Why Freedom of Thought Requires Free Media and Why Free Media Require Free Technology

Talk by Eben Moglen at re:publica, Berlin, May 2, 2012

(Event records)

Good morning.

It’s a pleasure to be here and an honor to be at Re:publica.

For the last thousand years, we, our mothers, and our fathers have been struggling for freedom of thought. We have sustained many horrible losses and some immense victories and we are now at a very serious time.

From the adoption of printing by Europeans in the 15th century we began to be concerned primarily with access to printed material.

The right to read, and the right to publish were the central subjects of our struggle for freedom of thought for most of the last half millennium.

The basic concern was for the right to read in private and to think and speak and act on the basis of a free and uncensored will.

The primary antagonist for freedom of thought in the beginning of our struggle was the Universal Catholic Church, an institution directed at the control of thought in the European world, based around weekly surveillance of the conduct and thoughts of every human being, based around the censorship of all reading material and in the end based upon the ability to predict and to punish unorthodox thought.

The tools available for thought control in early modern Europe were poor even by 20th century standards, but they worked. And for hundreds of years, the struggle primarily centered around that increasingly important first mass manufactured article in Western culture: the book. Whether you could print them, possess them, traffic in them, read them, teach from them without the permission or control of an entity empowered to punish thought.

By the end of the 17th century censorship of written material in Europe had begun to break down first in the Netherlands then in the UK then afterwards in waves throughout the European world and the book became an article of subversive commerce and began eating away at the control of thought.

By the late 18th century that struggle for the freedom of reading had begun to attack the substance of Christianity itself and the European world trembled on the brink of the first great revolution of the mind. It spoke of “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, but actually it meant freedom to think differently.

The “Ancien Régime” begun to struggle against thinking and we moved into the next phase of the struggle for freedom of thought which presumed the possibility of unorthodox thinking and revolutionary acting.

And for 200 years we struggled with the consequences of those changes.

That was then and this is now.

Now we begin a new phase in the history of the human race. We are building a single nervous system which will embrace every human mind.

We are less than two generations now from the moment at which every single human being will be connected to a single network in which all thoughts, plans, dreams and actions will flow as nervous impulses in the network.

And the fate of freedom of thought, indeed the fate of human freedom altogether, everything that we have fought for for a thousand years will depend upon the neuron anatomy of that network.

Ours are the last generations of human brains that will be formed without contact with the net. From here on out, every human brain, by two generations from now, every single human brain will be formed from early life in direct connection to the network. Humanity will become a super-organism in which each of us is but a neuron in the brain.

And we are describing now, now, all of us now, this generation unique in the history of the human race, in this generation we will decide how that network is organized. Unfortunately we are beginning badly.

Here’s the problem.

We grew up to be consumers of media. That’s what they taught us. We were consumers of media. Now media is consuming us. The things we read watch us read them. The things we listen to listen to us listen to them. We are tracked. We are monitored. We are predicted by the media we use.

The process of the building of the network institutionalizes basic principles of information flow. It determines whether there is such a thing as anonymous reading.

And it is determining against anonymous reading.

20 years ago, I began working as a lawyer for a man called Philip Zimmermann who had created a form of public key encryption for mass use called Pretty Good Privacy. The effort to create Pretty Good Privacy was the effort to retain the possibility of secrets in the late 20th century. Phil was trying to prevent government from reading everything.

And as a result he was at least threatened with prosecution by the United States government for sharing military secrets which is what we called public key encryption back then.

We said, “You shouldn’t do this. There will be trillions of dollar of electronic commerce if everybody has strong encryption.” Nobody was interested.

But what was important about Pretty Good Privacy, about the struggle for freedom that public key encryption in civil society represented, what was crucial became clear when we began to win.

In 1995, there was a debate at Harvard Law School – four of us discussing the future of public key encryption and its control. I was on the side, I suppose, of freedom. It’s where I try to be. With me at that debate was a man called Daniel Weitzner who now works in the White House making Internet policy for the Obama administration.

