I love programming. I was born to code. I want to save the world by writing code.

I feel very strongly about software freedom. As I get older, and my eyes open to see more of the evil in the world, I become more concerned about freedom in general.

Software freedom is, at least traditionally, about permission use, study, modify, and re-distribute software. The Free Software Foundation expresses this as the four essential freedoms. Debian expanded on that, and produced the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

This is no longer enough. It is not enough to have all the freedom when you using your own computer, to have the source code to every bit of code that runs on your hardware. We live in the era of the Internet. Much of what we use computers for involves communication over the Internet, and the Internet is being actively used to curtail the freedom of people.

For example, governments and corporations do large-scale surveillance of everyone, by eavesdropping on private communications, gathering enormous databases of personal data, and by analysing everything they can in order to find patterns and make conclusions both at the statistical level and about individuals. This ruins privacy. Without privacy, democracy cannot survive.

Another example: in the name of various strawmen, such as terrorism, copyright violations, drugs, and child pornography, governments and corporations are collaborating in limiting private people's communications. I'm a Finnish citizen living in the UK. Both countries are among the closest ones to an ideal democractic nation state. Both countries arbitrarily block access to websites based on lists provided by private organisations, assuming that those organisations produce accurate lists of sites that contain copyright violations. As a result, both countries blocked, for example, a site where musical artists promoted their own works, bypassing the large media corporations that fund the list-making organisation.

These issues transcend software freedom, though they interact with it. Software freedom is a necessary requirement for freedom, in a world where almost everything is done with, or controlled by, the use of computers. Software freedom is not enough to prevent censorship or surveillance: even if all the software in the world were free, including the national firewalls of China, Finland, and the UK, this would not prevent those countries from censoring and surveilling their citizens. The firewall would run free software, but that does not give the citizens the freedom to disable, or modify, the firewall systems.

Fixing these issues is not a coding task. It is a job for politics, and it is going to take a long time, I fear. In the mean time, is there something a hacker can do to improve things?

My main hobby project is Obnam, my backup program. Does that help people to protect their freedom? I think it does, in a small way: Obnam supports online, encrypted backups (and de-duplication even for encryption is used), which means they can make backups to servers anywhere on the Internet without having to fear their data gets read and analysed by hostile entities such as their own government, other governments, large corporations, or criminals. Obviously this does not help them if their government prohibits the use of encryption, or requires key escrow, or mandates backdoors to all encryption methods. But it's a step in the right direction.

I don't claim Obnam will save the world, but a million small such steps by a thousand individual hackers, even without any particular organisation or guidance, will make a big impact.

What step can you take?

No worries, globe is slowly but surely opening its eyes wide (linked article is actually well-written for such a mainstream tech portal). Though I hope it won't be too late.

1.| http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/7/4036040/cypherpunks-julian-assange-wikileaks-encryption-surveillance-dystopia

PS: Finally someone using trackball. (=

Comment by Martin Sat Mar 9 21:01:54 2013

I agree that protecting our right to privacy is important for democracy. Besides government blocking of certain websites (which must be somewhat less bad than private sector lobbying), there are the twin issues that ISPs can track every server you visit and that "cloud" services are mostly offered by a small number of providers, putting information about a large number of people in a small number of places. Is not being tracked important? It's not a rhetorical question. Police track people in the physical world sometimes, though clearly less often. It's not a clear issue exactly what the rights of citizens should be, but I think part of the solution has to be political, not just technology.

As a British citizen living in Switzerland, I disagree that the UK is close to an ideal democracy, however. Why exactly it has settled to a mostly two-party system where citizens have little more choice than "left wing" or "right wing" politics I don't understand. Switzerland has the Volksinitiative for example, which is somewhat more effective than writing to your MP.

Comment by Diggory Sat Mar 9 21:17:45 2013