Birds on the wire
Turns out Stallman was right. For all my appreciation, admiration and all the good feelings ending with ‘tion’, I couldn’t shake it out of my head the snarky remark that Stallman’s nothing but a dirty hippie and a radical and how could it be possible that corporations would slip backdoors in their software so big brother could keep watching us, right? RIGHT? It’s not even in their best interest, as something as big as that would surely be discovered and be made public and everyone would shy away from that spying piece of software, convenience, prettiness and usefulness notwithstanding.
So I’m here to declare mea culpa. I was wrong, Stallman was right. I know the man ok? (know as in I was in one of his conferences some time ago) and I have a picture to prove it. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m the forth from the left, or the one at the middle of the guys with a green book in their hands, or the one with the “I can’t believe I’m taking a picture with RMS” look in his face. At the time I was even more into the whole Free Software debate, but with the years I’ve become more cynic (or pragmatic, it sounds nicer) to the point were a GNU/Linux distribution is not even my main desktop OS now after years and years of shoving it to the face of the infidels. Sorry about that by the way, what can I say? I was young and I was dumb. But I digress, at the time I was more into Free Libre Open Source Software and even then I couldn’t help but smirk when I heard the father of Free Software tell us how proprietary software was bad because it spied on users… among other baddie behaviour. The software coerced you into delivering your most inner secrets, without you even knowing it. You never clicked the “Yes, submit all my information to the NSA please” checkbox did you?
But with the Snowden leaks we know there are birds on the wire. Stallman was preaching about the dangers of not owning your computing platform, telling people to avoid the cloud. And I quote:
It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity: it’s a marketing hype campaign.
Wait a minute… so are we supposed to stop using the cloud because it’s stupid? How about some substance to back it up? And I quote again:
Cloud computing was simply a trap aimed at forcing more people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that would cost them more and more over time.
Damn. What can we do?
Before I launch into an avoid the cloud warcry, let me tell you why the Snowden leaks are so important. We now have proof of what we suspected all along: The US, along with the biggest names in the IT industry, log, archive and process private information generated by people all over the world. It’s not citizens of the US only, it’s everyone. You, me, your plant if it has one of those devices to tweet about the weather and soil conditions. We could discuss about the legal, moral and political implications of the Snowden leaks, but I won’t.
You see, the US government is busy trying (very successfully) to deflect the conversation. It’s not about the content of those disclosed documents. It’s not about the fact that there’s a massive spying operation going on. It’s not about some of the most important names in the computing industry colluded to provide private information, even when they go to great lengths to proclaim that they care, that they do no evil. Then what is it about? It’s about the Snowden character. It’s about whether he’s a traitor, a spy, public enemy #1, or if we need to come up with a new term to define his evilness. Maybe traitspenemy?
Let’s try to stick to the facts. I’m not here to condemn nor condone Mr. Snowden’s actions. I’m not familiar enough with US law to determine if in fact he is a traitor. I do however have a functioning brain and some common sense, and thanks to him we know that Sauron’s a joke compared to the prying eye of the US government. Don’t even think it’s no big deal. It is. Even if you are not a CEO with the latest and greatest world domination files shared via (Google hosted) email. Even if you don’t have anything to hide and only use the Internet to see video tutorials on YouTube to finally get the third star on Kingdom Rush level 2. Even then it is a big deal. Geeks like to think that they can ignore politics, you can leave politics alone, but politics won’t leave you alone. I’d like to think it was me that came up with the thought, but no sir it was again Richard Matthew Stallman.
If you are a programmer, there’s lots to do. Privacy tech is there, but it’s hard to use. We need to make it easy, convenient, even sexy. It’s for the greater good: the more people using it, the more people we’ll be able to securely communicate with. If you have a group of friends sharing files, don’t do it with Dropbox or any of the other cloud sync solutions. Set up your own, private cloud. Git-annex assistance is a good candidate. Even Bittorrent Sync, it’s not Free Libre Open Source Software but on the plus side it doesn’t store your files in the cloud.
I’ll follow up with more ideas on how to stop depending on the cloud, as painful as it might be. In the meantime, act as if everything you do, any cloud service you use, all your social interactions on the Internet are being monitored. Because, you know, they are.
Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. “Don’t bother us with politics,” respond those who don’t want to learn.