The diametrically opposed directions that the European Community and the United States are taking ought to be extremely disconcerting to those who reside in the United States. The United States, the country that invented the internet and the addressing protocol that identifies computers on the internet (known as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP), is moving rapidly to relegate TCP/IP to a means of spying on its citizens. The awful–perhaps nonexistent–regulatory regime in the US allows providers of network services to monitor what users do, to track their habits, and to share that information with just about any entity that requires. That entity could be marketers or the watchful eyes of the government.
Meanwhile, the EU is conducting the most rational debate on the status of the IP address of computers users. As the computer becomes a significant means of communication–through applications like Skype, Gizmo, Yahoo! MSN AIM and other instant messaging clients–the IP address will become as unique and as important as a telephone number. Hence, it ought to receive as much protection as a telephone number. Global governing bodies are beginning to realize this, but the different ways in which the US and the EU governing bodies are approaching the IP address’s significance is alarming.
The American government is actively extending and abusing the regulatory vacuum surrounding the IP address to let American companies and government bodies to gather information on every citizen. In contrast, the EU is actively discussing a regulatory regime that recognizes the importance of the IP address. While the US government is diminishing privacy, the EU bodies are seeking to protect and to expand privacy. Hence, the liberties in which Americans take excessive pride are being, in effect, exported to the European Union, where people can surf comfortably now and perhaps with even greater privacy in the future.