Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hypocrisy 2.0

Tired after a long day I return to the sea in Kalmar. In Linköping this afternoon, Karin offered a skilful defence of her phd thesis and I was very happy to be there to congratulate her in first person.

However, as a stark contrast to this joyful event, 25 September turned into a dark day for democracy and liberal freedom in Sweden. In what was staged as a fundamental change in policy, the conservative government announced a long list of modifications to Lex Orwell. In essence, the 15 suggested measures are said to eliminate the risk of mass surveillance and the infringement of basic democratic rights.

Unsurprisingly, the new law shows exactly how technological ignorant our political leaders are, or in any case, pretend to be. First, they fail to understand the binary nature of the question at stake, either all cross-boundary internet traffic is to be routed through the so called “collaboration points” (samverkanspunkter) or it is not. In order to know if a certain “traffic stream” (as it is called in the new law irrespectively of any underlying technical reality) contains the wanted information, all traffic has to be filtered. Given the dynamic routing of the internet, it is not like you can take a pair of scissors and cut out the traffic you do not want to monitor.

Secondly, and less technical but more democratically important, is that you as an individual can never know if your particular “traffic stream” is monitored by the FRA or not. Since you cannot know, the only sound response is to behave as if you are constantly monitored. And as Rick Falkvinge brought to my attention, this is indeed not so far from the fiction of 1984:

“There was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness every movement scrutinized.”

There should be no question about what this does to the quality of democracy, especially in difficult times when the temptation to usurp power will be the greatest. The only way to protect our society from this future risk is to never ever connect the cables. As simple as that. Yet, talking to a former member of parliament on the train today, I was frightened to hear his rhetorical question: “what is, after all, the value of personal integrity?". To him, perceived security gains trumped everything.

And as to that, we all know the famous words Benjamin Franklin directed to the Pennsylvanian Assembly in 1775: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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