Sunday, 9 April 2017

Free & Open Technology: A Law unto Itself & why only You can defend it

“Liberty guiding the People” by Eugène Delacroix, 1830

Hello folks, it's been a while since I posted something here. Figured it was high time I made atoned my sins and rejuvenate this blog. I have a Medium page which you can check out here. There's plenty of stuff over there but you can also stay here to look around at some of my more ancient musings. I'll try to see if I can bring this blog back from the dead. Until then, enjoy! Abraham

The nation state is what it is because it was enabled by technology. Society’s values, infused with nationalistic enthusiasm and vigour, especially in the early part of the last century during the Great World Wars, helped play a role to instigate the initial enabling, but after that, technology played an even greater role in sustaining the rise of the nation state.

And then a cultural revolution happened: society’s values slowly changed over the later part of the last century, becoming more liberal and open to radical ideas and thought. It was slow in the sense that relatively few people here and there across the United States and the rest of the world truly subscribed to the new cultural movements. Many ‘ordinary’ folks at the time still considered such people to be ‘queer’, strange or downright unnatural and that sentiment was reflected in their attitude towards such radicals.

Amidst all this, the 1% rule was already at work; these small groups of radical thinkers spawned not just weird cultural thought. Some also spawned incredible technological innovations for the masses (people like Richard Stallman come to mind here). Moreover, these technological tinkerers of the time infused their work with their radical values, spawning the Free and Open Source Software movement (FOSS). By the time the internet and web matured into useful technologies, the technological hippies were more than ready to take over the Earth.

The creation of FOSS challenged orthodox thinking on scarcity and copyright. It insulted conventional laws and corporate thinking. The war on Free and Open source and open innovation by the real world’s laws and institutions since then has become a war of attrition, but the gains made by the open source movement have been unmistakable and substantial.

Nevertheless, FOSS may have won many battles, but the war has yet to be decisively won. Open encryption is the latest assault on conventional thinking with regards to national/international security versus privacy issues. In fact, as the title of this article suggests, open encryption has enabled technology, and by extension the society that uses it, to become a law unto itself; world governments, despite their best efforts at reducing the effectiveness of open encryption to police the world and wage cyberwars, have found it more and more difficult to penetrate the increasingly sovereign Internet’s defences. This does not in any way mean that technology is fool proof (it is reasonably secure until the next open source enabled security alert) nor should it be misconstrued as an ‘evil’ development,however much the UK’s Home office would have you believe.

To call secure and private communications bad would be like calling a fence/wall and home security together with trespass laws bad. It simply isn’t. In fact, the recent terrorist attack at Westminster, London, UK had more to do with the utter incompetence of the government’s monitoring of the perpetrator than his use of WhatsApp. But the latter proved to be an irresistible scapegoat I suppose.
Take the recent successful repulsion of net privacy laws in America and the truth becomes obvious: the global war over authority is just beginning. Open technology (and societal values encoded in it) is a law unto itself but the nation state is pushing back. It is up to all of us to make the next move.

FOSS is a very, very political statement. So let’s send a message to the lumbering giants of the real world by building things that resist control by them today.
“Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. ‘Don’t bother us with politics,’ respond those who don’t want to learn” ~ Richard Stallman