Libre Solutions Network

Freedom in the digital age


The world wide web is no stranger to government control. The Internet itself was created by the US Military, and governments across the world have subsidized Internet infrastructure in all kinds of ways. Many factors, such as the economies of scale, and sheer workforce size give large organizations an immense advantage when it comes to shaping the future of cyberspace. Just as individuals struggle with troubles relating to digital privacy & security, so do large organizations and governments.

In response, governments across the world are moving fast to address these concerns. With the motive and means to transform the fundamental elements that lay the foundation for our digital lives, a tidal wave of change is taking place and just beginning to accelerate. The winning move isn’t to challenge the whole tsunami directly, but rather to find the right waves that can carry us to where we would like to be. Indifference and apathy will certainly lead us to a similar place it took us all during the big tech era: to dependence and exploitation.

“I am not familiar with the history of how the Internet/tech companies have infiltrated my life– I only know one day the past, the before Internet part of life was like in another galaxy, and I was forcibly acclimated into accepting an intrusive technology if I want to use the Internet or a “smart” phone.”

Written by a friend

If nothing else, this should be a reminder of the dire necessity to be vigilant of how governments and large corporations can shape cyberspace to tilt the balance of power against the public. Many governments like to be permissive in all the ways that don’t impact prioritized policy objectives, then turn brutal the moment public opinion starts to shift against those policies. As the digital world has taken hold over more and more aspects of our lives, now more than ever, we all need take responsibility for shielding ourselves and others from such abuses.

Instead of continuing to let the web be dictated by American Tech Companies, Europe has a bold new strategy to plan, build, and enforce a new vision for cyberspace. The European Union’s Next Generation Internet, or NGI for short, aims to terraform cyberspace to represent the values of their elite. This plan is explicitly aimed at changing the Internet not just for Europeans, but for the entire world as well.

Understanding the “Next Generation Internet”

If you take a look at the brochure, it self-describes the plan as a “Human Internet for a better future”. Despite this, the document starts out making it explicitly clear that many technocratic ideals are directly woven into the plan. Surveillance, censorship, and more digital intrusion into our lives aren’t depicted as problems to be solved, but rather responsibly managed.

The Internet is the engine of digitisation of our society and our economy. As connectivity increases, the boundaries between the real and the digital world are blurring. With the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT), multimedia content and social media,the Internet offers an unprecedented access to data and online services.
Artificial intelligence helps to extract meaning from this data and to embed autonomy and intelligence into networks, connected objects and services. However, there has been an erosion of trust in the Internet following revelations about the exploitation of personal data, large-scale cybersecurity and data breaches, and growing awareness of online disinformation.

Do you feel the warm and fuzzy human feelings yet? To go further, this is an excellent example of “brokering legitimacy”. Which is when advocates for solving a problem undermine their cause by carving out counter-productive exceptions to their principles. This process uses the very real concerns about privacy and security to justify more control. Effectively binding critics of the plan, because it’s leveraging the unjustifiable aspects of the status quo to dismantle the parts worth preserving.

It is naive to believe that the European Union, which very recently pushed to backdoor everyone’s web traffic, is somehow sincerely interested in the privacy or even security of their citizens. I can wholeheartedly believe that European governments are very concerned about their own security from the public, Big Tech, and foreign entities alike. As cyberwars escalate moves are required to innovate not just their own systems, but to make changes to the systems that their citizens use as well. The following quote is from the Next Generation Internet Policy Summit in 2020, I find it exemplary of the kind of spirit that animates the initiative.

[Relevant Transcript]

In the name of resolving a wide variety of issues created by the US Government and American Tech companies, Europe is working to consolidate information control over the Internet. In hindsight, it appears that the laissez-faire approach governments took with large tech companies was to merely buy time while more sophisticated digital surveillance techniques were built up. Hence the desire for rapid regulatory and technological innovation emphasized in the above quote.

