Not in my name
The Web is only 20 years old. We still got a chance to shape it according to our priorities. And as Chelsea Manning’s story clearly shows us, sometimes a CD driver is all you need to change the world
Someone stole something, broke the law and now is punished. Just another story. A story from TVv, net, from abroad, not our story. It starts like that:
20 years old Bradley Manning (actually Chelsea Manning the US Army – as thousands of young Americans before her – to benefit from the system of study grants that U.S. veterans gain. After 2 years she is sent to Iraq, when she gains access to the secret data base of military operations. Moved by what’s in them, she copies it to CD and starts to share a multitude of information with WikiLeaks. Thanks to them, the public gets a new snapshot of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the political games around them – crazy, almost criminal political backdealings … the non-PR-versions of world events and crises – according to Manning. Manning also makes contact with Adrian Lamo, a hacker cooperating with the FBI and the NSA, who denounces her to the authorities. Since then, held in isolation for three years, being tortured mentally, she awaits trial, which ends on 21 August 2013. Judge Denise Lind, deaf to the arguments raised by the defense, founds Manning guilty of 19 of the 22 alleged offenses, including theft of valuable information and acts of espionage. Guilty of giving us the knowledge that – by the judiciary – we should not have. In the twenty-first century, for the first time in history, we have technology that allows us to share with no costs all the knowledge produced by humanity so far and that emerging today.
We have a tool in our hands to emancipate people all over the world through widespread access to information. And yet we are still stuck with the scraps from the master’s table. Manning’s history is the story about us, because it is a story about denying us access to knowledge. And how severe punishment face those who dare to share the information believing that it will become in our hands a weapon of freedom, wisdom, autonomy and justice. Let us remind you: Manning is not the only one. Aaron Swartz, who was fighting for freedom of scientific content, hemmed in by the judiciary, committed suicide. Edward Snowden, after releasing evidence for the existence in the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) of the largest in the history machine for mass surveillance (PRISM) is doomed to a lifetime banishment, if the most optimistic scenario is assumed. Julian Assange, editorinchief of WikiLeaks, has been for more than year in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to prevent deportation to USA and won’t be free unless the Swedish authorities take back their accusations of sexual harassment (that have been compromised by his defense). Each of them gave up their private lives to tell us something important.
In recent months we have seen how the authorities and thoughtless media were trying to make their stories less important, to make them not our stories, only meaningless individual events. They took the story of Bradley, which is about heroic act, and replaced it by a story of Bradley, who is a transsexual, an unsustainable man and who shares with Assange the hostility to the United States. They use FUD strategy (fear, uncertainty and doubt), wanting us to look for unknown and suspicious interests or intentions of Manning and other whistleblowers. They want to tell us her story like it was not our story, and her character was not just another one of us who are denied to access to information.
Those who deprive us the right to know, they have their reasons for doing so, and will not hesitate to show it. When we are denied the access to state secrets – that’s because our security is at stake. When we are denied the access to cultural works through the rigors of copyright law – it is to protect the creative potential of the society. When we are denied the possibility of innovative action by the patent system – it is about the success of businesses. Supposedly, we agreed to replace some of our freedoms in exchange for security and convenience. It is customary to say that it is a kind of social contract. But if we actually want a mutual agreement, we also need to determine where the boundary of what we have access to is.
People in charge are wrong thinking that it is better not to say us too much to protect us from worries in this paternalistic way. We do not agree to the information asymmetry whereby officials who are supposed to serve us hide their offense and in the same moment they are surrounding us by total observation. We disagree with the control, which is not due to our autonomy, but it is its enemy, and excludes it.
„Scientia est potentia” – „knowledge is power”. Stories of Chelsea Manning, Aaron Swartz and Edward Snowden are about denying us the power by denying us information. They teach us how far we have lost the autonomy to decide how they should run our societies and the relationships between them. This story about us and about how we have become powerless.
This weakness is apparent, however, from a certain oblivion. The Web is just 20 years old and fixing limits in information space that it creates is still ongoing. We forget that we legitimize authorities. That’s us who set the rules. This was the message of millions of protesters in 2003 against the American attack on Iraq, when chanted „Not in my name.”
Information can change the world. U.S. dispatches leaked by Manning, was an important catalyst for anti-regime protests that have swept the Arab countries since 2010. This is one of many examples showing that information, contrary to claims of the prosecution posed by Chelsea Manning, set people free not harm them. The recent history of freedom, which Manning, Snowden and Assange are part of, indicates that we are at a crucial stage of formation of the modern information society. How many civil liberties it will leave for people depends on us.