Assange on Internet-Enabled Totalitarianism

Ignore the source for a minute (whether you read this to mean Assange or Russia Today is up to you) and read this. It’s certainly not the whole truth, but it’s likely an interesting part of it.

Assange makes a point I hope we’ll see some action on: we need to educate people in taking responsibility for their own security, and develop easy-to-use security that enables this.

The way things stand now, though –“by just communicating to our friends, by emailing each other, by updating Facebook profiles, we are informing on our friends. And friends don’t inform on friends. You know, the Stasi had a 10 per cent penetration of East German society, with up to 1 in 10 people being informants at some time in their life.”

A good number of you would do well to start reading history. I have a sneaking suspicion that the history books most relevant to the US residents here are the East German ones.

(Which isn’t to equate the two. The former DDR is amazingly relaxing to visit: the Spartan architecture and incredible amounts of green space are one upside of Communist inefficiency. The mindset, sadly, is not quite gone yet. I once cracked a joke about a gate being the “secret back entrance” and got a genuinely-horrified “Sorry!” in reply.)

Speaking of paranoia, this must be the most amazing sentence I’ve read in a while:
“My “double”, carrying on a North Korean passport under my name, was in fact detained in Mexico for pre-planned misbehavior, but due to indifference on the part of authorities was evicted from the jail and was unable to serve his intended purpose in our exit plan.” ( )

“The people who control the interception of the internet and, to some degree also, physically control the big data warehouses and the international fiber-optic lines. We all think of the internet as some kind of Platonic Realm where we can throw out ideas and communications and web pages and books and they exist somewhere out there. Actually, they exist on web servers in New York or Nairobi or Beijing, and information comes to us through satellite connections or through fiber-optic cables.

So whoever physically controls this controls the realm of our ideas and communications. And whoever is able to sit on those communications channels, can intercept entire nations, and that’s the new game in town, as far as state spying is concerned – intercepting entire nations, not individuals.[…]

The utopian alternative is to try and gain independence for the internet, for it to sort of declare independence versus the rest of the world. And that’s really quite important because if you think what is human civilization, what is it that makes it quintessentially human and civilized, it is our shared knowledge about how the world works, how we deal with each other, how we deal with the environment, which institutions are corrupt, which ones are good, what are the least dumb ways of doing things. And that intellectual knowledge is something that we are all putting on to the internet – and so if we can try and decouple that from the brute nature of states and their cronies, then I think we really have hope for a global civilization.

If, on the other hand, the mere security guards, you know, the people who control the guns, are able to take control of our intellectual life, take control of all the ways in which we communicate to each other, then of course you can see how dreadful the outcome will be. Because it won’t happen to just one nation, it will happen to every nation at once. It is happening to every nation at once as far as spying is concerned, because now every nation is merging its society with internet infrastructure.[…]

People think, well, yeah, I use Facebook, and maybe the FBI if they made a request, could come and get it, and everyone is much more aware of that because of Petraeus. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that all the time nearly everything people do on the internet is permanently recorded, every web search.[…]

People don’t actually know. When on Facebook it says “share this to your friends,” that’s what it says. It doesn’t say “share this to state agencies,” it doesn’t say “share this to friends and cronies of state agencies.”

RT: Who do you think has the organized power to stop these things that you are talking about?

JA: If there is political will, everything is possible. So if we get the political will, then of course those agencies can be dismantled. Very aggressive legislation, policing can be pushed upon them. In some regions of the world, such as Latin America, perhaps that’s a possibility. There is a certain democratic tendency, which Ecuador is part of that might do that. But in general I think the prognosis is very grim. And we really are at this moment where it can go one way or the other way.

To a degree, perhaps the best we can be sure, if we work, of achieving is that some of us are protected. It may only be a high-tech elite, hopefully expanded a bit more – people who can produce tools and information for others that they can use to protect themselves. It is not necessary that all of society is covered, all of society is protected. What’s necessary is that the critical accountability components of society that stop it from going down the tubes entirely, that those people are protected. Those include corruption investigators, journalists, activists, and political parties. These have got to be protected. If they are not protected, then it’s all lost.

RT: Is there a way that I can protect myself without knowing all about computers?

JA: Well, a little bit. But the first thing to be aware of is how much you are giving away. The first way to protect yourself is to go, “OK, I’ll discuss that in person, and not over Facebook chat,” or, “OK, I will discuss this using some forms of encrypted chat, like OTR, and not on a Facebook chat.” You can go to and download encrypted anonymizing software. It is slower than normal, but for things like internet chat it’s fine, because you are not downloading very much at once. So there are ways of doing this.

What is really necessary, however, for those to be properly developed, there needs to be enough market demand. It’s the same situation as soap and washing your hands. Once upon a time, before the bacterial theory of disease, before we understood that out there invisibly was all this bacteria that was trying to cause us harm – just like mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm.
‘mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm’ – no one bothered to wash their hands. First process was discovery; second process, education; third process, a market demand is created as a result of education, which means that experts can start to manufacture soap, and then people can buy and use it.

So this is where we are at now, which is we’ve got to create education amongst people, so there can be a market demand, so that others can be encouraged to produce easy-to-use cryptographic technology that is capable of protecting not everyone, but a significant number of people from mass state spying. And if we are not able to protect a significant number of people from mass state spying, then the basic democratic and civilian institutions that we are used to – not in the West, I am no glorifier of the West, but in all societies – are going to crumble away. They will crumble away, and they will do so all at once. And that’s an extremely dangerous phenomenon.

It’s not often where all the world goes down the tube all at once. Usually you have a few countries that are OK, and you can bootstrap civilization again from there.”


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