Governments all over the world are becoming increasingly two-faced and schizophrenic when it comes to dealing with the net. As ecstatic as governments can be when citizens in other, “bad” countries take charge of their lives, they are equally terrified when citizens of their own country use the same technology to take charge of their lives where there is a “good” government.
The revolt in Egypt and fall of Mubarak saw a sunrise of politicians all over the world competing in who could praise activists and activist technologies the most. Technologies that could safely report adverse conditions to the outside world, encrypted tunnels which a government could neither detect nor stop, were hailed as something godlike by Ministers of Foreign Affairs everywhere.
Then something interesting happened. The same governments discovered that citizens in their very own country wanted to have secrets from the government, too.
“How could that possibly be? It’s those governments over there that are bad, we are good!”
As I wrote in a column on TorrentFreak: All governments consider themselves good. It’s just the citizens who tend to disagree to varying degrees.
But the technology doesn’t know which secrets are bad and which secrets are good, it doesn’t know good governments from bad. What it does is provide citizens with the ability to keep secrets from government.
It enables people to observe, communicate, share, and report. Without intervention, interception or harassment. This, I argue, is a fundamental human right — regardless of what is being reported, which citizens are using it, which governments are objecting, and for what reasons.
Many governments have praised the Tor project, but I think the Swedish administration deserves some sort of medal for first-class confused and inconsistent behavior here. It enacted a general wiretapping law in 2008, saying that all your communications may be monitored at any time without warrant or notice, in the name of national security. (This is a violation of pretty much the entire book of human rights, and it’s on its way to those courts.) But at the same time, the Swedish administration is also one of the largest sponsors of the Tor project, which undoes all of this expensive wiretapping for exactly the people they aim to catch.
Perhaps the strongest example of governmental confusion can be seen with regards to Silk Road, the anonymous marketplace where you can buy and sell banned goods. It is only accessible through anonymizing technologies. Senators in the United States lashed out at it immediately, saying that they had forbidden people to trade in the way that Silk Road enables, and asked the FBI, DEA, and TLA to shut it down promptly.
This was an amazing display of ignorance. First, there is nothing saying that this marketplace operates under United States jurisdiction. Second, there is nothing saying that is even possible to determine which jurisdiction it does operate under, and so, all the world’s police are powerless. Third, the exact technologies that power Silk Road were praised by Hillary Clinton. Fourth, this development is overall very positive, and it is challenging the very boundaries of what law may regulate and where it has no business.
For who are these senators in taking themselves the right to determine what other people can trade with each other? This is one example of an unjust law where the people have taken back their rights from the legislators. Trying to ban free trade is as unjust as trying to legislate what may be discussed in everyday speech.
“I have banned, therefore, this is unlawful” is now met with a calm and serene response of “go ahead, we don’t care, you look stupid”. Just like when the authorities in Egypt tried to ban the discussion of certain subjects, or free speech has been suppressed elsewhere.
What people want to do of their own free will, without hurting anyone, they will find a way to do. And activist technologies are now hiding this from the government where need be.
This is a globalization for the citizens. We are taking back power from governments using the technologies those governments love when they happen to other countries — but the door to freedom swings both ways.
In a final touch, perhaps NATO deserves the Keystone Award of Stupidity here. It has issued threatening statements to activists, saying that NATO will regard any attempt to hack and sabotage as an act of war, and therefore consider itself justified in responding with military force. It is assumed that this is a threat aimed at the group Anonymous, who have responded in their usual calm that NATO should not believe they can defeat Anonymous.
But there’s a little more to that. NATO’s statement about hacking being an act of war would also mean that NATO considers Iran morally and leaglly justified in attacking the United States and Israel, in retaliation for when said countries hacked Iranian uranium enrichment facilities to destroy their centrifuges.
The door indeed does swing two ways when governments least expect it.