Today sees the #DayWeFightBack kickoff. On this site — as well as scads of others around the interwebs — you should see one of two banners pop up:
- If you’re in the U.S., you’re screen will get hit with this one.
- If you’re anywhere else in the world, your screen will be smacked by this one.
The campaign falls on the anniversary of Aaron Swartz‘s death. It’s meant in part as a tribute to the global efforts he took part in, including the defeat SOPA, and has its cursor pointed at the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of every line of electronic communications sent by anyone. The banner has a petition, which I do hope you’ll sign.
I hope is that this doesn’t turn out to be a day that’s more symbolic of the beginning of the end, like an Earth Day for the internet. There are some interesting parallels. Both the wrecking of the internet and the climate are human created things; governments and corporations seem to be useless at steering us away from disaster; and human apathy, resignation and sloth are leading contributors in nothing much being done about it. My worry is that we’ll codify February 11 as The Day something happens on an annual cycle. That never goes well.
Resistance has to be sustaining. It has to involve targeting the adversary’s weaknesses, and raising the cost required for it to continue with what it’s doing. Some methods:
- Donate to projects that make government-resistant encryption stronger and easier to use.
- Use technologies that have more peer-review potential and aren’t closed boxes doing who-knows-what with your communication.
- Learn better ways of using (or not using) the aforementioned technology.
- Understand what the objective of collecting all this data actually is all about and how corrosive to human rights that is.
- Run Tor relays that speed up and increase access to a system that’s still difficult for the likes of the NSA to penetrate.
- Learn how PGP works, and use it for regular communication.
- Support actual political change on this and other related digital rights issues.
- Support whistle blower protection: In UK, in the U.S., and internationally. More to the point, support practical efforts: GlobaLeaks and SecureDrop.
- Campaign to restrict the export and sale of weaponised software.
- Support international standards of necessary & proportionate surveillance laws and your country’s adopting them.
- Defend encryption standards from government influences.
The people at the working level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the (Intelligence Community) are not out to get you. They’re good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.” — Edward Snowden
If these and (probably) a few other elements became part of a sustained defence, then we might see some traction. or at least we’d make those opposed to internet privacy actually show themselves, which is also useful. But remember that mass digital spyting is just one part of the equation…
The central strength of living on just this side of the electronic communications singularity is also its weakness: All our chatter is running through the same tubes. Imagine being something like the U.S., China, Russia, UK or any economic/political powerhouse and not wanting a sneak-peek at that trove of information. That’s a difficult thought experiment, because you’re pretending to be an entire system rather than an individual within it. Our present situation is the result of systemic failures which range from lobbyists’ influence in election campaigns to an unrestrained military-industrial complex and influence from copyright monopolists.
From a digital perspective, we need to include restrictions against supposed anti-piracy activity. Governments must embrace strong Net Neutrality laws and support reforms to copyright and patent rules as well. Dragnet electronic surveillance is, by in large, hitching a free ride on the back of corporate systems’ data services (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, your internet service provider, your mobile phone network, etc.); Restricting how much data those systems keep, enforcing them to use better encryption and privacy standards, and relieving them of policing everything passing through their systems will have a positive impact on protecting your privacy and anonymity.
It would be nice if every time any political official tries to connect dragnet electronic surveillance to national security they were booed off the stage and saw their popularity polls plummet downward. It would be great if the press asked these politicians to specifically counter, with citation, each point made by The New America Foundation’s findings that dragnet surveillance accomplishes sod all in this arena.
Let’s turn #thedaywefightback into “The Day We Start Fighting Back” (hashtag optional). If we don’t, then we fail.