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Eben Moglen – Freedom in The Cloud

Corporate Accountability


IN THIS weird age when corporations are assumed to have the rights of individuals (e.g. privacy) while evading the liabilities and burdens of individuals (e.g. tax, which they can evade using loopholes) it makes one wonder what became of so-called democracy and capitalism. This was not the vision people had after they had laid the foundations for what they considered to be a humane system. Nowadays, our society is based upon ever-increasing debt and a debt that our descendants are expected to pay back. It’s a society where corporations (and their owners) gain vast amounts of money at the expense of real people and when things go awry, corporations will get bailed out and in some cases left alone when they hurt people (e.g. BP in the gulf). There is a massive looting — “piracy” one might say — going on all the time. All the power and welth gets passed to corporations, which now control the political systems too.

If we wish to cautiously proceed with the idea that corporations are like people, then we must subject them to the same standards and restrictions we apply to individuals. Otherwise, civilisation as we know it will sooner or later collapse.

Activism and Legacy

LEGACY of one’s life may typically matter to a person when death is near. That’s partly because last/recent memories persist better than old ones. Legacy is also what remains in visibility after a person departs from this world, having first emerged in it through conception. But legacy need not be associated with depressing things such as being deceased. Legacy throughout one’s life can be seen as the work that’s left to have impact when one moves from one area to another, from one field of work to another.

In older terms, publications and books were seen as a form of legacy. In a digital world the importance of these becomes more questionable and long-term persistence almost dubious. Work that is done in the disciplines of science and technology may matter a lot at the time of publication/invention, but only years later that work becomes uninteresting due to irrelevance. There are of course exceptions such as key, landmark papers (Charles Darwin’s for example) and immortal series such as Cosmos, but the vast body of work will only have its 15 minutes or fame — if any — and thereafter be shelved.

Activism is different in the sense that it has broader impact due to scale of reach (like target audience). Those who fought SOPA, for example, achieved a great deal and did this not for profit but for ideology.

In my younger days as a researcher I strived to publish papers and had my name put on half a dozen of them around 2005 when I was completing practical work on my Ph.D. In early 2006 I stopped submitting papers and also ceased to attend conferences. These had low impact compared to my sites, their target audience was small (mostly departments in the same field as mine), and the sense of accomplishment was not high. It was then that I turned to activism and spent the majority of my day dedicating energy/effort to good causes, even if it comes at the expense of a paying job. There have been no regrets, except perhaps regrets that I had not started doing this sooner.

The life of an activist is a lot richer than the life of a compulsive businessman. Richness cannot be properly measured in terms of monetary currency and some people are so poor that all they have is a high bank balance. Over the long run, history teaches, activists have a memorable legacy; the latter have not.

Fedora, Importance of GNU/Linux Competition, and Technological Freedom

FEDORA 11 is a fine distribution of GNU/Linux, but my session got stuck (frozen) today. Generally, scheduling on the desktop in this out-of-date operating system is somewhat deficient. Windows sometimes do not respond for a period of several seconds. The bug where a text selection cursor is made permanently visible and allows no real interaction with any applications kicked in… againtoday. It happens quite rarely with other distributions and there’s an escape route out of it, e.g. if the terminate signal can be sent to the application causing it, assuming it can be identified. But not this time though. Bearing in mind that it’s not the very latest version of Fedora and having used the fourteenth release since it was made available (even installed it for others), it does seem fair to say that for a smooth experience on the desktop, one is still better off going with the Debian family. Mandriva (predominantly but not strictly RPM-based) has been very good too, probably a lot better than Fedora.

The problems with Fedora are not really caused by adherence to freedom. Some creases and bugs, however, might not be addressed early enough because Fedora’s adherence to freedom (not strict adherence, but better than Ubuntu’s for example) limits the extent of its userbase, which in turn reduces the incentive Red Hat has to concentrate on the desktop side of things.

I have been working with Fedora 11 since last Friday (just waiting for my home computers to get back online with the new line activated) and as much as I try to love Fedora, I cannot help feeling that Kubuntu and Ubuntu have been giving me less hassle. Deep inside I wanted to declare that Fedora was better, but the experiences simply suggest that any such claim would be wishful thinking, even deceptive. The problem is that Canonical was made quite arrogant (hello Hubris!), which harms Ubuntu on technical and communal grounds alike. Canonical could use more competition.