On the other side was the then Deputy Attorney General of the United States and a lawyer in private practice named Stewart Baker who had been chief council to the National Security Agency, our listeners, and who was then in private life helping businesses to deal with the listeners. He then became, later on, the deputy for policy planning in the Department of Homeland Security in the United States and has much to do with what happened in our network after 2001.

At any rate, the four of us spent two pleasant hours debating the right to encrypt and at the end there was a little dinner party at the Harvard faculty club, and at the end, after all the food had been taken away and just the port and the walnuts were left on the table, Stuart said, “All right, among us now that we are all in private, just us girls, I’ll let our hair down.”

He didn’t have much hair even then, but he let it down.

“We are not going to prosecute your client, Mr. Zimmermann," he said. “Public key encryption will become available. We fought a long, losing battle against it, but it was just a delaying tactic.” And then he looked around the room and he said, ”But nobody cares about anonymity, do they?"

And a cold chill went up my spine and I thought, all right, Stuart, and now I know you’re going to spend the next twenty years trying to eliminate anonymity in human society and I am going to try to stop you and we’ll see how it goes.

And it’s going badly.

We didn’t build the net with anonymity built in. That was a mistake. Now we are paying for it. Our network assumes that you can be tracked everywhere. And we have taken the Web, and we’ve made Facebook out of it. We put one man in the middle of everything.

We live our social lives, our private lives, in the Web and we share everything with our friends and also with our “superfriend”, the one who reports to anybody who makes him, who pays him, who helps him or who gives him the hundred billion dollars he desires.

We are creating a media that consume us and media loves it. The primary purpose of 21st century commerce is to predict how we can be made to buy. And the thing that people most want us to buy is debt. So we are going into debt. We are getting heavier – heavier with debt, heavier with doubt, heavier with all we need we didn’t know we needed until they told us we were thinking about it because they own the search box and we put our dreams in it.

Everything we want, everything we hope, everything we’d like, everything we wish we knew about is in the search box and they own it.

We are reported everywhere all the time.

In the 20th century you had to build Lubyanka. You had to torture people. You had to threaten people. You had to press people to inform on their friends. I don’t need to talk about that in Berlin.

In the 21st century, why bother? You just build social networking and everybody informs on everybody else for you.

Why waste time and money having buildings full of little men who check who is in which photographs? Just tell everybody to tag their friends and bing! You’re done! Ooh, did I use that word? Bing! You’re done!

There is a search box and they own it and we put our dreams in it and they eat them and they tell us who we are, right back. “If you liked that, you’ll love this!” And we do.

They figure us out, the machines do. Every time you make a link you are teaching the machine. Every time you make a link about someone else you are teaching the machine about someone else. We need to build that network. We need to make that brain. This is humanity’s highest purpose. We’re fulfilling it, but we mustn’t do it wrong.

Once upon a time, the technological mistakes were mistakes. We made them. They were the unintended consequences of our thoughtful behavior. That’s not the way it is right now. The things that are going wrong are not mistakes. They’re designs. They have purpose and the purpose is to make the human population readable.

I was talking to a senior government official in the United States a few weeks ago. Our government has been misbehaving. We had rules. We made them after 9/11. They said we will keep databases about people and some of those people will be innocent. They won’t be suspected of anything. The rules we made in 2001 said we will keep information about people not suspected of anything for a maximum of 180 days, then we will discard it.

In March, in the middle of the night, on a Wednesday, after everything shut down, when it was raining, the Department of Justice and the Director of the National Intelligence in the United States said, “Oh, we are changing those rules. This small change. We used to say we will keep information on people not suspected of anything for only 180 days maximum. We’re changing that a little bit to 5 years.” Which is infinity.

I joke with the lawyer I work with in New York they only wrote 5 years into the press release because they couldn’t get the sideways 8 into the font for the press release. Otherwise they’d have just said infinity which is what they mean.

