Good Technology Collective

Recently I was invited to be on the glob­al coun­cil of a new tech policy inti­ti­at­ive called the Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive, based in Ber­lin.

~ Foun­ded by a group of tech­no­logy enthu­si­asts led by 1aim co-founders Torben Friehe and Yann Lere­taille, the GTC will serve as a cru­cial European for­um for pilot­ing tech­no­lo­gic­al advances in the 21st cen­tury. Through its Expert Coun­cil, it will bring togeth­er lead­ing founders, engin­eers, sci­ent­ists, journ­al­ists, and act­iv­ists, who will research, gen­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion around, and offer coun­sel as to the soci­et­al impact of AI, vir­tu­al real­ity, Inter­net of Things, and data sur­veil­lance.

We believe that there are eth­ic­al ques­tions con­cern­ing how fron­ti­er tech­no­lo­gies will affect our daily lives,” Lere­taille said. “As a soci­ety, Europe deserves broad and access­ible dis­cus­sions of these issues, hos­ted by those who appre­ci­ate, under­stand, and worry about them the most.” ~

The Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive (GTC), a new European think-tank address­ing eth­ic­al issues in tech­no­logy, will offi­cially open its doors in Ber­lin on Decem­ber 15th. The grand open­ing will kick off at 7:30PM (CET) at Soho House Ber­lin and I shall be one of the guest speak­ers.

Invit­a­tions are lim­ited for the grand open­ing. Those inter­ested in attend­ing should con­tact: rsvp@goodtechnologycollective.com; or, fill in the invit­a­tion form at: https://​goo​.gl/​X​p​n​djk.

And here is an intro­duct­ory inter­view I did for GTC recently:

Why We Must Fight for Pri­vacy

We live in a soci­ety where shad­owy fig­ures influ­ence what makes the news, who goes to jail, and even who lives or dies.

We live in a sys­tem where cor­por­a­tions and the state work togeth­er to take con­trol of our inform­a­tion, our com­mu­nic­a­tions, and poten­tially even our future digit­al souls.

So we do not merely have the right, but rather the oblig­a­tion, to fight for our pri­vacy.

It is a simple human right that is essen­tial for a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

But we are a long way away from hav­ing that right guar­an­teed, and we have been for a long time.

My Time as a Spy

I spent six years work­ing with MI5, the Brit­ish domest­ic counter-intel­li­gence and secur­ity agency, in the 1990s. It was a time of rel­at­ive peace after the Cold War and before the hor­rors of Septem­ber 11, 2001, when the gloves came off in the War on Ter­ror.

And even then, I was hor­ri­fied by what I saw.

There was a con­stant stream of illeg­al wireta­ps and files kept on hun­dreds of thou­sands of our cit­izens, act­iv­ists, journ­al­ists, and politi­cians.

Inno­cent people were sent to pris­on due to sup­pressed evid­ence in the 1994 bomb­ing of the Israeli Embassy in Lon­don. IRA bomb­ings that could have been pre­ven­ted were allowed to take place, and the MI6 fun­ded a plot to murder Liby­an lead­er Col­on­el Gad­dafi using Al Qaeda affil­i­ates. He sur­vived, oth­ers did not.

This is just part of the cor­rup­tion I saw intel­li­gence and secur­ity agen­cies engage in.

The pub­lic and many politi­cians believe these agen­cies are account­able to them, but that is simply not how things work in real­ity. More often than not, we only know what they want us to hear.

State Manip­u­lates News and Polit­ics

I wit­nessed gov­ern­ment agen­cies manip­u­late the news through guile and charm, at times even writ­ing it them­selves. Fake news is not new. The state has long shaped media cov­er­age using vari­ous meth­ods.

This was the case in the ana­logue era, and things have become worse in the era of the Web.

In the end, I felt there was no choice but to blow the whistle, know­ing that it would end my career. My part­ner and I resigned, and we went into hid­ing.

We spent years on the run for breach­ing the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act. We would have been imprisoned if caught.

We fled Bri­tain in 1997, spend­ing three years in a French farm­house and a loc­a­tion in Par­is. My part­ner went to pris­on, twice, and we learned indelible les­sons about state power along the way.

Learn­ing the Value of Pri­vacy

We also learned the value of pri­vacy.

As high-value tar­gets, we knew our com­mu­nic­a­tions and rel­at­ives were mon­itored.

So when I called or emailed my moth­er, I had to self-cen­sor. I had to assume that her house was bugged, as yours could be.

Our friends were pres­sured into cooper­at­ing with the police. It was one way we were stripped of our pri­vacy, cor­rod­ing our spir­it.

You lose trust in every­one around you, and you do not say any­thing that could give you away.

Sur­veil­lance Has Moved with the Times

That was then. Today, sur­veil­lance is part of our daily lives, on the Inter­net and in the street.

Edward Snowden recently revealed the scale of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. And it is mind-bog­gling.

The Snowden Effect, as it is known, has made 28 per­cent of the people in the United King­dom rethink their online habits. If we do not feel we have pri­vacy, then in a way it does not mat­ter if someone is watch­ing us. We will self-cen­sor any­way. Just in case.

