When the web became commonplace, the decision-makers ignored it, considering it irrelevant. As a result, freedom flourished online. People weren't just consuming content; they were creating it.
But, eventually, politicians and leaders realised how important the internet is. And they realised how useful the internet can be for other purposes — especially for surveillance of citizens. The two chief inventions of our generation — the internet and the mobile phone — changed the world. However, they both turned out to be perfect tools for the surveillance state. And in such a state, everybody is assumed guilty.
US intelligence agencies have a full legal right to monitor foreigners — and most of us are foreigners to the Americans. So when we use US-based services, we are under surveillance — and most of the services we use are US-based.
Advancements in computing power and data storage have made wholesale surveillance possible. But they've also made leaking possible, which will keep organisations worrying about getting caught over any wrongdoing. The future of the web is hanging in the balance between parties that want to keep us under surveillance and parties that want to reveal the nature of such surveillance. Both parties have the data revolution on their side.
While governments are watching over us, they know we're watching over them.
This column was originally published in Wired's Web at 25 Special. Be sure to read the other columns from Tim Berners-Lee, Jimmy Wales, Vint Cerf and others