FSFE Newsletter – August 2014
Privilege and Power
In the olden days a common citizen of a republic going about their everyday business was quite, shall we say, free. While tending to their chores they would occasionally need a new tool or some advice, but the old Latin proverb scientia potentia est dictated the limits of their freedom to be the limits of their knowledge: if they needed a new tool and lacked the knowledge to make it, they became dependent on the toolmaker only to obtain the tool.
In the brave new world it is different: not only do we depend on the toolmaker when we wish to obtain a new tool, but oft we remain dependent on them forever after. In the olden days a hammer could be used both to put stakes in the ground (or vampires) and nail planks atop the vampire's coffin. Today, the customer buying a general purpose tool has to pay twice for it: once to put stakes in the vampire and then again to nail planks atop its coffin.
This is great if you happen to be one of the few toolmakers: not only are they one of the few privileged to be in control of their own property, but they have also stripped the rest of us of our rights and have the power to command our tools and hence have the power over us. Unfortunately, the privilege blinds them to the situation's revoltingness.
Times have not been kind and, in addition to the revolting consequences of failed regulations and cold, unjust, profit-oriented business logic, we have been treated with a revelation after a revelation of agencies and offices founded to protect us, and subsequently given an impossible mission, preying on us. These developments, while despicable, can at least be rationally understood.
However, it cannot be rationally comprehended why our democratically elected representatives would seek to entrench these unfortunate encroaches on our rights, on their own rights. Yet many of them do: the European Commission is refusing to break Microsoft's stranglehold on the EU and, as an even more deeply unsettling development, the Communications Committee of the UK parliament's House of Lords has proposed to end anonymity on the Internet.
If the danger to privacy and freedom were not so grave, the latter's technical ineptitude and arguments utterly unsuitable to the birthplace of liberalism would be highly amusing. Yet the danger posed by people who have been corrupted by power or greed is real and our resolve to confront that danger with more decentralization, security, privacy, and anonymity must become ever greater.
We are all Targets
According to new revelations from early July pretty much anyone in the technological community is a target for surveillance. Among other activities we have been, or will be picked out, for visiting the Tor website, reading the Linux Journal, connecting to Mixminion anonymous remailer service, and downloading Tails, a privacy-sensitive GNU/Linux distribution. These sobering facts ought to be remembered every hour, every day. In the end our greatest weapon is developing and promoting projects that will one day land people interested in them on that very same list.
Something Completely Different
- FSFE will have a booth at FrOSCon, where our Vice President Matthias Kirschner will also give a talk on the demise of the general purpose computer.
- Our President Karsten Gerloff writes about evaluating Free Software for procurement.
- Hugo Roy, our Deputy Legal Coordinator writes about defensive publications and his work for the Open Invention network at his blog.
- Matthias writes at his Fellowship blog about the invisible tasks that are being attended to by Reinhard Müller, our Financial Officer.
- Guido Arnold, our Education Team Coordinator, has finished composing his collection of Free Software in Education News for June.
- From the planet aggregation:
- Kevin Keijzer writes about receiving TV using a DVB-T USB dongle. For our more adventurous readers we suggest tuning the receiver to 1090 MHz and obtaining an overview of the local civilian air air traffic as reported by ADS-B transmitters on the aircraft.
- Sergey Matveev reports on the GoVPN daemon he wrote in the Go programming language.
- Use and spread the word about GnuPG, Off-the-Record messaging, Tor, cryptsetup, HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger and other privacy-enhancing Free Software.
- If you can write code and understand a bit of computer science, find a cool privacy-or-anonymity-enhancing concept in a scientific journal and make it come to life.