Hail Napster: How Napster led to moral decline and NSA Surveillance seen in CitizenFour

Internet Access Screenshot

The Internet of Things (IoT) and online practices of late have really turned into the Wild Wild West. Hacking, identify theft, rude behavior, scams, dishonesty, and malicious attacks are now very commonplace. Ads blanket your view of web pages with often deceptive hidden links or malware. It’s often not apparent if a person is who they say they are. It’s become a lawless environment. Heck, even our own U.S. government & NSA are involved in hacking and clandestine Internet activity. But, how did the Digital Age deteriorate so to this point?

Napster Logo
Napster Logo

One of the earliest and most instrumental web sites that helped shape our online behavior and this social change was Napster, the first music file sharing web site, which allowed free music file sharing from about 1999 – 2001. It was eventually shut down for copyright violations, which the company should have known was unlawful. Because of this, I believe Napster helped to shape (deteriorate) today’s Internet rules and etique more than any other single tech or social net advance. I believe it also gave the NSA agency more political cover in their bold surveillance programs here in the U.S., as reported in the documentary, CitizenFour. And since about 2009, hacking into medical, government, and company web sites has become much more commonplace. Because of these omline practices, many laws, long held traditions, and common decency have been tossed aside.

As I dwelled on the documentary, CiticenFour, and our economic, social, and political challenges, I am reminded of the role that Napster played via technology in changing the way we obtain music, and in ushering more free wheeling practices on the Internet. Today, I find the philosophy, “If it ain’t locked down, it’s yours,” very problematic. This new era philosophy is also reaping havoc on social & public policy. And in a round about way, CitizenFour is bringing discussion to the moral failures of our time, which could be corrected, or made worse, by Digital Age advances.


I was recently reading about the Anthem & UCLA health plan data breachs and how as many as 80M subscribers and affiliates had personal information stolen. I grew up in the 60s during an era of “free expression.” But we didn’t steal! And I can say [today] that the only laws we didn’t respect were ones that were WRONG! All but a couple have since been corrected.

Today, many people, organizations, and companies outright thumb their noses at our laws, while they attempt to rewrite them through activism, lobbying, and PACS. Often their efforts are morally and legally wrong. For instance, the news reports of Planned Parenthood being involved in selling fetal [abortion] organs. Where in Roe v. Wade did the court provide for that? These groups don’t care about the country, nor the consequences of their actions. There is ample evidence today that these kinds of widespread dishonest beliefs and methods of conducts, are responsible for most of the upheaval and suffering around the world. In the U.S., this becomes even more complicated through disinformation through political activism and the media, i.e. the “spin game.” But what we need are wisdom, leadership, and trust.

Knowledge is where spiritual enlightenment meets wisdom
Knowledge is where spiritual enlightenment meets wisdom

I seem to recall a couple of years ago all the excitement in the U.S. news media about the “Arab Spring.” My understanding of this was that the Internet Age had finally had its presence felt in the very troubled Middle East, and reports were everywhere that mobile devices & Internet connectivity were going to enable local populations to take back control over their own communities, states, and countries. But here we are two years later, and we don’t hear about the Arab Spring. We don’t hear about freedom. We don’t even hear about self-governance. All we hear about is ISIS, beatings, beheadings, and thousands on migrants in desperate need of help! How in the #%!*? did freedom disolve to this?

Arab Spring North Africa

I think the leadership of the U.S. was philosophically complicet in the failures of the Arab Spring, when the Obama administration shared that they too would shut down the Internet in the event there were some type of uprising here in the states. Furthermore, I have a gut sense that leaders around the world, albeit of free nations, or vicious dictaters over troubled regions, have been sent signals that the West will not intervene politically. So I’m confused. How can we on one hand say that we want people to be free to self govern, while at the same time say that if you actually try and do it, you’ll be “turned off” digitally?

And for the above reasons, I attribute the free wheeling philosophies of the Digital Age to the slow U.S. & global economy and general lack of trust and unrest. I additionally feels these views empowered NSA to feel it was permissible to collect information on good Americans, which could potentially be used/sold in matters unrelated to homeland security.

