The Door To Citizens' Freedom Swings Both Ways

Massive door pairs opening to light beyond

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.

Oops.

The door indeed does swing two ways when governments least expect it.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot.

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  1. Falkvinge on Infopolicy: The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways:
    Governments all over the world a… http://tinyurl.com/3j8dug5

  2. RT @piratbloggar: Falkvinge on Infopolicy: The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways:
    Governments all over the world a… http://tinyurl.com/3j8dug5

  3. psema4 (Scott Elcomb)

    RT @piratbloggar: Falkvinge on Infopolicy: The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways:
    Governments all over the world a… http://tinyurl.com/3j8dug5

  4. A must-read –> RE: @Falkvinge
    on #infopolicy: The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways http://t.co/D7omNFG

  5. Falkvinge on Infopolicy: The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways:
    Governments all over the world a… http://tinyurl.com/3j8dug5

  6. The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways http://bit.ly/jm8JRU

  7. Interesting arguments about web jurisdiction & government hypocracy in this article. http://t.co/VCJQ679

  8. Geoff

    The Internet is a Janus-faced apparatus which is both the exception and the rule to the state apparatus.

  9. Mumfi.

    Well, the reason the state does not worry that the stated purpose of the FRA thing is easily undone by projects sponsored by the selfsame state, is simply because the reason for it’s existence is not the stated one.

    Of course you will not catch any criminals, terrorist or spies whit this. That much is self evident. What you can do, and the only things you can do, is build sociograms and spy on the ones that do not care if they spied upon. The one who controls public opinion is the one in power. And to control public opinion you must know the publics opinion. To know public opinion, what better way than to wiretap the public?

  10. RT @falkvinge The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways http://is.gd/RwQ2MA #infopolicy

  11. Ilja

    That is because we, the people of the “Free World”, use our freedom to commit acts of crime and immorality. Therefore we are deemed, by our kindhearted, democratically elected leaders, irresponsible and unworthy of our freedom. Our freedom must be limited so that we may stay free, and safe, and loyal to our great leaders..

  12. “I have banned, therefore, this is unlawful” is now met with a… response of “go ahead, we don’t care, you look stupid” http://t.co/G0c0ras

  13. Lennart Lindgård

    The authorities should have the absolute right to spy freely at anyone in any way – s long as they have a court descition founded on a well grounded prison-eligable crime suspicion. In all other cases, the message secret should be kept. Even from the authorities.
    This is because: Some day in the future, our country or region, might be governed by an evil diktatorship. Then they have the perfect base from sorting out unwanted people by looking at past general communication intelligence from all people. Then we can not defend us, even by keeping our mouth shut and our computers closed.
    I really don’t get the people who defend general wiretapping by the argument “I have nothing to hide”. Well in the future, you don’t know what normal things you should have hidden. In china, during the cultural revolution, it was almost punishable by death to have an eductional degree.
    One never knows.

  14. ANNM

    Do you really think that government regulation of firearms sales is a bad thing? That’s one of the categories on the Silk Road web site.

    I agree that anonymising technologies are good in general, but that doesn’t mean that every use of them to get around government regulation is good.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      I’m not necessarily saying that I think that every consequence is good. What I’m saying is that they are indeed consequences.

      In general, I think that a limitation of the effective scope of law is a very good thing. While a gut reaction may be to keep limits on firearms, perhaps it is better to limit the scope of the law to when people actually use them to hurt somebody.

  15. RT @falkvinge The Door To Citizens’ Freedom Swings Both Ways http://is.gd/RwQ2MA [on schizo govts… u may agree or not but TB read]

  16. Morten

    I love you Falkvinge! You see the world very clearly, and allthough we disagree on some points, you are a good person. You do not make excuses for violent control over the population. Go on! you are making a difference!

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