Governments all over the world, and in the so-called Free West in particular, look like confused sheep. They are applauding the net activists who are helping people communicate unhindered to get news out from repressive regimes, and at the same time arresting people who use the same technologies in their own countries.
In the United Kingdom, you can get five years in prison for not revealing a password to an encrypted data set. Even if you have forgotten it. Even if it isn’t an encrypted dataset to begin with, but recorded astronomy noise, which looks just the same. If you can’t produce the documents that law enforcement says are in there, somewhere in the noise, then off to jail you go.
In Sweden, the government has enacted laws that enable wiretapping of all your communications at any time without warrant or notice (the FRA act). In France, the government is trying to send people into social exile for sharing music. Where’s the police here, protecting our rights? We find them in the shape of activists. Governments are slowly discovering that the door to freedom swings both ways.
If net activists are applauded as they help people in corrupt and repressed regimes expose secrets of the government, then those same technologies can and will be used in every country, even the ones who consider themselves good.
Don’t all governments consider themselves good? It’s just the citizens who tend to disagree to a varying level.
This pattern, where activists are seen as lawbreakers for doing what’s right, follows the patterns of history. It happens about every 40 years. 80 years ago, activists were protecting fundamental rights against law enforcement who opened fire on people who protested in the streets instead of being at work.
The activists founded a new political movement — the labor movement, social democratic parties — that rewrote the laws and reshaped law enforcement to police our rights. 40 years ago, activists were protecting our environment against law enforcement who were protecting corporations that polluted way above what was allowed.
The activists were the ones upholding the law and our rights; law enforcement and governments tried to prevent it from happening. In the end, the activism spawned green parties in many countries that reshaped law enforcement to stand on the side of the citizens, and not on the side of polluting corporations.
And here we are today, with a global, unfettered right to communicate, share, observe, and inform. Law enforcement is cracking down on it. Activists are defying law enforcement and giving us tools that guarantee our rights. People have a duty to defy unjust laws.
And until everybody finds the courage to do so, I am grateful and indebted to the activists who police and guarantee our fundamental rights.
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Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. 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.