Today’s digital age philosophy has also minimized the lawlessness in data breaches in areas like medical and other web sites, which is compromising the availability of new mHealth technologies, but also slowing global growth. The philosophy also deflects the moral failures of outsourcing millions of American jobs with little regard to future consequences. And lastly, these free-wheeling views have given activist groups unprecidented say via social media on such matters of public policy and spending, to the dentriment of others much more in need. In the end, it seems the best “liar” wins. Truth and regard for your fellow American comes 2nd.

Today’s dishonest practices have spilled over into conflicting policies on telemarketing too, for example. Though overseen by the FCC, telemarketers can legally obtain and use telephone technology that had been coveted by terrorists and stalkers! FCC instructs affected Americans to file Do Not Call List complaints on their web site. But that web site is probably hacked too. Telemarketers now even give a recorded call back message that you must add YOUR number to THEIR Do Not Call List, which is false. This is just another broad attempt to skirt the law. FCC law is undermined here by an industry permitted to use what would otherwise be defined as “clandestine” equipment.

In another FCC matter, Congress passed the CALM Act in 2012 to end loud TV commercials, which among other things, poses health issues for millions of Americans. But the loud TV commercials continue. FCC recommends filing complaints on each and every loud commercial. Be we could do that until the cows come home.

Still, in recent years, much of the focus of new laws and enforcement has with sexual expression and sexual orientation, at the expense of many more at-risk [esp. homeless] Americans, jobs leaving the country, failed domestic policies, and protecting our borders.

Homless man awaits help
Homless man awaits help

The country (and Internet’s) new philisophy also led to very little legal action on the 2008 collapse of our banking system, an investigation of the false information leading to the Iraq War (now ISIS), and the ill effects of millions of undocumented workers in the U.S. who are depressing wages, overcrowding cities, and straining city services. There is irony here too – that despite so much emphasis on free expression, there is little substantive discussion on issues like illegal immigration, as Donald Trump has found found out, because the discussion of the subject facts & terms is “politically incorrect.”

Knowledge is Power
Knowledge is Power

Any discussion seems to lead to opposing sides spewing false statements and trying to exploit social media for their own devices. Today, Congress and states are left with trying to craft policy that will not withstand the test of time. So, Hail Napster for helping to make this all possible. But, maybe we were headed there nonetheless, and Napster just gave us the opportunity to screw ourselves! But not everyone used Napster & file sharing. I didn’t.

Helping those in need with knowledge, opportunity, and mental health and medical care.
Helping those in need with knowledge, opportunity, and mental health and medical care.

While we as citizens are told to stand down and accept a more lawless society, our government has broadened its domestic powers with policy like the Patriot Act, which permits local police to acquire military weaponry, forbidden by the Constitution. It has become a gray area. These weapons could someday be used against Americans wanting to demonstrate because they disagree with policy. Not a comforting thought. I admit the documentary, CitizenFour, opened my eyes to a lot of this.

But, I was already disappointed with our country of late. There’s a lot to be concerned about. We have policy that is likely to bring about failure, and widespread suffering. Some of these policies are not even founded in law or the U.S. Constitution.

While some hail Napster as one of the great innovations of the Digital Age, I view it as perhaps the 1st major failure of the Internet, the “nuclear bomb” of sorts of the Digital Age. It revealed how we as a society could cast aside longstanding law and moral practices morality, merely for greed! The Napster & NSA failures [CitizenFour documentary] should remind us of our larger responsibilities as a democracy and free society. There is an inherent imperitive “moral clause” in self-goverance. Once this is breached, we must act swiftly to repair it before decay & lawlessness spread. Our 911 tragedy revealed a lot about failed U.S. policies. It also gave way to the Patriot Act and the government’s endless claims over privacy, in the absence of war or any verifiable threat.

Prosperity is based on sound information.
Prosperity is based on sound information.

For me personally, I am still waiting to find out who killed President John F. Kennedy. Why the secrecy? Today the government wants to behave like they’re still in the 1960s. Or like the Catholic church of old!