So I was having a conversation with a senior government official I have known all these many years who works in the White House and I said, “You’re changing American society.”

He said, “Well, we realized that we need a robust social graph of the United States.”

I said, “You need a robust social graph of the United States.”

“Yes,” he said.

I said, “You mean the United States government is, from now on, going to keep a list of everybody every American knows. Do you think by any chance that should require a law?” And he just laughed because they did it in a press release in the middle of the night on Wednesday when it was raining.

We’re going to live in a world, unless we do something quickly, in which our media consume us and spit in the government’s cup. There will never have been any place like it before and if we let it happen, there will never be any place different from it again.

Humanity will all have been wired together and media will consume us and spit in the government’s cup. And the State will own our minds.

The soon to be ex-president of France campaigned as you will recall last month on a proposition that there will be criminal penalties for repeat visiting of Jihadi websites. That was a threat to criminalize reading in France.

Well, he will be soon the ex-president of France, but that doesn’t mean that that will be an ex-idea in France at all.

The criminalization of reading is well advanced. In the United States, in what we call terrorism prosecutions, we now routinely see evidence of people’s Google searches submitted as proof of their conspiratorial behavior. The act of seeking knowledge has become an overt act in conspiracy prosecution. We are criminalizing thinking, reading, and research. We are doing this in so-called free societies. We are doing this in a place with the First Amendment. We are doing this despite everything our history teaches us because we are forgetting even as we learn.

We don’t have much time. The generation that grew up outside the Net is the last generation that can fix it without force.

Governments all over the world are falling in love with the idea of data-mining their populations.

I used to think that we were going to be fighting the Chinese Communist Party in the third decade of the 21st century. I didn’t anticipate that we were going to be fighting the United States government and the government of the People’s Republic of China and when Mrs. Kroes is here on Friday, perhaps you’ll ask her whether we going to be fighting her too.

Governments are falling in love with data-mining because it really, really works. It’s good. It’s good for good things as well as evil things. It’s good for helping government understand how to deliver services. It’s good for government to understand what the problems are going to be. It’s good for politicians to understand how voters are going to think. But it creates the possibility of kinds of social control that were previously very difficult, very expensive and very cumbersome, in very simple and efficient ways.

It is no longer necessary to maintain enormous networks of informants as I have pointed out. Stasi gets a bargain now, if it comes back, because Zuckerberg does its work for it.

But it’s more than just the ease of surveillance. It’s more than just the permanence of data. It’s the relentlessness of living after the end of forgetting. Nothing ever goes away anymore.

What isn’t understood today will be understood tomorrow. The encrypted traffic you use today in relative security is simply waiting until there is enough of it for the cryptoanalysis to work, for the breakers to succeed in breaking it. We’re going to have to redo all our security all the time, forever, because no encrypted packet is ever lost again. Nothing is unconnected infinitely, only finitely. Every piece of information can be retained and everything eventually gets linked to something else. That’s the rationale for the government official who says, “We need a robust social graph of the United States.”

Why do you need it? So the dots you don’t connect today you can connect tomorrow or next year or the year after next. Nothing is ever lost. Nothing ever goes away. Nothing is forgotten anymore.

So the primary form of collection that should concern us most is media that spy on us while we use them: Books that watch us read them, music that listens to us listen to it, search boxes that report what we are searching for to whoever is searching for us and doesn’t know us yet.

There is a lot of talk about data coming out of Facebook. Is it coming to me? Is it coming to him? Is it coming to them? They want you to think that the threat is data coming out. You should know that the threat is code going in.

For the last 15 years what has been happening in enterprise computing is the addition of that layer of analytics on top of the data warehouse that mostly goes in enterprise computing by the name of “business intelligence”. What it means is you’ve been building these vast data warehouses in your company for a decade or two now. You have all the information about your own operations, your suppliers, your competitors, your customers. Now you want to make that data start to do tricks by adding it to all the open source data out there in the world, and using it to tell you the answers to questions you didn’t know you had. That’s business intelligence.

