David Byrne slams NSA and big tech: “It is we who are being sold”

Byrne: "What if we began to develop and encourage the adoption of machines and a network that are actually secure?"

Topics: David Byrne, Internet, cool culture, innovation, NSA, big tech, Privacy, ,

David Byrne slams NSA and big tech: "It is we who are being sold"David Byrne (Credit: AP/Evan Agostini)

David Byrne, former Talking Heads frontman, author and all around creative guy, is fed up with the Internet. In fact, he posted yesterday (on Facebook, ironically) that he is “breaking up” with the Internet. In an essay that was adapted from a speech given last month at Bookforum, Byrne lays out his frustrations with NSA snooping and big tech’s data collection. The essay was then reprinted yesterday on Creative Time Reports and the Guardian.

In the essay titled “Breaking Up With the Internet,” Byrne ponders a “third way” to live in the Internet age. “One that doesn’t involve either passive resignation to being exploited or a Luddite smash-the-looms fantasy,” he writes. He, like many, is angered by the NSA and U.K. Government Communication Headquarters (or as he calls them, “government nerds looking through your webcam”) for snooping on our phone and Internet data.

Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft don’t avoid his rightful scolding. He calls out Google for trading services for our information:

“In return for access to much of the world’s knowledge, we hand over valuable personal information about everything we believe, everything we’re curious about, everything we desire or fear—everything that makes us who we are, at least to the retailers, advertisers and secret government agencies on the receiving end.”

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President Obama’s announcement today that the NSA will hand over its bulk collection of phone records, and Google’s plan to encrypt Gmail, are just small steps to plug giant security holes. Byrne laments that despite so much government snooping credit card information — for example, the massive breach at Target — still gets in the hands of thieves.

Byrne has many resolutions, from “breaking the Internet” to starting a new one. His suggestions are more imaginative and whimsical than those of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, but they both revolve around better security. Snowden reiterates encryption; Byrne advocates privacy as well, while conjuring up a beautiful image of Internet 2.0:

“Imagine this: in a new Internet, we’d still be able to send emails. Academic and nonprofit institutions would still share resources online. Wikipedia and web-based journalism would still exist. But if we can’t be tracked as we are now, a lot would change. Google would lose its primary sources of revenue—ads—and return to being a very good search engine, with a lot fewer employees. The NSA and the other data thieves and collectors would be helpless. No one would have data on countless innocent citizens that could be repurposed to God knows what ends. The Chinese couldn’t hack into the North American power grid.”

Byrne wonders if we have the willpower to — like ending a toxic relationship — walk away from convenience for something better, something “a little more human.”

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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