Eben Moglen - Better than Rage Against the Machine... (2017-09-25)


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Eben Moglen - Better than Rage Against the Machine... (2017-09-25)


"Better than Rage Against the Machine: Saving Privacy in One Hell of a Dangerous World"

"Privacy is about environment, not transaction and consent. To the world’s owners, we hear now, data is the new petroleum. Privacy destruction is thus global warming on Internet time. Free software and free culture came into existence in the 20th century because people foresaw the threat to human freedom from networked computers collecting behavior, even as the NSA was inventing the mathematics of data-mining. In this talk I attempt to provide a historical view: from the primordial slime to the current mess, as a great Yale historian used to say. I then show how by thinking globally we can act locally, using technologies of freedom embodied in something we call the FreedomBox, to improve the environment and increase both environmental consciousness and citizen empowerment, before it’s too late."

A lecture by Eben Moglen at Yale Law School on September 25, 2017, in celebration of Yale Privacy Lab's implementation of FreedomBox. https://freedombox.org

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Also available on our MediaGoblin / GoblinRefuge account: https://goblinrefuge.com/mediagoblin/u/privacylab/m/eben-moglen-better-than-rage-against-the-machine-2017-09-25/




Yale Privacy Lab
published via YouTube.com





Eben Moglen


Yale Law School

Transcribed by Yale Privacy Lab

00:07: Sean O’Brien: Welcome everyone. We have a great speaker here today for our [Yale] Privacy Lab event. Privacy Lab is a new initiative of the Yale Information Society Project, I’m leading this initiative, I’m Sean O’Brien. This is Mike Kwet, who is my colleague also leading it with me. And we are here today in celebration of our Freedom Box implementation here at the Yale Law School and also a few boxes in New Haven as well.

00:34: Freedom Box is one of these [holds Freedom Box up]. A very small, personal computer that can be a home, privacy-respecting router. It can also host for you a number of services and if you’re interested, so for example, if you wanted to talk about Secure Chat. If you want to talk about, I don’t know, Tor anonymous browsing, please see after the talk. We’re going to be doing workshops showing people how to set these things up with even smaller boxes, things like Raspberry Pis and so on.

00:08: So the Freedom Box is important for us because it safeguards privacy, security, and anonymity. We definitely don’t want to lose that last one. It allows us to be free thinkers and free actors when we’re away from the keyboard. So it’s not just about digital free speech. We’re going to be implementing those boxes here [at Yale], we’re going to be implementing those boxes elsewhere, and we just want to make sure if that interests you in the slightest we can help you out with that. Here at privacy lab we have a strong dedication to free software. We’re going to be rolling our own version of an operating system based on Debian GNU/Linux. That’s going to be called Quillux, and that’s going to have a number of privacy-respecting secure communication tools bundled with it. I’ll leave it over to Mike to tell us about the other cool things we’ll be doing.

02:05: Michael Kwet: Hi, I’m Michael Kwet. I did my PhD at Rhodes University in South Africa. My PhD was on e-education and Professor Moglen’s work was a major influence on my dissertation. So we’re very excited to have him today.

02:22: At the Privacy Lab, we think global, act local. So we’re partnering with the Right2Know Foundation, which is a major human rights campaign, organization in South Africa, and we’ll be working with other organizations as well on various projects there. Another project that we’re doing here is a surveillance map in New Haven. Basically what we’re doing with this is plotting out surveillance in public spaces and making it available to the public using services that have open data licensing. We’re working on other initiatives, but for the most part, that covers a bunch of the things that we’re doing right now, and we’re very excited to be starting up here in the Yale Law School.

03:15: Sean O’Brien: Great. So Eben Moglen is a Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia University Law School. He is the Founder and Director of the Software Freedom Law Center. He has represented many of the world’s leading software developers, and is one of the chief architects of he GNU General Public License. GPL versions 2 and 3 are are some of the most important copyright licenses that are pioneering the idea of copyleft licensing. Eben also clerked for the US District Court in New York and he also clerked under Justice Thurgood Marshall at the Supreme Court. We’re very happy to have him here. There’s plenty of accolades that I can’t memorize, anyway, but the wonderful thing to know that Eben is a luminary in the free software and free culture movement generally. Let’s welcome Eben.

[audience claps]

04:08: Eben Moglen: Thank you Sean. It is 37 years and a handful of days since I sat in this room on the first day of law school. And then Dean (?? Harry Wellington ??) told me and my assembled colleagues that if you came to read James Joyce you came to the wrong place. I thought about that years later when I dropped a large block quote from Finnegans Wake in the middle of an amicus brief, Supreme Court, Lotus against Borland. It’s nice to be back.

04:45: So what happened to the human race over the last thirty years was a series of what we might think of as the unintended consequences of work that I and other guys did when we were little, building a thing we called the Internet. From my point of view over the course of the life doing this work the point of the net was that it was the greatest machinery for the creation of freedom and the vanquishing of ignorance that the human race had ever devised. What I do I still do because it is possible using this system of interconnection that we have made for every brain on earth to learn. For the first time in the history of the human race it is possible for us in one generation to eliminate ignorance, which is the deliberate starvation of the human desire to learn and to improve oneself.

05:52: We could now deliver to every brain in the world every book, every piece of music, every painting, every act of choreography, of plastic arts, everything of beauty or utility that the human race has devised could be made available to everyone who wants it using what everybody can have. That, which is a fundamental restructuring of power, as well as knowledge in the human race, was the goal for which from the age of fourteen I went about to do work that was designed to make it possible to have computers that communicate with human beings in better and more liberating ways. This is not where we live now.