Napster also changed the way we view intellectual property, commerce, and common decency over the Internet. More than any other single piece of technology, Napster was able to coerce millions of Americans and Internet users down an immoral course to obtaining music without paying for it. This no doubt helped shape today’s lawless social order on the Internet.

Artificial intelligence comes in many forms. Let us not forget who we serve.
Artificial intelligence comes in many forms. Let us not forget who we serve.

So where are we headed now? These technologies are far less useful without trust and adoption. I sense that millions of Internet users are holding back on new purchases and projects today because of uncertainties over Internet privacy and adoption.

On one hand, I can make the argument that the Internet has done more HARM than GOOD. Many mobile apps are in violation of reasonable protections of privacy. Everyone has been assuming that some knowledgeable group or government agency has been reviewing the Permission Agreements which we all [x] sign on. But the truth is, the permissions are often open ended and unreasonable, and few know to what degree their privacy is compromised. Up until the 1980s or so, our country had many highly respected public interest organizations looking out for us. Today, that seems limited to the ACLU, which I’m not even sure if they’re based in America. With so much clandestine surveillance and conflicts of interests, I fear public interest organizations can no longer protect us.

Napster ushered in a seedy new era for the Internet, breaking laws, lowering morals.
Napster ushered in a seedy new era for the Internet, breaking laws, lowering morals.

I was never a Napster member or fan. Despite being very techie, I never illegally downloaded a single song. Not that I wouldn’t on occassion borrow and copy a CD from a friend. But infrequently. And between good friends. Still, Napster did serve as a means to an end. It helped to solve the contraints and fair pricing of today’s music.

In 2015, we find ourselves in familiar territory again needing technology to solve the “unfairness” in the unavailability of TV programs. Access to programs must be fair and reasonable, which we learned in language used by the presiding judge in the DeflateGate NFL case, throwing out Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension on appeal.

In looking back, and forward, each one of us must decide for ourselves on what we view as right and wrong.

Today, we are bombarded with misinformation from groups with hidden financial interests in matters. Still, despite my criticisms on this blog, I am actually an OPTIMIST!

Below, I share a link to my Dec. 2014 blog on change:

Our Capacity for Change is Rooted in the Power of God, Free Will, and Social Media

People want to glorify Napster and others of the Internet Age. I grew up in the 60s, and we didn’t believe in stealing. We only wanted to be left to do our thing!  I find Napster and NSA surveillance [in documentary CitizenFour] strikingly in agreement. Both felt it OK to steal information! That’s what Watergate was about. It didn’t work out well for them.

This 2013 Napster story by The Guardian takes a look back at Napster.

Napster Story chronicled by The Guardian

ABOUT ME: I worked w/ computers and technology in nuclear medical imaging from 1975-1992, where I learned to write basic code, author medical procedures, troubleshoot instrumentation. 1982-1992 owned my own imaging company. A 1992 auto accident, injury & hydrocephalus condition led to efforts w/ assistive cognitive technologies, design of an mHealth diagnostic app (1997), and work in the neurosciencees & music therapy. I have also consulted in legal cases in failure to warn, and am becoming more involved in cognitive accessibility, where accessibility and protections are largely ignored. I currently own the domain CognitiveAccessibility.org.

On a positive note, read my blog on the brain-buzzing science of basketball.

Peace to you,

Stephen Dolle
Newport Beach, CA


2 thoughts on “Hail Napster: How Napster led to moral decline and NSA Surveillance seen in CitizenFour

  1. I regret my title & image do not aptly describe this blog content. I wanted to delve into the free wheeling “mindset” of today’s Internet users, as I find that trust, courtesy, and privacy are too often at risk. No doubt the Internet got off to a wrong start with dishonest music file sharing by Napster. But today, it seems tech, mobile apps & Internet use is being compromised by a wide array of dishonest practices, and among other things, it is particularly slowing the introduction of new mHealth apps. I believe we need to have more dialog on these challenges.


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