cover image Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet

Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet

Yasha Levine. PublicAffairs, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-61039-802-2

The internet is a cesspool of military-industrial villainy according to this vehement but muddled jeremiad. Journalist Levine argues that since its creation in the 1960s by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency the internet has been an instrument of surveillance and control. But aside from a few familiar points—the NSA’s monitoring of internet traffic to catch terrorists; Google and other search engines’ use of their services to sell targeted ads back to their users—most of the “secret history” he pinpoints, such as the government’s sending of files over the internet in the 1970s, seems innocuous. The tangible harms Levine identifies aren’t that convincing: he attacks the encrypted browser Tor, which gets U.S. government funding, as a sinister American infringement of foreign nations’ “sovereign control” because it helps people evade government internet censorship. Levine’s suspicion of both the state and capitalism tangles him in contradictions as he castigates the government for ceding the internet to private companies and internet companies for working with the government. Meanwhile, his glib, omnidirectional paranoia—“The Internet is like a giant, unseen blob that engulfs the modern world. There is no escape”—tags even whistle-blower Edward Snowden as an unwitting tentacle of the surveillance octopus. The result reads as an incoherent, aimless indictment of every aspect of the internet. [em](Feb.) [/em]