06:42: The materials out of which where we live now are constructed are the materials that I and many other people like me made for that purpose, however. We are living, in other words, inside one of those science fiction stories which so heavily shaped my generation: Richard Stallman, John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow, and me, and lots of other people who were early in, back when you didn’t need no stinking badges to improve computing. We grew up when on a science fiction whose primary theme was the unintended consequences of technology and whose background was the invention of nuclear weapons. After Trinity, Albert Einstein said, “we have changed everything except the way people think.” And what happened was that for reasons which show deeply the tragic irony of human history, we changed the way people thought after Trinity, but not in the way Einstein meant.

07:47: The job of networking networks, of building a network that could contain everything was a job which we undertook in order to resist the consequences of nuclear war. ARPANET, DARPANET, what we call the Internet eventually was an exercise in hardening US Command and Control against the consequences of a first strike. The birth of the Internet then was at Einstein’s moment after Trinity in which we hadn’t changed the way people thought. And we went on about trying to think the unthinkable and out of it we invented what those of us who the were kids within it, in the 1970s knew could be a great, great tool of liberation.

08:31: I won’t here, having at other times and in other places do the work of showing how it was that from the 1980s to the 1990s that dream began to change its trajectory. And I won’t because it no longer really matters. We came to have a net which was the primitive neuro-anatomy of a new species-wide nervous system for the human race. And at least some of us who lived and built within that net saw it as a network for the destruction of ignorance and the creation of what we really mean by democracy. That is, the thing Thomas Jefferson talked about, a world in which people know what’s going on and can express intelligent opinions intelligently and therefore govern themselves. When Abraham Lincoln said in Piori in 1854 that when the white man governs himself, that is self-government, but when he also governs another man, that is despotism, he might as well have been talking about Mark Zuckerberg (?? after that ??).

09:27: And what happened to us in this world was that the network that we intended to face outward, to allow every brain on earth to learn to liberate people by the destruction of ignorance turned inward, and acquired as its primary role the acquisition (?? and ??) metabolism of human behavior.

10:04: The single densest and most sophisticated array of sensors that has ever been created by human beings is the thing you carry around you call a smartphone. Gram for gram its sensing sophistication far exceeds that of any spy satellite in orbit. And it is aimed at you. The purpose of all that sensing equipment is to turn the human being into a source of behavior for collection, memorization, analysis, and profiling.

10:40: Capitalism has as its primary goal the use of that information to acquire a slight edge in both determining and affecting your wants. Want creation is now the activity of the network which engorges itself on human behavior and draws inferences. As you will have heard, 99 percent of all (??) advertising expenditure in the world last year was spent in one of two places called Google and Facebook. A perfect bilateral monopoly in want creation for the future, based upon the ability to use those spy satellite equivalents: “thin, thin, now with longer battery life, senses you better and needs less charging.” You buy it, you charge it, you maintain it, it spies on you.

11:36: That network, that network which scans and senses and tracks and analyzes human beings is of course also a domain of what I hear is called sovereignty – the State, too, has use for all that sensing and all that prediction and all that knowing about people. And so we live now in the network which is made of the parts intended for and capable of the creation of real human liberation, the eradication of ignorance, and the basis of a real democracy of persons in which no brain starves to death. And it has been turned on its axis into an organism for the sensation and the analysis of humanity.

12:35: Already a generation of human beings are growing up who do not know the nature of mental life independent of the net. That’s a crucial moment in the adaptation of the human species to a form of life commencal with an organism which eats behavior and (?? sheds ?? shits ??) inference. The machine, which is really a machine which is clustered among many owners and collaborating contracting parties, acquiring and trading behavior information about billions of human beings. The machine is a behaviorist. I mean this in a literal and technical sense. The machine occupies itself with a vision of psychology made famous in the middle of the twentieth century by a series of academic psychologists who we remember as BF Skinner and the dwarves, but the purpose of their effort was to eliminate the most intractable and potentially unnecessary of the concepts bedeviling psychology. Namely, mind.

13:47: The purpose was to say that even as twentieth century science practiced its craft, that if you had a merely deep correlation of stimulus and response across the life of an organism, you could account sufficiently for all of its mental and physical behavior without needing a concept of mind. Stimulus and response, stimulus and response, categorized over time, sufficed to solve the problem of psychology without that difficulty that had been bedeviling everybody from Saint Augustine down to well, William James.

14:33: The machine, and the data science that it practices, is behaviorism writ large and perfect. No need for the machine to be conceiving you as mind, or to be differentiating between the conscious and unconscious behavior, it just gets behavior, and it gets lots of it. Lots of yours, lots of everybody like you, lots of everybody not like you, and the machine experiments with you, trillions of times a day. The machine experiments with human beings, providing stimulus and acquiring a response. “Click, don’t click, swipe left, swipe right, walk, don’t walk, buy, don’t buy.”

15:23: With that mere process of the administration of stimulus and response the machine substitutes for a concept of mind a deep and remarkable understanding of the human race. The machine knows about you. It knows a great deal about you. Your smartphone knows how the medications you are taking work better than you do. It knows how fast you rise from bed in the morning. How quickly you walk to the bathroom. How quickly you walk down the street from one place to another. It sees your face, it knows your pulse rate. The camera facing you, which must exist in anything called an Android, you must have a camera facing you, can’t call itself Android if it doesn’t. The camera facing you can detect the tiny changes in the color of your facial complexion from moment to moment as your heart beats and blood pushes toward your face and is pulling away by the tide of your pulse. The machine knows your pulse rate. Your rate of walking. It hears your speech. The machine is a pretty good polygraph, if you think polygraphs are any good at all. And you agree to carry one with you everywhere you go, all the time. The King of the Undead Now Dead (?? made dreams ??) of power and you carry them.

