Archive | January, 2016

Internets imprisoned and fallen

I feel that I ought to pay tribute to Ian Murdock, father of Linux Debian, former Sun VP and Linux Foundation CTO. And I do, by linking to this piece at ArsTechnica, painting a much better picture than I ever could:

Ian Murdock, father of Debian, dead at 42 — Former Sun VP and Linux Foundation CTO died under suspicious circumstances »

As this, according to Murdock’s tweets appears to be a suicide and me not knowing anything much about the circumstances, my first thought was to leave it there. But the Internet led me on. Apparently there had been some confrontation with the police. (Murdock’s tweets ») And that is a red flag.

Back to Ars Technica:

On Monday at 2:13pm Eastern Time, Murdock apparently posted that he was going to kill himself:

» I’m committing suicide tonight…do not intervene as I have many stories to tell and do not want them to die with me #debian #runnerkrysty67 «

Also on Monday, Murdock wrote a string of posts that indicate he had a confrontation with police. Inquiries to the San Francisco Police Department by Ars went unanswered. Update: Public records indicate Murdock was arrested in San Francisco on December 27 and released on bail, but no details were available on the charges.

Of course, I know nothing about the circumstances. And I shouldn’t speculate. But the story of Aaron Swartz falls into one’s mind. He was a champion for a free and open internet, who actually managed to accomplish things and who stopped harmful political bills. He was prosecuted in a very strange federal case of possible copyright infringements and faced $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison. He declined a plea bargain and shortly after that he killed himself. (Also see the documentary: The Internet’s Own Boy The Story of Aaron Swartz ») There are some disturbing similarities with the Murdock case.

But it might just be similarities. And people do fall over the edge sometimes. But standing eye to eye with the judicial system and the police definitely can push someone over that edge. Trust me on that one.

Do you remember Michael Hastings, the successful investigative reporter? His car mysteriously ran into a palm tree and exploded in LA, shortly after he had told his associates that he was on to something big, once again. And his targets were usually the darker side of government and its functionaries.

Journalist and internet activist Barrett Brown clearly was pushed into a corner by the authorities, resulting in him currently spending 63 months in federal prison. It all happened when he was working on ProjectPM, investigating outsourcing of government intelligence operations to private contractors — and the inner workings of the cyber-military-industrial complex.

Chelsea Manning is spending 35 years in prison, basically for having exposed the truth about the government’s politics and actions to the public. This imprisonment is right out offensive.

Wikileaks editor in chief Julian Assange is confined to the Embassy of Ecuador in London, where his freedom of action is quite limited. This following a European Arrest Warrant after some rather vague accusations about sexual misconduct in Sweden. And NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is stuck in Russia, after the US retracted his passport. In both these cases it’s about people who have made information public — that the people in a democracy ought to have the right to know about anyhow.

There is a disturbing pattern emerging. If you push the envelope too far, bad things happen to you.

No, I am not a conspiracy theorist. Clearly Brown, Manning, Assange and Snowden had it coming. Murdock and Swartz obviously were under harrowing pressure. And there is no hard evidence of foul play in the Hastings case, just strange circumstances. But still, it’s all very troublesome and sad.

Are journalists, internet activists and whistleblowers the imprisoned and fallen political dissidents of our time? Is the truth and a free flow of information really that dangerous to the Establishment? If so, what kind of a society is this?

Our thoughts are with Ian Murdock’s family and friends.



Citizens or serfs?

One way of looking at society is that it consists of free individuals – citizens – joined in a community. And in a democracy, the people elect a group of peers to manage a limited amount of things that are better handled together. But people are, in general, responsible for their own lives. This is a firm and sound bottom to top approach.

Then we have the opposite, the top to bottom point of view. Here politicians and bureaucrats are the nuclei of society. It is what they want that is important and they claim to have some sort of right to decide over other people. This ruling class can enforce its will with the help of its armed wing, the police. In this society, the people is totally subordinate to the state and its needs (and whims). This type of society is predisposed for central planning and control. And it is less resilient, as it will have many potential single points of failure.

Today’s modern western societies mainly fall into the latter category. We, the people are not free citizens — but serfs.

The concept of mass surveillance makes perfect “sense” from this perspective. You will have to control the people, supervising that it is doing what it has been told to do. And those in power often find it useful if the people fear the state, at least to some degree.

Meanwhile, governments are becoming less transparent. Ever more deals are struck behind closed doors. Democracy has become an empty excuse for rubber-stamping laws and rules that mainly benefit the system, those in power and their special interest friends.

Recently, the US took the top bottom approach to new extremes. The tax authorities, the IRS, now has the power to revoke people’s passports. If you owe taxes to the government, you can be prevented from leaving the country. What is this, if not serfdom?

The question is what to do about this development towards an ever more totalitarian society. Why are there no steadfast and reliable political forces trying to lead society right again? (Yes, I know. Libertarian political leadership is in so many ways a contradiction in terms. But what is the alternative?)