Thursday, August 25, 2011

Information Wants to be Free. So Do People.

When we ponder the mystery of Barack Obama, we should remember that he has been consistent in two areas: the expansion of war and the expansion of the security state. Guantanamo is still open. People are still being held without trial or charges in Gitmo and elsewhere, apparently forever. Whistle blowers and people who actually believe in free information are savagely prosecuted, as are people who peacefully oppose government policy.

The idea seems to be: shut down opposition, silence those who question the state, at the same time as the Administration expands bombing to Yemen, Pakistan, Libya and Somalia. The CIA cooperates with the NYPD to spy on New York's Muslim community. The FBI raids peace activists in the Midwest.

This is from a Glenn Greenwald post last week:
Several weeks ago, a New York Times article by Noam Cohen examined the case of Aaron Swartz, the 24-year-old copyright reform advocate who was arrested in July, after allegedly downloading academic articles that had been placed behind a paywall, thus making them available for free online. Swartz is now being prosecuted by the DOJ with obscene over-zealousness. Despite not profiting (or trying to profit) in any way -- the motive was making academic discourse available to the world for free -- he's charged with "felony counts including wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer" and "could face up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines."

The NYT article explored similarities between Swartz and Bradley Manning, another young activist being severely punished for alleged acts of freeing information without any profit to himself; the article quoted me as follows:

For Glenn Greenwald . . . it also makes sense that a young generation would view the Internet in political terms.

"How information is able to be distributed over the Internet, it is the free speech battle of our times," he said in interview. "It can seem a technical, legalistic movement if you don't think about it that way."

He said that point was illustrated by his experience with WikiLeaks -- and by how the Internet became a battleground as the site was attacked by hackers and as large companies tried to isolate WikiLeaks. Looking at that experience and the Swartz case, he said, "clearly the government knows that this is the prime battle, the front line for political control."

Greenwald ends his post as follows:
Economic suffering and anxiety -- and anger over it and the flamboyant prosperity of the elites who caused it -- is only going to worsen. So, too, will the refusal of the Western citizenry to meekly accept their predicament. As that happens, who it is who controls the Internet and the flow of information and communications takes on greater importance. Those who are devoted to preserving the current system of prerogatives certainly know that, and that is what explains this obsession with expanding the Surveillance State and secrecy powers, maintaining control over the dissemination of information, and harshly punishing those who threaten it. That's also why there are few conflicts, if there are any, of greater import than this one.


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