16:56: Now in this world, the question, what does it mean to have a private space in which to think, not act, but think, to consider, to contemplate, begins to go away. The machine has no concept of time, it is concerned only with behavior. The only time for the machine is now. And as you go you begin to adopt its time schedule: now, now, now, now, now. In 1975, with my then friend John Gilmore, later the founder of the Electronic, one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I wrote what is we believe the first networked email distribution system in the world. I have been using email since I was 14 years old, which is unfortunately, well, half a century ago almost. And I have never, never never never never in all those years, never once answered an email in an elevator, or while crossing the street, or while driving a car. But around you are people who believe as we believed in the twentieth century when a phone rang that we had to pick it up, that the only mechanisms of communication that we possess are synchronous. That now is where all communication happens.

18:21: This isn’t a fact of the technology, it is a fact of our indulged, learned, created relationship to the machine. What should be a tool of asynchronous communication allowing us to contemplate and write and read more freely and more completely has become instead a restriction of human thought to 140 characters issued now, before somebody else tweets it and you lose your market.

18:50: What I want to say then about this nervous system that we have built is that it is altering the human race and it is altering it in a disappointing and ultimately destructive fashion. I want to say this, I would want to say this, even if there were nothing whatever to be done about it and it would be merely a matter of explaining how freedom got lost. But that isn’t what I came to do. I’ll just do it for a couple more minutes until I’m sure you’re really scared, which you should be.

19:23: The machine knows you in that completeness of ways in the relationship between what it is pleased not to have to call mind and what you call body through that spy satellite you carry around with you. The machine knows you better than anybody but you knows you and sometimes more. What Facebook knows about people’s children is way more than they know about their own children, Facebook does not tell. In addition to that specific knowledge of you, that remarkable understanding of you from moment to moment, an understanding which crosses the barrier between conscious and unconscious in a way that you cannot yourself do, the machine also knows you in the sense that it knows the human race in ways that it doesn’t know itself.

20:12: A revolution in social science is beginning which is based upon all that behavior collected everywhere all the time. Capitalism’s first slice of that is profiling: the collection of human beings into large groups that are like one another in ways that will be apparent to an advertiser but are not necessarily apparent to the people themselves. The sorting of the human race into collections based on deep knowledge of their behavior and an understanding of the dynamics of those relationships beyond those available to any individual human being is the other characteristic of the machine’s knowledge of our human world. It possesses a degree of knowledge of the individual that reaches the dreams and wishes and wants and hopes of every human being and uses the search box on the one end, and all this social physics, all this statistical reality of human behavior available only if you have collected so much and see so deeply – a synoptic view of human nature accompanied by the deepest knowledge of the individual experience in particular human beings.

21:30: The human race has only ever thought about a condition of knowledge like this one. It has never previously attained it. And the only phrase we ever had to indicate this kind of knowledge of the human world, we called it the mind of God. And then we built it. And then we aimed it at ourselves. And we gave to a few owners and to the States the mind of God. And this is the morning after, and thank you for (?? inviting me ??).

22:14: Now, evidently, as I say, we could be here simply (??) to say that “once there was human freedom, and now there’s this.” We could be here to say, “wow, we are beginning to understand how in 2016 that fateful year human beings began to believe that their politics in the most desirable societies on earth were going crazy.” As what we had taken to be the root of democracy – self-government by people educating themselves and making their decisions – what was once upon a time called by a friend of mine “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” had become instead a system of behavior collection in which behaving was more important than thinking. Having smart, aggressive, provocative stuff to say became more important than understanding the nature of our common needs. Simple answers that sound good in 140 characters became not merely the way we did politics but the way behavior amplification amplified us. I could just say we came to recognize that that occurred, and now we have to live with it. But this is not a good outcome. It is a problem (?? outcome ??).

23:43: A friend of mine (?? Dan Gear ??) who was one of the engineers around Vint Cerf when the Internet protocol was defined, and who now works on the fringes of the US intelligence committee, Dan said in a paper that he gave in 2012, “this is the last generation in which the human race gets a choice.” And he’s right. So I am here not only to say that this has happened and that this is where we live now, but that we are the last generation of human beings who can live somewhere else and who can bequeath somewhere else to the people following us. We have still some choices we can make and while they may seem grossly inadequate to what we are discussing, they are of deep importance.

24:37: That science fiction of unintended consequences and their fruit upon which those of who began the Free Software Movement, and who had been doing all these various things over the decades, that science fiction that we read imposed upon us a responsibility that the authors who we read wanted us to grow up with. They were teaching us, Isaac Asimov was teaching us. I knew him a little bit and I know what an obsessive desire (??) in public can do to a man’s credibility as a political and cultural thinker, but he had something to teach and he taught it to us. He taught us that we would have robots. He was wrong of course about what they would look like as everybody was, he did not know that we would carry them around with us and that they would listen to and sense us in this way. But he taught us that we would live with robots and he taught us what the requirement would be of a technology that would allow us to escape the unintended consequences. We would have to have laws embedded in the code of robots, right, our friend Larry Lessig, too, when the time came to think about this, was really just thinking in our science fiction. There would be code, there would be law, and the laws of robotics, those with crucial elements of the ethics of the avoidance of another Trinity. That is important to avoid, another Trinity should be particularly clear to everybody now I suppose. And also what it would mean if we allowed robots to kill, for example, too much.

26:26: What Asimov said was that we would have to make a law in code in robots that began with the First Law – that no robot may injure a human being. And we are now faced with retrofitting not into the little robots or even the self-driving bots, we must face now retrofitting into this network that is the human nervous system of the future, the species-wide superorganisimal structure tying this all together, we must retrofit back into it the First Law of Robotics. We must turn this network into one that does no harm to human beings. We are incapable of living ethically unless we do that.