The real threat of Facebook is the BI layer on top of the Facebook warehouse. The Facebook data warehouse contains the behavior, not just the thinking, but also the behavior of somewhere nearing a billion people. The business intelligence layer on top of it which is just all that code they get to run covered by the terms of service that say they can run any code they want for improvement of the experience. The business intelligence layer on top of Facebook is where every intelligence service of the world wants to go.

Imagine that you are a tiny little secret police organisation in some not very important country. Let’s put ourselves in their position. Let’s call them, I don’t know what, you know … “Kyrgyzstan”.

You are a secret police. You are in the “people business”. Secret policing is “people business”. You have classes of people that you want. You want agents. You want sources. You have adversaries. And you have influencables, that is, people you can torture who are related to adversaries: Wives, husbands, fathers, daughters. You know, those people.

So you are looking for classes of people. You don’t know their names, but you know what they are like. You know who is recruitable for you as an agent. You know who are likely sources. You can give the social characteristics of your adversaries, and once you know your adversaries, you can find the influencables.

So what you want to do is run code inside Facebook. It will help you find the people that you want. It will show you the people whose behavior and whose social circles tell you that they are what you want by way of agents, sources, what the adversaries are and who you can torture to get to them.

So you don’t want data out of Facebook. The day you take data out of Facebook, it is dead. You want to put code into Facebook and run it there and get the results you want to cooperate.

Facebook wants to be a media company. It wants to own the Web. It wants you to punch “Like” buttons. “Like” buttons are terrific even if you don’t punch them because they are web bugs, because they show Facebook every other webpage that you touch that has a “Like” button on it. Whether you punch it or you don’t they still get a record. The record is: “You read a page which had a like button on it” and either you said yes or you said no. And either way, you made data. You taught the machine.

So media want to know you better than you know yourself and we shouldn’t let anybody do that.

We fought for a thousand years for the internal space, the space where we read, think, reflect and become unorthodox inside our own minds. That’s the space that everybody wants to take away.

“Tell us your dreams. Tell us your thoughts. Tell us what you hope. Tell us what you fear.” This is not weekly auricular confession. This is confession 24 by 7.

The mobile robot that you carry around with you, the one that knows where you are all the time and listens to all your conversations, the one you hope isn’t reporting in at headquarters, but it’s only hope, the one that runs all that software you can’t read, can’t study, can’t see, can’t modify, and can’t understand. That one, that one is taking your confession all the time.

When you hold it up to your face from now on, it’s gonna know your heartbeat. That’s an android app, right now. Microchanges in the color of your face reveal your heart rate. That’s a little lie detector you’re carrying around with you. Pretty soon I’ll be able to sit in a classroom and watch the blood pressure of my students go up and down. In a law school classroom in the United States that’s really important information. But it’s not just me, of course. It’s everybody, right? Because it’s just data and people will have access to it.

The inside of your head becomes the outside of your face, becomes the inside of your smartphone, becomes the inside of the network, becomes the front of the file at headquarters.

So we need free media or we lose freedom of thought. It’s that’s simple.

What does free media mean?

Media that you can read, that you can think about, that you can add to, that you can participate in without being monitored, without being surveilled, without being reported in on. That’s free media. If we don’t have it, we lose freedom of thought possibly forever.

Having free media means having a network that behaves according to the needs of the people at the edge, not according to the needs of the servers in the middle. Making free media requires a network of peers, not a network of masters and servants, not a network of clients and servers, not a network where network operators control all the packets they move. This is not simple, but it’s still possible.

We require free technology.

The last time I gave a political speech in Berlin it was in 2004. It was called “die Gedancken sind frei”. I said we need 3 things:

Now we need them more. It’s 8 years later. We’ve made some mistakes. We’re in more trouble. We haven’t come forward. We’ve gone back.

We need free software. That means software you can copy, modify, and redistribute. We need that because we need the software that runs the network to be modifiable by the people the network embraces.

