Ed. Note: This video is an extract from interview with Danny O’Brien of EFF that was recorded at #Freebassel Day SF on March 15 2013. I caught up with Danny again recently and this material will be posted soon. However, it’s good to look back to 6 months ago, and think about what has and hasn’t changed… clearly, Bassel is still in prison, so there is still much work to be done. But remembering this day is quite special to me - not only because it was a… uniquely personal day of global solidarity, but also because it was the day I first really started talking to people about this project, which has now become the most important thing in my life. That said, there is much more material from that day that will also be released, slowly but surely, in the near future.  

Dear Bassel,

I’m curious what you would think about what Danny says here regarding the merging of journalism, technology, and activism. I’ve inferred through your tweets that you do not care much for the term “activism,” and imagine you might be as troubled as I am by the fact that “technology” doesn’t quite fit into this list, being that it is not an “ism”. And while the term “technologism” is floating around the Internet, it doesn’t (yet) refer to a field of (individual or collective) practice, but rather to a social order in a similar fashion as “consumerism.” 

So what is a technologist? Just someone who falls into this social order, as “consumers” do? That hardly seems appropriate, especially since it would seem to cancel out the need for a Code of Ethics for practitioners, like what we find in journalism. .

Do you see your work in a similar light as the work of a journalist, to the extent that you are a “technologist”? While a journalist gathers information in order to report a story and present it to the public to digest, a technologist such as yourself creates/maintains the infrastructural channels through which these stories may be accessed and developed by the public as much as other journalists. And these channels involve so much more than “journalism”… indeed, a knowledge of their circuitry, how to navigate it and how to build, maintain, and protect connections is invaluable and empowering for citizens in general, living together under the invisible banner of the global village. 

In this sense, this (e)merging speaks to the growing of an ecosystem through which the means of production and distribution are controlled by and dependent on the producers, who need one another in order to do their work. But what is needed in order to make this ecosystem not only sustainable, but capable of reaching the mass audience that defines conventional journalism? Or is this convention as antiquated as the idea that consumers and producers are essentially different classes?

And with the NSA building so many backdoors into web-based services and softwares and pissing off most of the world, I’m led to wonder if there is a looming expiration date on the coexistence of these systems of personal and private communications. That is to say, will we have separate Internets in the future? Might those who wish to protect their privacy also be barred access to certain places, or whole systems, and vice versa?

What would this scenario compare to? While I do believe the right to privacy is a fundamental one, I’m also aware of the situations in which one must trade their privacy in order to access something more profound. I think of personal relationships. Of course, these emerge (generally) from choice, and most of the time we don’t view “opening up to someone” as too much of a sacrifice, because we usually get something back. We get a kind and thoughtful ear, advice, or the reassurance that we are not alone in our fears, anxieties, aspirations, or passions. And while it’s undeniable that we do get something back from the Internet, we are encouraged not to be suspicious or think twice about the deal. In fact, I think much of the deal relies on us taking in the illusion that we enter into comparable reward systems as we see in personal relationships. But confiding in a friend about one’s secret love interest or childhood trauma does not also involve the possibility of a removed third party stealing this information and removing it from it’s context to store for an indefinite period of time for future use by an omnipresent agency with unchecked power.

I’ll close this by noting the recent news item that relates very closely to the idea of separate internets. That is, the efforts being taken in Brazil to require internet giants like Google to store their data on Brazilian users in Brazil, as well as laying a new fiber optic cable directly to Europe in order to build a South American Internet that circumvents the prying eyes of the NSA. While this would certainly be more autonomous and present Brazil with the ability to manage its citizens’ (and leaders’) privacy on its own, it could obviously also set a worrisome precedent that encourages the more censor-happy countries to go to even greater lengths to control the Internet that is seen and experienced by their citizens.

As a closing thought we can look to when the Internet was first set up in Syria in 1999, and consider how it was designed to facilitate monitoring and filtering of users’ behavior and action. And the word “design” is not chosen hastily, as the intent is clearly stated in the original bidding invitation issued by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment.

[…]

There is certainly a lot to consider, and much work to be done. But what is this work? How might the Internet itself be leveraged in such a way that we are actually able to debate, share, and communicate amongst ourselves and our leaders in an open forum that is unfettered by sectarian strife, prejudice, greed, fear, and all of that… Like a social network that facilitates policy discussion, academic debate, interpersonal introspection, vaudeville…  I don’t know… but something I’m sure you would have a lot of interesting ideas about..  

-nk (sometime in September 2013)