27:13: The consequences of not doing it now are apparent to us all. They are the extinction of that space within which we have considered ourselves to be privately our own. A space in which I must point out we read far more than speak. Preserving the anonymity of reading is a great deal more important than preserving the anonymity of speaking. If every book had been reporting its reader at headquarters every single day for the last five hundred years we would not have what we are pleased to consider the rights of men, and citizens, and women, and children. We would have no rights at all. Our very conception of a society built on rights is a conception that depends upon that interior space within which we read, and think, and consider, and act as individuals on our own, unpredictable in every important way and most importantly, unpredictable to power. We must secure that in the network.

28:20: I have colleagues in this thing they call cyberlaw who are much concerned with what they are pleased to call network neutrality. And I only wish to point out that we are long past anything which is about network neutrality, we are about repelling network hostility, which is the fundamental condition in which we live. I will not additional precious time to talk about the thing called cyberwar or cybersecurity or the assumption upon which all governments now indulged. That there will never come a time in which the net will be at peace. In fact there is not even a conception of what cyberpeace would mean. A great hole in our form of thinking about technology and society that we have not even established a criteria of what we would consider to be a net at proper peace. And thus we surrender absolutely to the an idea of network hostility embodied in the war-making power in the net.

29:28: If we are going to change any of this, we will change it in the space around ourselves first. I stood in what had been the Hall of People’s Congresses in what had been East Berlin in what was 2004 in order to talk about that in a lecture called Die Gedankin Sind Frei. which was an attempt to associate the nature of the Free Software and Freedom of Net movements to the great long European struggle for freedom of thought, and to explain what it was that we were doing politically that differentiated us from all those wonderful and terrible movements for liberation in European history that began with utopia and ended with the terror. To explain why it was, as Isaih Berlin had summoned us to do, that our politics of absolute reform turned again and again into violence and failure. I said then and I will say now only as a footnote to then that the difference is our insistence upon proof of concept and running code. We are not utopian. Our politics is a politics of liberation but it is a politics that is based upon, “we can do it, we can share it, together we can make it better, we can scale the thing we need to have,” instead of taking, Berlin showed, that Wester liberationist movements had, generation after generation, taken a fast leap into a nowhere we consider perfect, but to which we cannot get by incremental stages, we can lay out and describe. We perform revolution by taking incremental steps, each of which we can specify and provide.

31:24: Seven years ago, in a talk called Freedom in the Cloud given at NYU on a Friday not when many people had things to do, I suggested that we make Freedom Box. That we use the availability of small, cheap hardware burgeoning around the world and the software we make ourselves to share, to create a network that lies on top of the existing network that retrofits anonymity and privacy using the best tools we have into every home and every office that wants them, forcing both the network and its masters – capital and government together – to deal with us on a retail basis rather than as a wholesale matter. To return us to a state of individuation and self-government in the net much as in the period of the sixteenth century across Europe. People began refashioning themselves under Protestant guidance into souls worth saving independently of the structures of Church or State.

32:34: What we are doing with these things, then, is to provide a layer atop the net which responds to the desire that you have, that you want to have (that you ought to have, I’ll be blunt about it) with what the military refers to as “stealth”. In the later 20th century, when air power and information warfare became crucial – that is, after midway – the United States and other militaries around the world began to understand the most important thing that they must do, an infrastructural requirement of survival, was to show up less on radar. And we are really good at showing up less on radar. We have spent tens of billions of dollars in researching, hundreds of billions of dollars in action, making our aircraft and vessels hard to see.

33:34: This [points to Freedom Box] is stealth for you. This is an ability to resist the cognitive machinery of the net run as a behavior collector. You plug in a Freedom Box at home and behind the wireless routing that it does, suddenly there are no ads, no trackers, no cookies being mis-bitten. The privacy proxy inside the Freedom Box does that for you automatically, whether you are using a browser capable of helping you or you are using a browser built by an advertising company, as almost all major browsers are, which has no interest in helping you at all. The minute you have established a Freedom Box you have also established a way to use all the things you use and all the Starbucks you go to without giving away packets anymore. You tunnel to the box and the box tunnels onward from your dwelling and suddenly you have disappeared off all those networks and airports and hotels and coffee shops that you use every day. You could even say if you use one of those LinkNYC monliths now popular all over Manhattan Island.

34:53: The purpose of the object, in other words, is to create a fulcrum, a piece of network routing that belongs to you. Give it a fulcrum and a long enough lever and a place to stand, we can restore human freedom, Archimedes is correct about this, oddly enough, but you need a fulcrum. The technology design, the architecture of the network in society around you which you are expected to use says you don’t have a fulcrum, you have a client system, one of these, one of those, some thing made by the King of the Undead now dead with his (?? cult mark ??) shining on the front of it. But whatever it is you have, it doesn’t make services and it doesn’t provide services. You think of yourself on that network as a consumer. You are, of course, the product. The satellite is aimed at you.

35:44: But what you are assumed not to have is a home on the network, a place that is yours. If you think about that, the creation of internality of the space for the saving of the soul and the creation of the human being that Western Protestantism brought in middle sixteenth century – that space had a home, in scripture. A book. The war was over whether you could have it, whether you were allowed to read it.

36:21: Here, too, the war is over whether the system of technology with which you are familiar is designed to allow you to have the necessary stealth to have, excuse me if I use this phrase this way, a mind of your own. Which is after all what we are architecting to preserve for you – a mind of your own. The important point about this, as Sean says, is it doesn’t have to be this big [holds up Freedom Box]. The purpose of architecting the software the way we did over the last seven long years as I have waited for us to get to this time, the purpose of doing it this way is to make it possible to run those bits on nearly anything. With our colleagues in Debian who packaged fifty-five thousand software packages and integrate them completely and distribute them to the world to run on almost any kind of hardware, the beauty of working with Freedom Box inside Debian is that we can run on anything. We can make a freedom appliance for you out of the smallest Raspberry Pi or the largest super-computer or an Android-powered dishwasher or refrigerator or coffee pot.

