ExpressVPN Scholarship 2017 Winning Essay

Elizabeth Fijalkewicz

University of Minnesota

2017 ExpressVPN Scholarship winner

It’s 2027 and government surveillance on citizens’ internet activities is legal, in force, and widespread. Governments worldwide are watching everything you’re doing. What happens to art, culture, innovation, scientific research, freedom of expression, etc.?

She enters the Library of Congress, heart pounding, palms sweaty, carrying nothing with her but today’s paper and her life’s work pressed carefully between the pages of the classifieds. She passes an old man reading the same paper she has clutched in her hands, today’s date sprawled across the front page; March 18th, 2027. It’s a momentous day; she hopes someday history remembers it.

It has been eight years since the government gave itself full freedom to monitor the digital activities of every citizen, including everything from your exact GPS location, to where you bought your morning coffee. She can’t even check out a book here without it being tracked. So instead she had spent her days in the medical library with meticulous hand-written notes and every book she could find about cancer, each of them back on their shelves by nightfall. She had carried on this tedious work with the maddening knowledge that the information she sought was never more than a few clicks away.

Citizen’s data had been used, among other things, for voter redistricting, and their democratic republic had covertly transformed into a corrupt authoritarian entity. Anything that did not help the bottom line of the corporations that now held the government’s purse strings was prohibited. The simple, cost-effective cure she had discovered instead of lengthy, expensive treatments would find her in much the same predicament as Gallileo, Lavoisier, Oldenburg, and the countless others before her who had challenged the world in the name of science.

But unlike history, she is not a lone scholar, but part of a vast underground network of doctors, researchers and scientists, secretly spreading information. They have been careful to leave behind no digital foot prints, nothing but an obsolete physical paper trail no one would think to follow.

She turns down the 7th row and searches the 4th shelf, because just like any rebellion, they thrived on hope, and symbols held a certain power. She pulls down volume 17, coated in dust (it’s tax code and carries little threat of ever being read on purpose), opens to page 76 and leaves a dozen or so pages of hope to be spread to millions.

As she leaves, she passes the old man with the newspaper, and he does not make eye contact, but gives a nearly imperceptible nod of his head which she does not outwardly acknowledge.