The death of Mr. Jobs is a positive event. I’m sorry to break it to you like that. He was a great artist and a moral monster. And he brought us closer to the end of freedom every single time he put something out because he hated sharing. It wasn’t his fault. He was an artist. He hated sharing because he believed he invented everything even though he didn’t.

Inside those fine little boxes with the lit-up apples on them I see all around the room is a bunch of free software tailored to give him control. Nothing illegal. Nothing wrong. He obeyed the licenses. He screwed us every time he could and he took everything we gave him and he made beautiful stuff that controlled its users.

Once upon a time, there was a man here who built stuff, in Berlin, for Albert Speer. His name was Philip Johnson and he was a wonderful artist and a moral monster. And he said he went to work building buildings for the Nazis because they had all the best graphics. And he meant it, because he was an artist, as Mr. Jobs was an artist. But artistry is no guarantee of morality.

We need free software. The tablets that you use, that Mr. Jobs designed, are made to control you. You can’t change the software. It’s hard even to do ordinary programming. It doesn’t really matter, they’re just tablets. We just use them. We’re just consuming the glories of what they give us, but they are consuming you too.

We live, as the science fiction we read when we were children suggested we would, among robots now. We live commensally with robots, but they don’t have hands and feet. We are their hands and feet. We carry the robots around with us. They know everywhere we go. They see everything we see. Everything we say they listen to and there is no first law of robotics. They hurt us, everyday. And there is no programming to prevent it so we need free software. Unless we control the software in the network, the network will in the end control us.

We need free hardware. What that means is that when we buy an electronic something it should be ours not someone else’s. We should be free to change it, to use it our way, to assure that it is not working for anyone other than ourselves. Of course most of us will never change anything, but the fact that we can change it will keep us safe.

Of course we will never be the people that they most want to surveil. The man who will not be president of France, for sure, but who thought he would, now says that he was trapped and his political career was destroyed not because he raped a hotel housekeeper, but because he was setup by spying inside his smartphone. Maybe he is telling the truth and maybe he isn’t. But he is not wrong about the smartphone. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t, but it will.

We carry dangerous stuff around with us everywhere we go. It doesn’t work for us. It works for someone else. We put up with it. We have to stop.

We need free bandwidth. That means we need network operators who are common carriers whose only job is to move the packet from A to B. They are merely pipes. They are not allowed to get involved. It used to be that when you ship the thing from point A to point B if the guy in the middle opened it up and looked inside it, he was committing a crime. Not anymore.

In the United States the House of Representatives voted last week that the network operators in the United States should be completely immunized against lawsuits for cooperating with illegal government spying so long as they do it “in good faith”. And capitalism means never having to say you are sorry. You are always doing it in good faith. In good faith all we wanted to do is make money, Your Honor. Let us out. Okay, you are gone.

We must have free bandwidth. We still own the electromagnetic spectrum. It still belongs to all of us. It doesn’t belong to anybody else. Government is a trustee, not an owner. We have to have spectrum we control, equal for everybody. Nobody is allowed to listen to anybody else, no inspecting, no checking, no record-keeping. Those have to be the rules. Those have to be the rules in the same way that censorship had to go. If we don’t have rules for free communication, we are reintroducing censorship whether we know it or not.

So we have very little choice now. Our space has gotten smaller. Our opportunity for change has gotten less.

We have to have free software. We have to have free hardware. We have to have free bandwidth. Only from them can we make free media.

But we have to work on media too. Directly. Not intermittently. Not off hand.

We need to demand of media organisations that they obey primary ethics. A first law of media robotics: Do no harm.

The first rule is do not surveil the reader.

We can’t live in a world where every book reports every reader. If we are, we are living in libraries operated by the KGB.

Well, Amazon.com, or the KBG, or both. You’ll never know.

The book, that wonderful printed article, that first commodity of mass capitalism, the book is dying. It’s a shame, but it’s dying. And the replacement is a box which either surveils the reader or it doesn’t.