37:40: Our goal is to take every piece of hardware in the world – well, minus those Apple things that won’t run our stuff, or those, well nevermind. I won’t even bother. But you know, almost anything. And make it possible to use whatever it has to create privacy around it, to suppress surveillance, to ensure secrecy, to maintain the possibility of anonymity and reading and writing and speaking, to provide secure voice communications, to replace WhatsApp by actual private chat for just you with no super-friend in the middle. All those things all at once on anything, and to make it possible to tunnel smartphones and other untrustworthy objects in the most useful way to such fulcrums.

38:32: In our world you can represent any human being by an encryption key, a GPG key, an OpenPGP object meant for strong encryption, which we can represent as a QR code on the faceplate of a smartphone, so you do a smartphone high-five, bing-bing, you’ve just exchanged enough information in a tenth of second to have secure communications ever after. Hack that into an Apache web server as the form of authentication used and put in a little box and now you have a web server that automatically only communicates with people it knows securely. Put a little more on top of that and you have voice and video and chat and all of it operating the way you would really want. At that point you can represent any organization in the world as one of these [holds up Freedom Box], put safely somewhere where power is and the rule of law prevails in a home where a warrant is required under the Fourth Amendment, let us say. And now you have a private little cloud belonging to the people it knows should be using it, and to nobody else. Now we provide on the cheapest, simplest, most transparent form using software everybody can share and everybody can check and anybody can replace.

39:57: We provide for the services that you actually want: chat and voice communication, email, web services, remote storage, dropbox alternative, all of that stuff is easy once we have a place for you to use it. Freedom Box is a place. It isn’t really, it’s just some software you can fit in anything, but that means that it can create internality in the network, even as the network destroys internality in human beings. We can technologically and securely represent what it means to be among us only, whoever us may be. And we can do it on objects that cost $100 now and will cost $30 later, that are as common as dirt in the IT of the world. The Chinese Communist Party, not our friend, God knows, is busy churning out hundreds of millions of these things every single day and all we need to put back is some bits that you can carry on a thing the size of a thumbnail. This isn’t over yet. That’s the primary point. It isn’t over yet. It’s almost over, but it isn’t over.

41:23: So almost done, they fixed it, they’ve got trillions of dollars riding on it, this is how despotism wishes to become immortal, doing a hell of a good job, I have to say. The Chinese Communist Party is a highly powerful and disciplined organization, it knows its business. And it defines its business as the creation of a net which makes the very idea of democracy or the rule of law unaskable – the thing we call hegemony in the twentieth century, because our comrade Mr. Gramsci taught us that from prison. Hegemony is the goal of the guy on the other side who makes all the hardware and is very, very good.

42:04: But it isn’t over yet, because code is just ideas and bits are a thing they that exists in the world, and you can’t kill an idea. All the stuff we used to say, all the things we said generation after generation while we fought for the freedom of thought and they murdered us. It’s the same old song except proof of concept, running code. Except we have the fulcrum. Except we know how to do this.

42:36: Years have gone by but my dear comrade Sunil Mohan Adapa in Hyderabad and the people working for him now paid by ThoughtWorks to make Freedom Box software sing and my colleagues and comrades here and elsewhere around the world all say, “you know, we could do this. We’re in. We’re in.”

43:01: I’m truthfully deeply sympathetic to many alumni here at Yale Law School. After all, how could I not be. I too, you know, Hillary Clinton sat here also so, let us say then, in the spirit of her view, that we are all that stands between you and the apocalypse. Don’t make it a mistake this time.

43:27: This is the great issue of the fate of human freedom. What happens in the net? We’re stuck with that. The net can eliminate human freedom. There are people who want to do it and they are strong: the second strongest economy, for the moment, in the largest society on earth, and they are trying in a disciplined and important way. It’s good to have first class opposition. It keeps you honest. I must tell you, they look good to win. But they won’t. Not if we use it right. The technology is too omnipresent, the tools for privacy are too good. The motivation of the people slightly younger than we are to live in a world in which they have the freedom that we grew up with is a strong motive if we teach it to them right. If we keep them from forgetting. If we make sure that they don’t mistake what it is that enables freedom, if we let them get too caught in here, it is a pretty powerful thing, that here, here. Capable of bending an entire democratic society in no time flat. I don’t need to tell you that, you live in it, you know, you saw what happened, and it won’t stop happening unless we stop it.

44:51: The funny part of this is it takes cheap tools and simple stuff. We can make the software work for you, we can help you use it, but without you – that is to say, without people who decide that this is important – it can’t function. We’re not doing something that can be done by us alone. We’re not doing something which allows us to build a multi-trillion dollar corporation and force you to use it. That’s the other side’s game. We have network effects, too. We have wonderful network effects. But we (?? need a network ??).

45:31: The network we need isn’t a technical network, it’s a social network. It’s you, it’s people who decide that this is important. If you decide that it’s important, people will learn from you, both of its importance and where to put the lever. If you don’t teach them, they won’t know and pretty soon the idea will be extinct, because that is the goal, to extinguish the idea of freedom. Oh we will did friends, I must say, in China, making privacy proxies. Two of them disappeared last year. A friend of theirs later said to me, through an intermediary, you will never even find their ashes.

