We see it everywhere. Corporations are trying to take control over our communications tools, citing copyright concerns. Frequently, they are assisted by hapless politicians, who are also aspiring for the same control, citing terrorist concerns or some other McCarthyist scareword of the day. We should see this in perspective of the revolts happening right now in the Arab world.
We have SonyBMG taking administrator-level control of several million customers’ computers to prevent copying of mere music. European authorities mandating wiretapping capabilities of all telecom equipment. Car manufacturers installing remote kill switches in cars. Microsoft embedding the same type of kill switches in their software, along with Apple and Google doing the same to our phones. Intel embedding the same kill switches in processors. Amazon deleting books off our bookshelves.
There is a blind trust in authority here that is alarming. The ever-increasing desire to know what we talk about and to whom is cause for more than concern, and that desire is displayed openly by corporations and politicians alike. To make matters worse, it is not just a matter of eavesdropping: corporations and politicians openly want – and get – the right to silence us.
The copyright industry is demanding the right to kill switches of our very communications. If we talk about matters disruptive enough, disruptive according to authorities or to the copyright industry, the line goes silent. Just twenty years ago, this would have been an absolutely horrifying prospect; today, it is reality. Don’t believe me? Try talking about a link to The Pirate Bay on MSN or on Facebook and watch as silence comes through. The copyright industry is fighting for this to become more pervasive. So are some politicians with agendas of their own.
While the copyright industry and repressive Big Brother politicians may not share the same ultimate motives, they are still pushing for exactly the same changes to society and control over our communications.
At the same time, citizens’ physical movements are tracked to street level by the minute and the history recorded.
How would you revolt with all this in place, when all you said just fell silent before reaching the ears of others, and the regime could remotely monitor who met whom and where, when they could kill all your equipment with the push of a button?
The West hardly has any high moral ground from where to criticize China or the regimes that are falling in the Arab world.
And yet, in all this darkness, there is a counter-reaction that is growing stronger by the day.
Activists are working through the night in defeating the surveillance and monitoring to ensure free speech by developing new tools in a cat-and-mouse game. These are the heroes of our generation. By ensuring free speech and free press, they are ensuring unmonitored, unblockable communications. Therefore, they are also defeating the copyright monopoly at its core, perhaps merely as a by-product.
Free and open software is at the core of the counter-reaction to Big Brother. It is open to scrutiny for any and all kill switches and wiretapping, and it can spread like wildfire when necessary. Moreover, it renounces the copyright monopoly to the point where popular development methods are actively fighting the monopoly, again making the connection between copyright enforcement and repression. Free operating systems and communications software are at the heart of all our future freedom of speech, as well as for the freedom of speech for regimetopplers right this day.
The software that is being built by these hero activists is a guarantee for our civil liberties. Software like Tor and FreeNet and I2P, like TextSecure and RedPhone. That criminals can evade wiretapping is a cheap price to pay for our rights: tomorrow, we might be considered the criminals for subversion. These are tools used by the people revolting against corrupt regimes today. We should learn something from that.
At the same time and by necessity, this free software makes the copyright monopoly unenforceable, as it creates the untappable, anonymous communication needed to guarantee our civil liberties. Mike Masnick of Techdirt recently noted that “piracy and freedom look remarkably similar”.
Perhaps Freenet’s policy expresses it the most clearly:
“You cannot guarantee free speech and enforce the copyright monopoly. Therefore, any technology designed to guarantee freedom of speech must also prevent enforcement of the copyright monopoly.”
The fights for basic freedoms of speech and for defeat of the copyright monopoly are one and the same.
Therefore, the revolutions will happen using tools that are not just in lack of the copyright monopoly, but actively defeat it. The revolution will not be properly licensed.
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Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other Friday. He is the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at http://falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.
Follow Rick Falkvinge on Twitter as @Falkvinge and on Facebook as /rickfalkvinge.