You will remember that Amazon.com decided that a book by George Orwell could not be distributed in the United States for copyright reasons and they went and erased it out of all the little Amazon book reading devices where customers had purchased copies of Animal Farm.

“Oh, you may have bought it, but that doesn’t mean you are allowed to read it.”

That’s censorship. That’s book burning. That’s what we all lived through in the 20th century. We burned people, places and art. We fought. We killed tens of millions of people to bring an end to a world in which the state would burn books and then we watched as it was done again and again and now we are preparing to allow it to be done without matches. Everywhere. Anytime.

We must have media ethics and we have the power to enforce those ethics because we are still the people who pay the freight. We should not deal with people who sell surveilled books. We should not deal with people who sell surveilled music. We should not deal with movie companies that sell surveilled movies.

We are going to have to say that, even as we work on the technology, because otherwise capitalism will move as fast as possible to make our efforts at freedom irrelevant, and there are children growing up who will never know what freedom means.

So we have to make a point about it. It will cost us a little bit, not much, but a little bit. We will have to forgo and make a few sacrifices in our lives to enforce ethics on media. But that’s our role. Along with making free technology, that’s our role.

We are the last generation capable of understanding directly what the changes are because we have lived on both sides of them and we know. So we have a responsibility. You understand that.

It’s always a surprise to me though it is deeply true that of all the cities in the world I travel to Berlin is the freest. You cannot wear a hat in the Hong Kong airport anymore. I found out last month trying to wear my hat in the Hong Kong airport. You are not allowed. It disrupts the facial recognition. There will be a new airport here. Will it be so heavily surveilled that you won’t be allowed to wear a hat because it disrupts the facial recognition?

We have a responsibility. We know. That’s how Berlin became the freest city that I go to because we know, because we have a responsibility, because we remember, because we have been on both sides of the wall. That must not be lost now. If we forget, no other forgetting will ever happen. Everything will be remembered. Everything you read, all through life, everything you listened to, everything you watched, everything you searched for. Surely we can pass along to the next generation a world freer than that. Surely we must. What if we don’t?

What will they say when they realize that we lived at the end of a thousand years of struggling for freedom of thought. At the end when we had almost everything, we gave it away, for convenience, for social networking, because Mr. Zuckerberg asked us to, because we couldn’t find a better way to talk to our friends, because we loved the beautiful pretty things that felt so warm in the hand, because we didn’t really care about the future of freedom of thought, because we considered that to be someone else’s business, because we thought it was over, because we believed we were free, because we didn’t think there was any struggling left to do.

That’s why we gave it all away.

Is that what we’re going to tell them? Is that what we’re going to tell them?

Free thought requires free media. Free media requires free technology. We require ethical treatment when we go to read, to write, to listen and to watch.

Those are the hallmarks of our politics. We need to keep those politics until we die because if we don’t, something else will die: Something so precious that many, many of our fathers and mothers gave their lives for it, something so precious that we understood it to define what it meant to be human. It will die if we don’t keep those politics for the rest of our lives. And if we do, then all the things we had struggled for we will get because everywhere on earth everybody will be able to read freely because all the Einsteins in the street will be allowed to learn, because all the Stravinskys will become composers, because all the Salks will become research physicians, because humanity will be connected and every brain will be allowed to learn and no brain will be crushed for thinking wrong.

We are at the moment where we get to pick whether we carry through that great revolution we’ve been making bit by bloody bit for a thousand years or whether we give it away for convenience, for simplicity of talking to our friends, for speed in the search, and other really important stuff.

I said in 2004 when I was here and I say now: We can win. We can be the generation of people who completed the work of building freedom of thought. I didn’t say then, and I must say now that we are also potentially the generation that can lose. We can slip back into an Inquisition worse than any inquisition that ever existed. It may not use as much torture, it may not be as bloody, but it will more effective and we mustn’t, mustn’t let that happen.

Too many people fought for us. Too many people died for us. Too many people hoped and dreamed for what we can still make possible. We must not fail.

Thank you very much.