So I’ve been at an open source (programming) conference last week. Lots of learning, it’s been great.
But my best lecture was a key-note speech from Columbian University Law Prof Eben Moglen.
He was looking at the future of the internet, and whether society’s nervous system is working for the data-miners or the people.
And from David Cameron’s comments last Monday it’s clear which side the UK PM’s on. Fortunately his coalition partners are giving him short shrift, because he’s clearly missing something when he says he’s defending freedom with such thoughts as: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we [the British government] cannot read?”
Yup, he wants the UK government to be monitoring all communication.
That terrifies me. Fortunately even the right-wing Spectator newspaper was calling him out on it, saying it would make UK like Russia and China.
And there was great irony in the leaked release of a secret report from UK/US cybersecurity agencies on Friday saying that the West was vulnerable because of a lack of the encryption that David Cameron wants rid of. Our networks are too open to attack from China, Russia and criminals. We need more encryption and secure messaging, not less.
Eben Moglen pointed out that 75 years ago we sacrificed 10s of millions of lives to prevent us having to live in a state that monitored everything we do and say – we called that totalitarianism. We’re not calling for that now, although some hackers have paid the ultimate price in some countries and Edward Snowden is in exile. Rather, we need to stand up to our governments, and the likes of the programmers he was talking to need to make sure they build the tools to keep us safe from surveillance. We should not sell out our privacy to the likes of facebook for convenience, nor should we give it up to the NSA and GCSB to combat “terror”.
Yes, bad people will use freedom to do bad things – they always have. But the number of people killed by atrocities per capita is probably the lowest it’s ever been – even if we hear much more about the 2000 dead in Nigeria or 17 dead in France (in disproportionate amounts) or the latest US drone attack.
And most of the acts of terror aren’t planned on the internet – ISIS and Boko Haram can just talk between their commanders in their own territory, and the western violence has been by lone wolves or brothers who’ll be talking offline. So why spy on everyone else, and why insist that all of us are unprotected from criminals or hostile governments?
While I was hearing on the radio the oxymoron that “terror [definition: extreme fear] is our greatest fear”, it’s not logical to give into it and give away our freedoms and rights to somehow “combat” it.
Lose those freedoms and it will be very hard to get it back.
As Anthony’s found street art had it: Future generations will not forgive your apathy.