCC administrators forbidding private companies directly producing television shows over which they had EDITORIAL control (handing over editorial control of all entertainment television shows to a handful of people at ABC, CBS and NBC) is a rather different matter. As are school and college text books.

    Private companies may produce the textbooks – but they produce what the government wants. Just as the administrators at three broadcasters produced the sort of thing the FCC types liked (and they tended to be much the same sort of people, educated in the same universities. anyway)…

    The old practice of any company being able to pay an entertainment show (which it had created) to be broadcast was banned for a reason – after all it would be “vulgar” to have private enterprise shown in a good light.

    Just as (for example) Mexican Revolutionaries must always be shown in a positive way in Hollywood movies. They can be shown as drunk and sex obsessed – but they must be shown as basically being on the right side (that Social Revolution is a good idea).

    Nothing to do with their being no market for anti Mexican Revolution films (the one or two that have been made over the last century have been very successful commercially) – but because “Progressive, educated people” must support the Mexican Revolution – because it was “against the rich”.

    The fact that the people who make the films are rich themselves seems to have escaped their notice (just as “corporations are devils” does not seem to ring any warning bells in the corporations that make the television shows and films that have dominated American culture for decades now – somehow it does not bother then to make entertainment sshows and films whose message is that they themselves should be killed).

    Perhaps the idea of the rich Hollywood types is “we are not Catholics – and the film only shows rich Catholics as bad”. But that is not true of many films and television shows (or of the school and college text books) – which show rich people (regardless of their religion) and all “big business” as evil and needing to be destroyed.

    Again nothing to do with the commercial market – when a pro business film (somehow) manages to break through the unionised and regulated Hollywood mess, it tends to do well commercially (people want to see it).

    And the “Libertarian left”?

    Are they really Communists – or do they serve the left unwittingly?

    I do not actually care.

    What matters is what side they are in practice – not what is going on in terms of their motivations.