It may be true that Linux in the mainstream is all about Android, Google, Ubuntu, mainframes, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux these days. That’s fine. As long as Fedora uses and reuses the same pertinent packages, there is no risk of Fedora truly falling behind. The wonder of Free software is, as long as one is allowed to copy the competition or branch out of it, unfair advantage is harder to gain. Canonical and Google have both attempted to produce “added value” (or enhancement) which is hard to emulate, replicate, or even get involved in. They are using some very vendor-specific code, which changes the balance of control not just with copyright assignment. It’s not progress and it is usually counter-productive.

Next week I will resume GNU/Linux advocacy and do a lot less programming (below is a new screenshot of the application I have been developing, but it’s unfortunate and regrettable that the code depends on a proprietary framework) and there is a lot of thinking to be done regarding strategy. Generally speaking, the world’s population loses control over technology at a very rapid pace* and software freedom is no longer the only freedom worth pursuing by a developer with passion for humanism. The head of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has just stepped down and it is hard to blame him; maybe he too reached similar dilemmas and came to realisations that software freedom is not enough. Collaboration too is crucial (GPL encourages it), not to mention education in general.

Expressions GUI
* I spent half an hour this morning chatting with a lady in her 70s. She too — not too surprisingly — feels as though mobile phones are a burden rather than a blessing. In general, she is also concerned about today’s society which lacks face-to-face interaction and intimidates her generation that’s not at all accustomed to a technological control grid. Free/libre software is being used a lot in this context (primarily for companies to bring their user-hostile proprietary layer to market immediately), not as much is being produced though. If technology is not built to provide the user some more control, then it usually tries to control the user. But people are not made sufficiently aware of it, unless the FSF speaks out, as it recently did against Android.

What Freedom Means in Relation to Control

What freedom means to me is not the same freedom that is preached to the masses by broadcasting companies. It is neither freedom of choice nor freedom that relates to cost.

In its most fundamental state, any person is not tied to anyone else except perhaps the community which is family, extended family, and sometimes more than that. In that case, a person is familiar with/to all peers, which is also what enables trade without currencies. There is a level of trust.

As societies grow bigger and bigger (moving into mega-cities, as noted in the previous post) trust gets replaced by control. Rather than trusting one’s peers people increasingly dominate and reign over other people; it’s means of peer control and it regulates one’s behaviour.

In the software world too there is a move from small communities of privileged developers with access to expensive machines; these days, a lot of people have access to computers and moreover to the Internet, which connects many of these disparate people. Mechanisms of control rather than trust are over time being put in place and these range from simple censorship to all sorts of artificial restrictions.

Freedom is always hindered by control. It is a relation of opposites. Control is antithetical to freedom assuming that control is not one’s own. Whether in a society as broad of ours one can ensure total freedom is very much questionable, but one must always keep in mind that if freedom is the goal, then control by others is a threat; sometimes it is a necessary and legitimate threat, but often it is (mis)used as a pretext for someone else to take control over others.

WikiLeaks Mirrors – Spreading the Truth

Wikileaks is currently mirrored on 1426 up-to-date sites (updated 2010-12-21 20:29 GMT)

Here is the mirror list sorted by apparent bandwidth ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 wikileaks.0× ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 wikileaks.100× ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6… ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 wikileaks.13×
wikileaks.socialismsocialismsocialism.or… ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 youmaystopthisindividualbutyoucantstopus… ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6 ipv6


Here’s to a Freer 2011

A FEW DAYS ago I wrote about some plans for the coming year. One promise that I managed to fulfill was the revival of this Web log, which was started way back in 2004. I post less in Techrights these days because a lot of the content is being put in the audiocast and because there are some moving goalposts for any freedom fighter. Microsoft, for example, is losing its place in the world of technology (the media trends confirm this) and issues relating to free speech (including protests) and free Internet (communication) help show that our society is being closed down. It’s at times like these that speeches like the following one ought to be watched and shared.

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