The eighth episode of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s show, “The World Tomorrow,” is up and it features the Cypherpunks, people who Assange describes as being on the front lines of a war against cyber surveillance and a growing battle for control over technology. The guests include cyber activists Jacob Appelbaum, a Tor Project developer, Andy Mueller-Maguhn of the Chaos Computer Club in Germany and Jeremie Zimmerman, the co-founder of a European organization that defends anonymity rights online that is called La Quadrature du Net.
Each individual in the episode provides great insight into the pervasiveness of surveillance and the way in which people around the globe are fighting back and using their human agency to challenge this trend toward global totalitarianism. And, Appelbaum, when asked by Assange if he has a Google subpoena, says something particularly important [about 11 minutes into the episode].
It’s absolute madness to imagine that we give up all of our personal data to these companies and then the companies have become essentially privatized secret police where in the case of Facebook we have democratized surveillance and instead of paying people off the way the Stasi did in your country [Germany] we reward them as a culture—They get laid now. They report on their friends. So and so got engaged. Oh, so and so broke up. Oh, I know who to call now. This is the difference between privacy by policy and privacy by design approach to actually creating secure systems.
When you’re trying to target people and you know you live in a country that explicitly targets people—If Facebook put its servers in Gaddafi’s Libya or put it in Assad’s Syria, that would be absolutely negligent. So, knowing that’s reality, these companies have some serious ethical liability that stems from the fact that their building these systems and they’ve made the economic choice basically to sell their users out. This isn’t even a technical thing. It isn’t about technology at all. It’s about economics. And they have decided that it is more important to collaborate with the state and to sell out their users and to violate their privacy and to be a part of the system of control, to be paid back for being a part of the surveillance culture, to be part of that culture of control than to be resistant to it. So they build it. They become a part of it. They’re complicit and liable.
Now, Jacob Appelbaum is one of three WikiLeaks volunteers (the others are Rop Gonggrijp and Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir), who have been targeted for their personal data by the US government. What Appelbaum says in the lead up to this comment is that the courts in the US have enabled the rise of companies that act as privatized secret police. And they have enable them by declaring that citizens give up their privacy when they hand over data about themselves to third-parties, which are private companies like Facebook, Google or Twitter.
That is why a recent move by Twitter to defend Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris from a New York District Attorney subpoena was significant. Twitter was breaking with the culture and actually defending its users.
I may add more to this later, but, for now, enjoy the discussion of cryptography, hackers and surveillance that happens in this episode.