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<nettime> Hackers can't solve Surveillance
Dmytri Kleiner on Sat, 3 Jan 2015 03:27:05 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Hackers can't solve Surveillance


Hackers can't solve Surveillance

MÃdecins Sans FrontiÃres (MSF), also known as Doctors without Borders,
is an organization that saves lives in war-torn and underdeveloped
regions, providing health care and training in over 70 different
countries. MSF saves lives. Yet, nobody thinks that doctors can "solve"
healthcare. It's widely understood that healthcare is a social issue,
and universal health care can not be achieved by either the voluntary
work of Doctors or by way of donations and charity alone.

Just as Doctors can't solve healthcare, Hackers can't solve
surveillance. Doctors can't make human frailty disappear with some sort
of clever medical trick. They can help mitigate issues, fight
emergencies, they can be selfless, heroic. but they can't, on their own,
solve healthcare.

One of the ways that Hackers can fight surveillance is to develop better
cryptographic communications tools, and train people how to use them..
This is certainly critical work that hackers can contribute to, but we
can't, on our own, solve surveillance.

Nothing that Hackers can do on their own can eliminate surveillance.
Just as universal healthcare is only something that can be achieved by
social means, privacy respecting mass communications platforms can only
be achieved by social means. Safe mass communications platforms can not
be created by private interests, neither commercially, nor voluntarily.

As we well know, private medical provisioning provides unequal health
care. The reason is obvious, health needs and the ability to pay are not
usually corelated. Private provisioning means that those who can't pay,
wont be served by profit-driven institutions, and though this can be
mitigated by voluntarism and charity, it can't be fully overcome.

Likewise, mass communications that are built for the profit motive
either need to charge a fee, and thereby be exclusive, or be advertising
supported. Other options can exist for connected and technically savvy
users, but these will be niche by necessity. For the masses, the main
options available will always be well funded platforms with employees to
do support, development, and marketing, without wich, it's impossible to
build-up a mass user base.

The lucrativeness of advertising-based platforms, makes it difficult
even for fee-based systems to compete, since they don't generally
produce enough revenue to invest significantly in support, development
and marketing, which makes them less attractive even to users who could
or would pay, but the major issue that kills such platforms is that the
fee means that some people will not be able to use it at all.

Thus, commercial mass platforms tend to be advertising driven. This
means that the business of platforms operators is selling audience
commodity. Commodities are sold by measure and grade. You can buy 10lbs
of Fancy Grade Granny Smith Apples, or two dozen Grade A free range
eggs. Or 2 million clicks from age 18-35 white males.

Audience commodity, the users of the platform, are sold the same way to
advertisers, by measure of clicks or conversion, and by grade. For
advertisers, audience is graded by specifications that include age, sex,
income level, family composition, location, ethnicity, home or
automobile ownership, credit card status, etc. The Demographics, as they
say.

Since an advertising funded platform must grade audience commodity, it
must collect data on it's users in order to grade them. This means that
the one thing such a platform can not offer its users is privacy. At
least not privacy from the platform operators and their advertisers.

And so long as the platform operators collect such data, there is no way
that this data will not be made available to local and foreign
intelligence agencies.

This hard reality has been hard to grapple with, especially for a hacker
community who saw the Internet as a new realm, as John Perry Barlow
wrote in the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace: "We are
creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs,
no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or
conformity." His colleague, John Gilmore, famously claimed "The Net
interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

Those two quotations, born of the 90s hey-day of net.culture, contrast
starkly with what Adam Curtis describes in his BBC documentary All
Watched over By Machines of Loving Grace:

"The original promise of the Californian Ideology, was that the
computers would liberate us from all the old forms of political control,
and we would become Randian heroes, in control of our own destiny.
Instead, today, we feel the opposite, that we are helpless components in
a global system, a system that is controlled by a rigid logic that we
are powerless to challenge or to change"

Oddly, the film doesn't credit Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron who
coined the term the "Californian Ideology" in there seminal 1995 text,
which was among the first to identify the libertarian ideology endemic
in Silicon Valley culture.

The visions of a free, uncensorable cyberspace envisioned by Barlow,
Gilmore and others was incompatible with the needs of Capital, and as
thus the libertarian impulses that drives Silicon valley caused a change
in tune. Cyberspace was no longer a new world, declared independent with
its own unalienable rights, it was now a untamed frontier, a wild-west
where spooks and cypherpunks do battle and your worth is measured by
your crypto slinging skills and operational security. Rather than united
denizens of a new terrain, we are now crypto individualists homesteading
in hostile territory.

This, as Seda Gurses argues, leads to Responsibilization, "Information
systems that mediate communications in a way that also collects massive
amounts of personal information may be prone to externalizing some of
the risks associated with these systems onto the users."

Users themselves are responsible for their privacy and safety online. No
more unalienable rights, not more censorship resistant mass networks, no
more expressing beliefs without fear of being silenced. Hack or be
hacked.

Since libertarian ideology is often at odds with social solutions,
holding private enterprise as an ideal and viewing private provisioning
as best, the solutions presented are often pushing more entrepreneurship
and voluntarism and ever more responsibilization. We just need a new
start-up, or some new code, or some magical new business model! This is
what Evgeny Morozov calls Solutionism, the belief that all difficulties
have benign solutions, often of a technocratic nature. Morozov provides
an example "when a Silicon Valley company tries to solve the problem of
obesity by building a smart fork that will tell you that you're eating
too quickly, this [â] puts the onus for reform on the individual."

Karl Marx makes a similar argument in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Bonaparte:

"The proletariate [â] gives up the task of revolutionizing the old world
with its own large collective weapons, and, on the contrary, seeks to
bring about its emancipation, behind the back of society, in private
ways, within the narrow bounds of its own class conditions, and,
consequently, inevitably fails."

Solutionism underestimates social costs and assumes that social issues
can be solved by individuals and private interests, and some may be, but
where universality, equality and fairness need to be provided regardless
of skill or wealth this is not the case. These sorts of things can only
be provided socially, as public goods.

Many Hackers have always know this. In a excellent Journal of Peer
Production essay Maxigas quotes Simon Yiull:

"The first hacklabs developed in Europe, often coming out of the
traditions of squatted social centres and community media labs. In Italy
they have been connected with the autonomist social centres, and in
Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands with anarchist squatting movements."

Early hacklabs didn't view their role as being limited to solutionism,
though hackers have alway helped people understand how online
communications works and how to use it securely, hackers where embedded
within social movements, part of the struggle for a fairer society.
Hacker saw themselves as part of affinity groups fighting against
privatization, war, colonialism, austerity, inequality, patriarchy and
capitalism, they understood that this was the way to a new society,
working shoulder to shoulder with mass movements fighting for a new
society, and that here their knowledge of networks and communications
systems could be of service to these movements.

Yet, as Maxigas goes on to argue,, "hackerspaces are not embedded in and
not consciously committed to an overtly political project or idea."

Instead, hackerspaces often focus on technological empowerment, which is
certainly beneficial and important, but like community health centers
that teach health maintenance practices are beneficial, they can't solve
larger social issues, such each-one-teach-one projects can not, on their
own, solve social issues like privacy or health.

Hackers need to understand that there is no business model for secure
mass communications. In order to achieve a society where we can expect
privacy we need more hackers and hackerspaces to embrace the broader
political challenges of building a more equal society.

permalink: http://www.dmytri.info/hackers-cant-solve-surveillance/


-- 

Dmytri Kleiner
http://dmytri.info

1AC8 F409 9EBB 18F4
http://keys.gnupg.net/pks/lookup?op=get&search=0x1AC8F4099EBB18F4


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