There’s a softly conspiratorial view of the world which sees anything funded by government as corrupt or menacing. But large moonshoot research projects such as ARPANET are often funded by governments because they’re the only ones willing or able to take the risk. Here’s a secret: lots of researchers take government money and fill in all the forms, while making it up as they go along. Throughout, Levine has too much faith in the US government’s power of foresight, and too little in engineers such as Vint Cerf, who were able to access government research grants to conduct exciting research without becoming hapless dupes in the mega-machine... For all that, Surveillance Valley remains worth reading. The military history of the internet is not secret, but nor is it popularly known. Levine is right that both governments and big tech firms have a shared interest in surveillance — one reason privacy rules have generally been lax... Levine’s a good writer too: despite the heavy acronym use that inevitably accompanies a book about government research projects, it’s highly readable.
His polemical method is to assemble all the supporting evidence he can find for his thesis and skirt round or dismiss anything that gets in its way. His latest book targets the tech industry, which, let’s face it, is a massive and deserving target... There is a perfectly good argument contained in this book that the relationship between large internet corporations and US governmental agencies demands close scrutiny and criticism. But the attempt to characterise it as a giant military conspiracy is overwrought and not fully supported by the evidence.