46:23: The people in the world who are fighting for the freedom of the network are real, and they are heroins and heroes of the realest kind. And their goal is to make it possible for the human race to survive later as we knew it, as it was in the middle of the twentieth century when I was born. That can be done. Like most revolutions, it has a very conservative element to it. But it requires a willingness both to see the importance of struggle and the newness of the (?? memes ?? means ??), and to affiliate those new (?? memes ??) and new struggles deeply with (?? old goals in which we fell in ??) love long before we were born. And whose sacrifices we have learned from, and which we bear with us as both something that we must mourn and something that we must aspire after. That our dead, too, should not have died in vain. That our societies, too, shall have a (?? re-birth of ??) freedom. And that the idea that this is a system made by people, for people, does not parish from the earth. Thank you very much.

[Audience claps]


47:54: Moglen: Questions.

47:58: Audience: Hi. Ten questions [laughs]. What is preventing Freedom Box that you do not become the next Google or Facebook?

48:07: Moglen: Well, our gross incompetence at business and our refusal to have a business model. We make only configurations of bits. The thinnest possible possible gas. And we emit the those thinnest possible gas just how to configure existing tools into an ecology called Debian where all that software gets made, and fixed, and viewed by thousands of volunteers and distributed in the world. We don’t make boxes [points to Freedom Box]. We don’t make chips. We don’t do anything that can create a bottleneck because we don’t want a bottleneck. We want secure software made as good bits that everybody can read, and everybody can understand, and everybody can fool with and change. We are not a social system, we’re just providers of fulcrums for other people’s levers. I would not be those people if I could – or let us say, I have lived my life so that I couldn’t possibly be those people.

49:18: That’s not what this is about. Though, people will in the end, if we succeed, they will license this butterfly [holds up Freedom Box], and they will try to make all kinds of evil stuff with it. So that comes down to how good is my trademark licensing policy? They’re lawyer stuff in here, too, I promise you. It sounds like it’s just techno-romantic futurist revolutionary bullshit, but there’s lawyer (??) [laughter]. I haven’t fallen that far from the tree. Law is hacked here, as copyright law was hacked to make free software as copyleft, the trademark system gets hacked here to make we hope an attractive brand which can be licensed only on terms that protect consumers in the same way that trademarks otherwise protect consumers with respect to the integrity of quality of goods. Take that (??)… a digital signature, cryptographically strong. That’s all (?? I can do ??).

50:22: Audience: I like what you said about how fighting back starts with us and our behavior. But how can we deal with the paradox that the more we adopt technology, privacy technology for ourselves, the more we might attract attention from authorities and other parties?

50:39: Moglen: Well we are lucky in the sense that we live in a society in which we can afford to be relatively unconcerned. We are leveraging the rule of law and respect for technological freedom, comma, to the extent that it prevails, comma, in some parts of the world in order to make things possible elsewhere. The good news is you don’t have to have as many worries as some of our comrades elsewhere. On the other hand, if you have comrades and friends and loved ones who are tortured in Bahrain because you took an iPhone to a political demonstration, or if you are hoping that when Joshua Wong comes out of prison in Hong Kong he will not (?? still be ??) carrying an iPhone, then you will understand why there is that I feel that relatively speaking, it’s up to us to ignore our our tiny little problems and move on to some bigger ones. You’re right, of course you’re right. Every time I run a Tor router on my home network in my Columbia apartment I am calling people’s attention to something. I have enemies. Right? But what is it for? What is any of our social privilege for? When I was a kid, people who were young white people who had small children rode buses to Mississippi and put themselves in danger because there was something going on there that they cared about. When I was a kid, if you were an editor of politically sensitive material in the United States, my father edited a book called (?? War Crimes in the American Conscience ??) with Sister (?? Philip Berrigan ??) and a number of other people, well, you thought about (?? that ??).

52:35: We like to remember the perfection of American democracy, it had its downsides then, too, but we lived with it. Because we knew it wasn’t the Soviet Union. I recommend that to you. You’re right, it’s a paradox if you like to think of it that way, and it’s a badge if you like to think of it that way. It’s a privilege if you like to think of it that way. You don’t worry you will die, not yet. But if I thought that the worse was going to happen to the United States, would I do less of this, or more? And we are, after all, lawyers, conventionally speaking in this room. We’re supposed to take risks for justice and freedom. If that’s the only paradox we run into I’m just going to (?? buy my side ?? full speed ahead ??) I don’t know about you, it’s up to you, but for me, that one is easy. Partly because I do work in other parts of the world where it wouldn’t be so easy, and when I come home I think I have the responsibility therefore. Other questions?

53:45: Audience: Can we (??) a similar device for smartphones?

53:50: Moglen: I will tell you that it is easy enough to put the software in the phone but it is hard to trust the smartphone object. The thing that you call a smartphone, that spy satellite aimed at you, is not a safe place to put your business. Everybody wants it to. But it isn’t. In my classroom at Columbia the first rule of having any privacy is do your computing standing still, preferably with copper wire between you and the wall. It’s not perfect but it is a necessary step. The problem is the thing called the baseband chip, the radio chip, the one that connects that object to proprietary networks. The problem is that it’s a very highly sophisticated computer and if you try to take it apart to figure out whether there is something in there that shouldn’t be there you wouldn’t be successful. The result is that I am better off telling you, “here, put a secure thing somewhere, tunnel to that secure thing through the mobile computing object, you are probably unsafe, but for reasons of convenience you (?? demand to do it ??).” And I would make you a little bit safer.