This has a tan­gible impact on soci­ety. It is the road to a world like Orwell’s 1984.

Legit­im­ate act­iv­ists know they can be watched. This means that protest­ors may think twice before get­ting involved with press­ing issues. Sur­veil­lance is a sure-fire means of stifling demo­cracy.

We Are All Being Watched

Snowden revealed that Inter­net com­pan­ies opened their doors to the U.S. Nation­al Secur­ity Agency and the Brit­ish Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions Headquar­ters (GCHQ). He also dis­closed that Brit­ish intel­li­gence was hand­ing over inform­a­tion on Europeans to Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence agen­cies.

Both gov­ern­ment agen­cies can access our video com­mu­nic­a­tions. Appar­ently their per­son­nel were forced to sit through so many expli­cit “romantic” video calls that they later had to receive coun­sel­ing.

It might sound amus­ing. But it shows that the state is reg­u­larly invad­ing our pri­vacy.

And that is just gov­ern­ment agen­cies. The cor­por­ate world is sur­veilling us, too. Com­pan­ies have been gran­ted excep­tion­al powers to see who is shar­ing inform­a­tion and files across the Inter­net.

When the FBI Is a Cor­por­ate Tool

In New Zea­l­and, Kim Dot­com developed MegaUp­load. It did have legit­im­ate users, but the fact that some dis­trib­uted pir­ated intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty led to an FBI raid on his home.

Likely under the influ­ence of the FBI, the New Zea­l­and author­it­ies per­mit­ted sur­veil­lance to bol­ster the U.S. extra­di­tion case against him. In Octo­ber 2012, Prime Min­is­ter John Key pub­licly apo­lo­gized to Dot­com, say­ing that the mis­takes made by New Zealand’s Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Secur­ity Bur­eau before and dur­ing the raid were “appalling.

This was all a massive infringe­ment on New Zealand’s sov­er­eignty. One must won­der how the cor­por­ate world can wield so much influ­ence that the FBI is able to a raid the home of an entre­pren­eur on for­eign land.

This is not how gov­ern­ment agen­cies are meant to work. It is a pin­cer move­ment between the cor­por­a­tions and the state.

This Is the Defin­i­tion of Fas­cism

Itali­an dic­tat­or Benito Mus­solini defined fas­cism as the mer­ging of the state and the cor­por­ate world. And it is becom­ing increas­ingly clear that we are head­ing in this dir­ec­tion.

We are all con­stantly con­nec­ted through our smart­phones and com­puters. Incid­ent­ally, any hard­ware, even USB cables, pro­duced after 1998 prob­ably comes with a back­door entry point for the gov­ern­ment.

We also freely provide inform­a­tion on Face­book that would have taken secur­ity and intel­li­gence agen­cies weeks to assemble before the era of digit­al com­mu­nic­a­tions.

We need to know who is watch­ing that inform­a­tion, who can take it, and who can use it against us.

Research con­duc­ted today may one day lead to our entire con­scious­ness being uploaded into a com­puter. Humans could become soft­ware-based. But who might be able to manip­u­late that inform­a­tion and how?

It is vital for us to start think­ing about ques­tions such as these.

Secret Legis­la­tion Can Change Our World

In Europe, we are see­ing the Transat­lantic Trade Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) forced upon us. It is a ghastly piece of legis­la­tion through which cor­por­ate lob­by­ists can neg­at­ively affect 500 mil­lion people.

Its investor-state dis­pute set­tle­ment clause grants mul­tina­tion­al cor­por­a­tions the leg­al status of a nation-state. If they feel gov­ern­ment policies threaten their profits, they can sue gov­ern­ments in arbit­ra­tion tribunals. The treaty paper­work is kept in a guarded room that not even politi­cians work­ing on the legis­la­tion can access freely.

Sim­il­ar pro­jects were attemp­ted before, but they were over­turned by the weight of pub­lic opin­ion. The pub­lic spoke out and pro­tested to ensure that the legis­la­tion nev­er came to pass.

We must pro­tect our right to demo­cracy and the rule of law, free from cor­por­ate inter­ven­tion.

A Per­fect Storm for Pri­vacy?

A per­fect storm against pri­vacy is brew­ing. A debate con­tin­ues over how much con­trol the state should exer­cise over the Inter­net amid the threat of ter­ror­ism, which has become part of mod­ern life.

Add to this the increas­ing ten­sion between the United States and Rus­sia and cli­mate change, and things could get quite messy, quite fast.

We need pri­vacy so we can protest when we need to. We need to be able to read and write about these top­ics, and dis­cuss them. We can­not rely on the main­stream media alone.

We need pri­vacy to be prop­er cit­izens. This includes the right to lobby our politi­cians and express our con­cerns.

We also have to be aware that politi­cians do not know what the intel­li­gence and secur­ity ser­vices are doing. We need to take our pri­vacy into our own hands.

As a start, we must all begin using encryp­tion, open-source soft­ware and oth­er tools to make sure we have pri­vacy. If we do not, we will lose our demo­cracy.

It took our ancest­ors hun­dreds of years of blood, sweat, tears and death to win the right to pri­vacy.

We must defend that leg­acy.

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