The Dark Net – Well, How Terribly Cyberpunk Of You

Frankly, I am sometimes left rooted to the spot with my mouth hanging open at how much you couldn’t really make things up if you tried. (I’m sorry if, at first sight, this last sentence doesn’t seem to make sense. Read it again slowly.)

In my free time, when I’m not saving whales, teaching orphaned ravens to fly underwater, or re-charging battery hens, I sometimes dip into a book, and the genre of book that I enjoy a good dip into is science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk science fiction. Now, it might just be metal-tinted glasses, but it’s my vivid impression that many works of cyberpunk (particularly at the lower-rent end of the genre spectrum) contain a key common theme and that’s virtual worlds, existing on t’internet. Almost all of them have something recognisably hacker-like and most have the odd villain or two, making use of closed sections of the information superhighway upon which to perform the digital handbrake turns of mayhem. So far, so made up.

(If, at this point in time, you find your interest piqued by this sort of – can I? Should I? Call it literature? Well, you might like to have a jolly good dip into this which is, joking aside, genuinely brilliant and has that bit of virtual-worlds-(in this case virtual hells – plural, yes)-hidden-away schtick goin’ on. It’s not really cyberpunk, though. For that, you’ll need this.)

Anyway, now we come to the bit where I’m frozen to the spot with my mouth hanging open. Dearest Blog Trotters – check this out.

I’ll let the headline speak for itself – ‘users build bridge to Dark Net’. If you want to know more about it, then you’ll have to read the story – it involves something called TOR, which is apparently a ‘secret net’. Yes, people, a secret net, existing somewhere in, or behind, or in parallel with, the one we all know about. It’s a Dark Net – it’s hidden and it exists so that internetters can hide their existence and what they are doing. It is the stuff that cyberpunk is made of and – here’s the thing – it is not made up. It exists. People are using it and – more to the point – others are signing up to it, providing it with more bandwidth and, yes, protecting it.

You’ll probably notice that I got a bit hysterical during that last sentence, and this will give you a clue to where I’m coming from on this issue. Which is from the State of No Way, No How. I make no secret of my disdain for social media – mostly the empty, ego-fuelled meanderings of millions of people who can’t bear the silence in their own heads – and I’ve also made it clear that I do not think it to be harmless (that it’s harmful and has caused harm is, actually, beyond doubt). From a corporate and business perspective, it is not a sales or marketing tool, it has limited use as an active communications tool and its best function is as a reactive message delivery channel when something has gone wrong. Ironically, these days, when something corporate goes wrong, it’s most likely caused by, or spread by, social media in any case.

But a big issue is anonymity. I believe in the right to be anonymous and the right to privacy – but if you’re foolish enough to post your life on Facebook, then that’s your anonymity gone and don’t come crying to me. Sadly, privacy and anonymity on the net doesn’t just protect fine upstanding citizens like you and me – it also protects the evil bastard trolls who pick on people, who post inappropriate content, who revel in their internet Tourette’s and who  contribute to the well-publicised suicides.

Previously, on this blog, I posted about regulating the internet and how it was far too late. I suggested a way of doing it – the GAP (Global Authentication Portal) – and suggested that the nerds of the world would upheave at the mere suggestion of such a thing.

This was before I became aware of the Dark Net. Surely I am not the only person who thinks that this is just a step too far – yes, I understand that an untraceable net protects freedom of speech in oppressive regimes and allows citizen journalism to raise its voice against institutional wrongs – but I’m afraid I’d sacrifice these liberties to ensure that criminals, thieves and global scumbags can be brought to justice.

This is one type of anonymity that I do not believe to be a human right. As I’ve said – if you’re putting your stuff on the net – you’re not anonymous. Don’t complain – there’s only (relatively speaking) a few bad apples, but the barrel is rotten.