55:04: But still, I will be compelled to warn you, that if your threat model is anything more serious than Facebookery, then the machine you carry around in your pocket is your greatest enemy, it is not your friend. I do not carry one. I am not going to carry one. I do not consider myself safe if I am carrying one. You do. I ask you only to imagine the people I knew in the Soviet Union where I lived in the (??)… if KGB had come to them and said, “here, we would like you to buy for a thousand dollars a thing that will keep track of you everywhere you go all the time, it contains a microphone, and many cameras, and it can sense your wishes and your wants ahead of schedule,” my friends in would tie those things to dogs and send them out into the street. You buy it. And you carry it. And if you look at Snowden’s documents, in particular a series published in Der Spiegel in the fall of 2013 you will see the NSA with a bunch of slides marveling over this. It’s an NSA slide presentation called, “so your target carries a smartphone?” And it begins with a shot of Mr. Jobs, the King of the Undead now dead, and says, “Who knew that Big Brother would look like this?” And it continues with a shot through the glass roof an Apple Store, I don’t know whether from orbit, or from YouTube, or from a helicopter, or from an NSA agent on a ladder, or it was a stock photograph, but it looks down into the Apple store and the caption underneath says, “and who knew they could be made to pay for it?”

56:46: Yeah, we could put this stuff in a smartphone, but please don’t ask us to hurt you! We’re trying to do no harm, and to convince you that that thing is a receptacle of your privacy is a false consciousness being marketed. This is well, I mean, if I’m not going to wind up like that then no marketing of false consciousness will have to be part of the principle. Yeah, we could do that, but then we’d have to kill you. So please don’t ask us to. And worry about the smartphones. Worry about them. Problematize the object, ladies and gentlemen, please. It doesn’t work for you. But you treat it as though it were an (??). (?? Ohh, not tradecraft ??).

57:41: Audience: Actually, never mind.

57:43: Moglen: Really?

57:51: Audience: Well, I guess, another comment would be like, the thing about smartphones seems difficult, because I know so many people in the rest of the world who, well I guess it’s more of a comment. I know some people in the rest of the world who don’t have computers – smartphones is their only access to the Internet. It seems like it has potential to be a good thing. But before, actually, that’s maybe another point, but I guess I was curious to hear what your take is also on this progress that Facebook and other companies are making trying to create a world-wide Internet, like, you know from solar planes or I don’t know what. Do you think that is going to be successful.

58:30: Moglen: No I don’t.

58:31: Audience: Or if that’s dangerous?

58:31: Moglen: Our success in destroying Free Basics by Facebook.com in India, was pretty cheap and pretty easy, all things considered. It is not, what you need to see at the beginning of that is the political economy analysis, it is now inexpensive, essentially costless to provide Internet access to the world’s poor, as long as you get to spy on them in turn. That’s the deal. Connectivity is cheap enough that it makes sense to say, “well, we’ll just provide Internet service to anybody as long as we can listen to it.” What should happen instead, it should be cheaper to provide connectivity and not listen to them.

59:21: In (?? Uttar Pradesh and ?? in Ghana ??), where the Freedom Box production team in Hyderabad team is closely linked to our comrades in Swetia (??) we are using these as village Internet distribution systems on poles with solar panels – DIY telecommunications at the bottom of the world’s net. From there it becomes possible for us to provide real competition to those models of providing service in return for spying by providing service in return for no spying. Of course we worry about places in the world where the only computing available to young people is multi-hundred dollar smartphones. Of course we do. And my position about Freedom Box in India is that any Indian person who can afford any kind of home at all should be able to afford an appliance which creates privacy there, and which assists Internet connection by being able to use any ambient wireless signals available in the neighborhood to provide household Internet. That is within the reach of people economically for whom two meals a day are hard but a smartphone is necessary, or at least at mobile phone.

1:00:46: We will in the end be able to undersell the people who think they can give away free Internet in return for spying. Because we will be able to make privacy appliances that are as cheap as mobile phone chargers. That’s the best we can do with respect to the rest of the world, but we intended this for the rest of the world, and we know what the cost of global hardware will do over the course of the twenty-first century.

1:01:20: Now we need to think about mesh networking and some other ways that we can use radio waves to provide local networking to people whether there is a net behind or not. Five years from now my hope would be that we could drop ten thousand of these in Puerto Rico and have a telecommunications network running tomorrow even though there is no electricity because these things will run for days on double A batteries.

1:01:49: I do not think that it is a toy for only the world’s rich, it wouldn’t be interesting to me if it weren’t something that could be aimed literally everywhere. This is a human right. Yes, it requires some technology to effectuate, yes we can put that technology within the cost range of every human household. And with it, the war on ignorance reaches its peak moment: true universal education. A world in which we do our very best to make it impossible for knowledge to cost more than zero for those who want to learn. To me this is still the fundamental point of all this. Saving people’s liberty is necessary in order to protect their ability to learn, and in order to break the grasp of ignorance which is the greatest tool that power has.

1:02:47: I still think that’s all feasible in the places where you think Mr. Zuckerberg is going to get ahead of us. I don’t. There’s politics about that, there’s the immense force of money, but right now, if I had to tell you how the scoring stands, Facebook tried to do that in the world’s largest democracy and soon the world’s largest society and fell flat on its face. Because they lost Free Basics by Facebook.com in India they lost it in Egypt. Because they lost it in Egypt they lost around the rest of the BRICS world pretty firmly. Mr. Zuckerberg is determined to get it back and I wish him the best of luck.

1:03:36: Audience: What are the forces that, so now we believe in basically their Brave New World with the devices, cell phone is telling you to buy this (?? pleasure ?? pressure ??). What are the forces that are preventing this cell phone that actually when it have its, (?? from Amazon ??) buy a (??) right now, to become 1984?

1:04:13: 1984 is very 1984.

1:04:16: Audience: Yeah but that become, basically to be used not only to tell me to (??) but to actually force me.

1:04:23: Force is probably unnecessary. One of the great problems of despotism across the whole of human history is that fear is expensive to create and difficult to maintain. It’s not that it can’t be done, God knows, but it’s not efficient fear, terror (??). (?? Stalinism ??) is expensive stuff, you know?

