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On hacking and politics

Reading time ~2 min

I meant to blog this whilst I was still in Vegas, but only got around
to it now. Its arb, but worth a bit of thinking… Kenneth Geers’
talk titled ‘Greetz from Room 101’ was on which countries have the
Top Ten most Orwellian computer networks. In his precis he asks
“Could a cyber attack lead to a real-life government overthrow?”

I find these kinds of discussions really interesting, because of the
significant role that information technology plays in today’s wars on
crime and ‘terror’. In such “wars” the lines between right and wrong
are very loosely defined. As we saw clearly in South Africa today’s
terrorist is tomorrow’s freedom fighter. Thus, a technology that
could be used fight terror today, could just as easily be used to
oppress freedom tomorrow. Technology will serve any master.

Geers makes the point that ordinary people can’t fight technical
oppression because of the enormous advantage in skills and resources
governments will always have over ordinary people in the technical
arena. Generally speaking, he’s right. Enter the hacker. I believe
the hacker sub-culture is the one place from which an effective
resistance to technical oppression could conceivable come. Hackers
potentially have the skill, the access to technology, the mentality
and the political awareness to offer an effective resistance to a
government that uses technology for oppression.

The reason I find this so important is that in an ever-changing world
one never knows when and where an oppressive regime will emerge. I
think its important therefore for the hacker culture to remain aware
of not only the technical developments, but also the political
currents that might herald an era of increased oppression, in any
state. Kenneth specifically listed 10 countries where such oppression
was extreme, but tomorrow the world will look different again and you
may well find your country somewhere on that list. Desmond Tutu
summed it up nicely at the end of ‘Truth and Reconciliation
Commission’ in South Africa: ” We can’t assume, that yesterday’s
oppressed will not become tomorrow’s oppressors. We have seen it
happen all over the world, and we shouldn’t be surprised if it
happens here’.

Any people should remain constantly wary of their government, and any
technical mechanism that increases government’s control over people
should be viewed with suspicion. Hacker’s with their knowledge, their
skills and their ethic, should be at the forefront of this guard.