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Late last year, I called the first shots in Cyber World War One. I got the timing completely wrong. In fact, I was off by about 27 years.
The real first shot in that war — heard ’round the world and widely lauded, but its implications not really understood — was fired in 1984 by Stewart Brand: “Information wants to be free.”
Developments since then bring to mind the words of another great orator, words which I shall now hijack and mangle for my own purposes: Information cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. It will become all one thing or all the other.
The war for humanity’s future is primarily a war for control of the use and exchange of information.
Its three major fronts, in no particular order: The status of “intellectual property,” freedom to communicate, and transparency, or lack thereof, of institutions of governance.
Its combatants: On one side the state and its hangers-on. On the other side, the rest of us.
This war has actually raged for centuries, sometimes “hot” and sometimes “cold.”
Its “hottest” manifestations have been the totalitarian states characterized by opacity of governance, ruthless suppression of unauthorized communication, and tight control of literature, entertainment and technology. The Soviet Union, Baathist Iraq and the Kim dynasty’s North Korea are prime examples.
On the “cold” side we find the non-totalitarian, but increasingly authoritarian, Westphalian nation-states in which governance has crept rather than sprinted toward opacity, in which communications were left relatively free so long as they represented no substantial threat to the state’s monopoly on force, and in which control of literature, entertainment and technology were a matter of slow jockeying for position by corporate behemoths with the capital to engage in expensive production.
So why has the war recently gone “hot” in the “free world?” One word: Technology.
The personal computer drastically decreased the costs associated with producing and manipulating information.
The Internet drastically decreased the costs of communicating and disseminating that information.
The combination of those two things is even now bringing forth a renaissance in manufacturing machinery and method which promises to drastically reduce the costs of producing and distributing physical goods.
Our side — humanity’s side — went from throwing rocks to developing not just the longbow, but the machine gun and the suitcase nuke in a mere 30 years or so.
The other side has noticed, and they’re putting everything into an all-out offensive to crush freedom with finality while they still believe they can.
The “intellectual property” industries are working overtime to quarantine as much information as possible behind monopoly patent and copyright paywalls, while chivvying their toadies in the halls of state to reinforce those walls, string barbed wire atop them, and put machine gun towers on the corners.
Even absent the whisperings of the RIAA, MPAA and other “intellectual property” lobbies, politicians fully realize the mortal danger the Internet represents to their continued rule, and are moving with what passes for alacrity in a dinosaur-type institution to counter it.
Absent a super-weapon like Joe Lieberman’s proposed “kill switch,” they’ve so far contented themselves with seizing domain names on “intellectual property” grounds, arresting hackers who expose government’s inner workings, and attempting to co-opt cyberspace into their “national security” theatrics. But doubt this not: We’ll be seeing the equivalent of Hitler’s V2 rocket or Oppenheimer’s “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” just as soon as they can be developed and deployed.
Yes, it really is a war. If you don’t believe me, ask the US Department of Defense about its “comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.” Or Julian Assange, still under house arrest after months of fighting trumped-up charges filed specifically to keep Wikileaks from continuing to expose things your governments don’t want you to know. Or the alleged members of Anonymous abducted around the world for landing blows on the anti-humanity establishment.
Why do we fight? Because war for control of information is war for control of your mind — war to fully and finally enslave, or free, the human race. It’s the state or us, people. The stakes are too high NOT to fight. And it’s time to decide which side you’re on.
Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society.