Computers, Freedom, and Privacy

Information Technology as a community and as a concept is a dynamic system -- an organism who feeds back into itself and its environment, and whose environment does the same to IT. Even so, it is an unusual organism as it knowingly contains, supports, feeds, and draws upon nearly all literate human cultures, including the developing world. As such, the system consists mainly of people who wish to keep it around, and so IT is likely to avoid destruction at any cost, even to the point of jettisoning malformed parts (autoimmunity).

The most major threats to a system such as that may not be from inside, or even from outside. The main threats come in a mere few forms, as all else is likely to be rendered immune by such a large, dynamic, intelligent, adaptive, and distributed system. These Acchiles heels are:

  • Naive yet well-intentioned regulation passed on a universal level without due process or experimentation, and without the opportunity for full discussion within the loop
  • The subtle, insidious spread of distrust, starving the organism without attacking it directly. (This can be the unintended result of uninformed or obsolete teachings propagated to the young or inexperienced.)
  • The well-intentioned minor regulations passed widely but not consistently in a short enough time period that a lashback cannot be properly maintained.
  • Subtle regulations that over time lower the flexibility and capriciousness of the system in favour of interoperability, stunting its growth and the progression of its maturity and adaptation. (The World Wide Web can be seen as a slightly more benign form of this problem)

As a vital system, the internet community will bounce back on its own unless one of these problems is formed. No matter what specific regulations are passed or removed, all of them are temporary and ultimately unimportant unless one of the above conditions is caused. Even DRM, IP law, and so on will likely meet their own doom as the people affected largely know the predicament and have time to respond (the creation of free formats and copyleft is a good example). The restriction of information will always be overthrown to the extent that it is possible and desirable as long as this community organism exists. As long as we have our weaknesses in mind, we as a collective organism cannot be overthrown or defeated.