In late 2019 Aral Balkan spoke with the European Parliament. Raising many important points, he pleaded with them to kill ‘surveillance capitalism’. The video is absolutely worth watching to get an understanding of how where we are bridges to where the European Union would like to go.

[Regarding citing Facebook]

If this is the presumption under which you are regulating the Internet, I despair about the future of human rights and about the future of our democracy.

You’re going blindly towards a Silicon Valley model, I don’t know why you’re doing this.

In short, Aral seems unconvinced that the EU will actually go far enough to radically support citizen’s digital autonomy and is instead trying to import aspects of the big tech control regime under state control. It’s hard to disagree with that perspective, and he exemplifies what actual opposition to these problems looks like.

As frustrating as some aspects of the Next Generation Internet vision are, it is to the EU’s credit that this is a massive transparent undertaking. Much of it is not only open public knowledge, but features initiatives in which open participation is encouraged. This appears to be the case largely because the concerns around censorship and paternalism seem to be more broadly socially accepted in Europe, a critical sign that social acceptance of censorship is what entrenches it. The way in which the Next Generation Internet is being rolled out is very effective at neutralizing any outright opposition, to the degree it is even possible. It is easy to see how such sweeping and extreme transformations made in other domains would use a similar model.

It is a foolish and dangerous mistake to fall into the trap of thinking governments are entirely comprised of out-of-touch bureaucrats with no understanding of technology. In fact, these reforms are being drawn up by people with an incredibly high level of understanding that is quite difficult to match, independent reformers (if there truly are any) are at a serious disadvantage.

Fully Embracing Open Source

One of the advantages the European Union has, is that they have recognized the immense opportunity of actually leaning into the open source development model. While North America bickers about remote work and commercial office space, the EU is harnessing the power of efficient decentralized work. By taking the “build it and they will come” approach, they are entirely out-maneuvering competitors with a treasure-trove of opportunity that has been laying dormant in people’s apathy and defeatism for over a decade.

The NLnet Foundation funds a wide variety of Open Source projects and tools that fit within the Next Generation Internet vision. This is good in some ways, notably that many of these projects are Free Software, which means that if things do go wrong, at least people can modify the projects for their own needs. One does have to wonder what the exact terms of the agreement are, and what ‘carrots and sticks’ are used to ensure compliance.

Such explicit means may not be necessary however. It’s entirely possible that this is merely a circumstance where both governments and individuals have aligned interests to resist foreign surveillance and control. When it comes to how the Internet is currently controlled, it’s not always individual software itself that’s the culprit. While Google/Apple/Facebook may be reading your messages, there are other ways to achieve the same goals.

Open standards, protocols, and Free Software are all things that benefit everyone. The degree of benefit will naturally vary on the nature, purpose and quality of the project. It is critical that people seize the opportunity created from this deluge of resources being thrown into making useful software. To be clear, the NGI vision absolutely includes a lot of genuinely good ideas and solutions that should be taken seriously. It also supports many excellent and important projects that shouldn’t be seen as ’tainted’ simply due to association with this initiative.

Like similar initiatives, I believe many of these projects are selected because it is clearly an elegant and efficient way to achieve particular goals. One would hopefully understand that many technologies, but especially digital technologies can be used for good, evil, and everything in-between. An example worth pointing out is garage which appears to be building a highly-performant file storage server that organizations and individuals alike can both use for particular purposes. Naturally, there are some aspects which will benefit larger organizations more, but that will vary from project to project.

To be clear, I still fully intend to use and support PeerTube and Misskey for the foreseeable future, despite them both being supported, along with wider support for the fediverse. I am very concerned that EU funding many excellent (and important) FOSS projects will be used by people with different agendas to undermine Free Software generally.

It would be all-too-easy for private companies to start selling unverifiable software-suites in the name of promising you “real security with none of that open-source stuff”. Falling for that kind of affinity scam is how you end up falling for things like the so-called "Freedom Phone" which inevitably includes a lot of open source tools because they’re just outright better than what most people can achieve in their own time. Simplistic, binary thinking is what sabotages serious and meaningful reform. Even worse it can very often enable the worst aspects of the project by allowing them to be justified by the important parts of the initiative.