1:04:52: It’s much better to do it this way. First, you go cashless. Cashlessness eliminates what we have been pleased to consider the free market. My colleagues to my right who are more very firmly convinced, my colleagues to my left who are not so convinced, I myself never a great fan of capitalism, but this relationship between freedom and the free market, you couldn’t just dismiss it all together. That would hardly have been intellectually respectable. The problem is that when there is no money there is no free market. There is an administered market of some kind and it’s administered by whoever it is who keeps the databases and emits the authentication tokens, right?

1:05:37: So the first thing you do if you want despotism to be (?? normal ??) is you go cashless. The greatest beneficiary of Narendra Modi’s demonetization of the (?? Indian ??) economy in which he proved that in the early twenty-first century you can kill eighty percent of all the cash in circulation overnight without a warning and the society will survive, the greatest beneficiary was the Chinese Communist Party. Jack Ma, whose Paytm was the most important cashless payment processor in India and the first beneficiary of the so-called universal payments interface in the (?? India stack ??), but more directly Xi Jinping himself who has now gained an immensity of powerfully important knowledge about what would happen if after the Party of Congress next month decided to demonetize the Chinese economy and go to cashlessness. Which some time in the next five years he will do.

1:06:36: Once you have created an administered market, once every act of buying, selling, renting, lending, etcetera is occurring inside books that are open to power, and every transaction actually checks with headquarters before it moves, you are now in a position to implement a form of despotism which is called citizen rating and which the Chinese Communist Party is already (?? leading ??) the world. That is to say, everything you do and everything you buy and every transaction you engage in is filtered through the rating of the citizenship of the Party’s (?? engagement ??). It’s not just credit rating – although credit rating is where it begins. You check everybody’s social media everything all the time. What are your friends like? What kind of politics do they have? You’re just trying to buy a ticket home for spring fest to go on the trains! But every single Chinese person living in the city is trying to buy a spring festival ticket (?? open on ?? get ??) home on the trains. And you don’t get one if your friends are politically smelly.

1:07:45: That happens every time you want to rent or buy anything. Pretty soon that subliminal creation of friction is having a subliminal effect on your behavior. One of the things that made twentieth century despotisms really kind of inefficient was the immensity of corruption that they tended to have around them. So people bought their away around despotism. In a cashless economy, there’s no buying your way around despotism. You get what your rating gives you. And your rating is changing in real-time as your friends are expressing political opinions on WeChat and somebody is speaking up, and everybody is having a little more trouble. Violence? Force? Oh man, that’s so out of date. You want to have rats in cage? Forget about it. Just make everything a little more expensive for people who don’t go along. Just make conformism really the standard of movement. Let us go at the gold standard. Now, now your talking business man. Now, now we’re really getting somewhere. And when your smartphone is supposed to unlock your apartment but it no longer does because a little snippet went into the phone while you were marching in the demonstration and you get home and your door won’t open? For what do we need this KGB please? Worry there. Right? Worry ahead, don’t look back. Look forward. If it doesn’t terrify you, good on you! (??).

1:09:31: Audience: I want to ask you about the (?? potential ??) to spread the Freedom Box, because some (?? governments ??) would say “we don’t want that on market because (?? it defies ??) our capacity to identify or track people.”

1:09:48: Moglen: I know and now all I have to do is control every collection of bits contained on a thing the size of a thumbnail. (?? I work there ??) That’s what will happen. The Chinese Communist Party will be the first, and they will manufacture the hardware in units of 200 million and ship them out of the country and then we want these bits not to come in the other way. And therefore I want to make a thing which is only bits. And I want to make it in a way in which it is very difficult to stop those bits from existing because they are merely part of what tens of thousands of people around the world voluntarily make, integrate, and distribute all the time. I want to tie it so deeply to the fragments of life in the free parts of the world that it is extremely difficult. Will it be kept out of Iran? No. Will it be kept out of Saudi Arabia? No. In fucking possible. Will it be kept out of China? We shall see.

1:10:47: It will need to be different in China because put up a Tor router in China and you’re getting attention. Right? We will have to modify the way we work to work within the limits of the desire to keep our users safe. We will have to do some fairly sophisticated work to keep Freedom Boxes from looking like Freedom Boxes when secret police come by on the net and take a sniff.

1:11:12: All of these things are real important. But at the beginning of the Syrian war there was a man living in the United States who understood exactly what risk he was taking when he called me up to volunteer: “I will take Freedom Boxes into Syria if you will give them to me.” Because the other side of that is that when people are in danger, you can trust them to figure out what is good for them to do. And if they don’t have it, they can’t use it.

1:11:45: Again, if I really thought the worst would come into the United States would I do less or more? Would I work faster or more slowly? Would I be more intimidated or would I be more galvanized? We are moving towards a world in which people we know, because we are global people, will be in danger. It will be up to them to decide whether we can help them. If they want our help, we should have helped to give them. And we should know exactly why it’s good and we should be working really hard to help them get it. That’s my feeling. That’s why I am doing what I am doing. Precisely I see the problem and I wish to meet it head on instead of sideways. Thank you all.

[audience claps]

1:12:37: Sean O’Brien: Thanks for coming everyone. I will say if you’re interested in the Freedom Box or what it looks like, it seems like a lot of the questions are what is this thing, how does it work? What does he mean by just bits? We’re going to demo the software, we have a demo on the 16th at Make Haven, we’re going to be showing the Freedom Box, we’re going to be making our own. The calendar of events, the contact information, and then also we’re going to have video up on video Media Goblin as soon as possible. Thank you so much.




“Eben Moglen - Better than Rage Against the Machine... (2017-09-25),” I/Oterror, accessed December 16, 2018, http://ioterror.com/items/show/43.

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