Does anyone else get the feeling that Internet regulation is starting to resemble a dystopian novel? Widespread surveillance (both public and private). Censorship. Lack of transparency. Prosecution of whistle-blowers. Secret courts. Governments intent on hard-wiring morality into the network. Open standards under attack. Excessive IP enforcement. Centralised architectures.
We are in dire need of an organised political movement that tries to tackle all of the above, but is such a thing possible? Can the geeks unite against these and other threats?
However, the prospect of uniting under a single banner is difficult. The global disillusionment with party politics has been justifiably caused by decades of false promises and corruption, and large parts of the public have simply grown weary of any sort of political organisation. Dwindling political participation and the rise of protest voting blocks is a well-documented phenomenon that speaks of a malaise in the Western political system that will undoubtedly continue. This apathy is made worse when the Internet constituency witnesses representatives who are utterly clueless about technology, with a few notable exceptions. The few “geek friendly” parties, such as the Pirate Parties, or the Wikilieaks Party, seem too narrowly focused to be a viable alternative for many of us.
Similarly, we may not want to find solutions in party politics, which could be seen as the cause of the entire sorry mess to begin with. But how is it possible to enact change without relying on the current structures? I put forward that we need clear political participation beyond what is being offered at the moment. But I feel that some of the grass-root responses lack direction, such as the Indignados and the Occupy movements. These are great in expressing the anger many of us are feeling, but fail in enacting long-term change. I propose that we need a more direct form of organisation, perhaps even using party politics as a starting point, at least until some form of reform has been achieved.
It is difficult to define any form of “geek politics”, for lack of a better word. What unites us anyway? If we are going to get organised, we need to have an intersection of topics and interests that unite a good number of people. I would say that these are the main intersecting topics for what we could call geek politics:
- Free and open Internet. This has to be re-defined, as in my opinion the term has become co-opted in recent years by a narrow interpretation of Internet governance which advocates for the status quo. When we talk about a free and open Internet, we should understand open standards and de-centralised architecture. The expensive and easily-manipulated current structure does not form part of this ideal.
- Network neutrality. All data should be treated equally.
- Information self-determination. Users should always be capable of making informed decisions about their data.
- Privacy protocols. Users should have the right to privacy.
- Intellectual property rationality. Strengthen exceptions and limitations, end irrational and counter-productive enforcement, encourage open access and open licensing schemes.
- No censorship. National firewalls and filters do not work.
- An end to indiscriminate surveillance. Self-explanatory.
- Distributed and decentralised structures are preferable. We must end our over-reliance on large corporations based in one country, be they hosting, cloud, search, or any other service. The growing centralisation makes it easier for governments to exercise control through filtering, censorship, or surveillance.
I put forward that the above is what unites us. There are things that can potentially separate as well. Invariably the old divisions of right versus left tend to resurface when we are talking politics. There is room for conflict between the libertarian and anarchic wings of geek politics. The inclusion of hot button social topics might cause conflict as well. I’d include a list of these as things that interest geeks as well, but that often tend to generate heated debate:
- Gender equality.
- Reproductive rights (contraceptives, IVF, abortion).
- Social equality.
- Environmental issues.
- Crime enforcement issues (gun control, drug decriminalisation/legalisation).
I do not mean that the above should not be part of geek politics, but we should be aware that these might cause controversy, and should be ready to debate them openly.
So geeks of the world, unite and quietly and politely take over.