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Just because there is good to be done, that doesn’t mean there aren’t rough edges to be concerned about. Keeping in mind that the primary motivation for the Next Generation Internet has more to do with protecting governments from the people rather than the other way around. With decades of surveillance scandals, censorship, and corruption there are good reasons to consider not further empowering governments through digital systems and tools.

Another serious concern one should consider is that the NGI project is very much a Covid Crisis era initiative. NGI Dapsi which did support an excellent project like PostmarketOS for linux phones, also sponsored the creation of a vaccine passport candidate, the Digital Immunization Passport. Information control initiatives such as tracking and combating so-called misinformation and disinformation, are very much a foundational principle of the EU’s strategic priorities.

In early 2020, The European Commission published their Strategic plan for 2020-2024. The strategic plan outlined “A Europe Fit for the Digital Age”, with 6 specific objectives:

  1. Europe’s strategic autonomy is ensured in critical technology areas
  2. European single market for data where data can flow for the benefit of all and where rules for access and use of data are fair, practical and clear
  3. Artificial intelligence that is human-centric, ethical, sustainable and that respects EU values
  4. A fair, competitive and resource efficient digital economy
  5. A cyber resilient Europe, promoting digital identities for all Europeans, while protecting their e-privacy
  6. A modern, open and pluralistic society in the digital age where online disinformation is countered and diverse cultural content is available to all Europeans

Objective 1 makes it exceedingly clear why so many resources have been put into great software that actually works well. The EU, unlike the Canadian government, actually understands how to get meaningful results. With a strong desire to actually augment their national digital sovereignty, better privacy tools are sorely needed.

Objective 2 is arguably the most interesting. It seems that the EU intends to become the single broker for all of Europe’s data. This is a fascinating (if not outright terrifying) concept, and is effectively the legalization of domestic mass surveillance. It is clear that the level of intrusion will be determined by how the EU leadership decides the benefits they receive outweigh the risks to the public.

Objective 3 is just an outright fanciful delusion at best and a desire to single-handedly regulate away general-purpose computing at worst. One has to wonder if the “EU values” referenced in the documentation represent values of the European public or values that are being imposed on them.

Objectives 4,5,6 greatly enhance state control over the Internet and where it reaches into public life. After decades of American administrations using “national security” as a pretext for all kinds of abuses, it’s high time we understand that national sovereignty doesn’t quite mean what it used to. From everything we have seen, it is clear that this vision is entirely about protecting the European Union’s political structure rather than it’s people.


Despite many people being seriously concerned about hostile governments working to destroy the Internet, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the European Union. Many significant regulations have already been put into place and it seems that they are only the beginning. It is understandable, if not outright laudable, for the EU to take it’s digital sovereignty seriously. It is however, our role to ensure that we are doing what we can to ensure those gains aren’t at the expense of people’s ability to dissent or otherwise participate in society.

Learn about Free Software, learn how to contribute to open source, these models are already clearly demonstrated to be the most efficient way forward on a wide variety of issues. This doesn’t automatically mean that everything that is made that way is wholly benign. It means that our participation matters. What we do to decide how we build our tools and how they are used are vitally important concerns. The devil is in the details, as they say. The last thing I want to see, is people sharing this post to say “X project is funded under the NGI, so therefore it’s bad!” in a bizarre knee-jerk reaction.

Anyone who even partially understands the state of online mass surveillance is keenly aware that the problem is larger than any single project or tool. We should absolutely be concerned about the state and future of projects that are entirely dependent on the EU for funding, but we have a role in this too. If we aren’t proactively focused on supporting development ourselves we can hardly expect for it to be built out of nothing.


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Published: Feb 25 2024
Tags: Government Internet Decentralization Censorship Surveillance European Union Next Generation Internet

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