We Need More, Not Less Democracy
Join me in installing free software for freedom, fighting against mass surveillance, and refusing to be instrumentalised by those who have failed us – our intelligence services.
This article is taken from Jacob Appelbaum's opening remarks at the World Forum for Democracy 2015.
We are speaking here in a very intense context. I feel very sorry for what has happened in Paris and in Beirut, and for the context that seems to have taken American wars and brought them to European soil.
With that said, the responses that I have seen have been terrifying, and not merely in the technological realm. And while I am a technologist, I am also a human being, and I refuse to be pigeon-holed into merely speaking about technology.
Some of the things that I have heard raised for me a great deal of historical terror, and I wish to say, especially to the people who are here, who are European residents like I am now, that I encourage you to learn from the mistakes of my country, in the wake of our most recent, horrific, terrorist attack.
I feel that we have responded with wars, and because those wars have come to your doorstep, we actually see grave interventions with more violence, which in fact feed into what Daesh wants. Daesh wants to have more war.
They want to eliminate the grey zone where anyone with a beard, anyone who is a Muslim, anyone who looks different, will be treated as an outsider and will be harmed. They want to enlargen the xenophobia, they want more violence, and so we should consider whether or not that is what we wish.
Daesh wants to have more war.
We also see that the intelligence services have absolutely failed us. The intelligence services of the world claim that encryption is a problem. But the evidence has come out that, in fact, the attacks in Paris were perpetrated by people who used credit cards in their real name, who used unencrypted text messages to say things like 'let’s go'.
No one is asking how these people are doing arms-trafficking – those are physical goods that do not travel through the internet. How is it the case that the intelligence services have failed so badly, and that they seek instead to distract and to counter-accuse, and to suggest encryption, something that people don't understand, is the issue?
How about the fact that the United Kingdom has a plan where its intelligence services specifically target religious minorities for political harassment. Why is it that the UK is allowed, and in fact encouraged even, to harass minorities into becoming informants, and if not, will threaten them with stripping them of their citizenship? Their citizenship, which is effectively the right that grants all other rights.
This is a core contributing problem. It is not technology or encryption that is the core contributing problem. It is intolerance, it is a lack of openness, a lack of welcoming, it is this fear of the other that we see.
And this idea that we have even heard in France this week, that there should be pre-emptive arrests and internment of Muslims, this must not happen. It is absolutely against the rule of law and even if it were legal, it is against fundamental civil liberties.
When the attack in Paris occurred, I was in Kuwait, and I was attending an artistic event held by the French ambassador, and I was very shocked by what had occurred. What I found when talking with people was they were not as sympathetic as I would have expected. It was not that they did not care, but they said instead to me something that struck me.
They said, our brothers and sisters are dying in Syria: 250,000 of them so far. More than a million people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you're talking about a couple of hundred people in Paris. We feel you, now you feel us.
What then, might we learn from this?
Is the answer to commit more violence? Is the answer to undermine our fundamental liberties? To add backdoors to technology? Is the answer, for example, to suggest that the problem is with technology? I think that it's not. But it is additionally problematic to suggest that we need a reduction of evil – it suggests that we don't need to study and look to the root causes. For example, pacifism is much more powerful if we consider that it is a choice, and that we choose that when we have the ability to do violence.
It is simply the case that violence is to eschew dialogue, it is to get rid of that dialogue, and so to respond with violence is absolutely a tragedy upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy. We will not bomb Syria into peace, at best we may bomb it into submission. Submission is not the same as peace.
Submission is not the same as peace.
Instead, we should consider the humanity. For example, today on the news we've seen suspects of terrorism, and they've been killed, and the news has stated that no civilians were killed. What is a suspected EU citizen if not a human being? If not a civilian? Each and every person here could be accidentally killed, as a Brazilian man was by the UK secret services after the tube bombing in London. That person was an innocent person, and because their rights were suspended, because they were treated as if they were an other, they were killed and they had no due process.
We should look to the Norwegians for a response, rather than the Americans. After Breivik committed egregious acts of racist, violent, terrorism, Norway decided that they would choose a path of more democracy, one where instead of alienating and pushing people away, instead Norway as a country would continue to do things in the way that they had always done them, refusing to terrorise, refusing to allow the terrorists to change Norwegian society. We should look to that. We should not follow the American example, we should follow the Norwegian example of more democracy and not violence.
And so in fact the response we should consider is the response of expanding our liberty. Yes, we must fight extremism, specifically we should fight the extremism that states have no limits on what they may do or how they may do it. The Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights exists here today because we understand from history that that is a lie.
States commit terrorism, just as others can, and we must not forget that that lesson is a hard won lesson. If we want to get rid of violent extremists, we must remember that extremists silence us with violence or threats of violence. So we must be extreme in our openness, in our welcoming nature, we must be extreme in a commitment to justice, and with an absolute refusal to push away refugees.
We must remember that we have an obligation to refugees that comes from a history where others did not act correctly, without that obligation. There is an extremism that is correct, that we have an unlimited right to form and to hold beliefs, that these rights must not be abridged. This includes the right to a trial, and our right to face an accuser. And there's a new notion: that we will all be free, and will remain free as long as we submit to endless security checks, border controls, mass and targeted surveillance, and mandatory identification for nearly all interactions. But this notion of freedom is simply incompatible with freedom as we understand it, through the Court of Human Rights, through individual and through societal values of liberty.
And we see political opportunism, such as by Robert Bob Litt from the intelligence community, who suggests for example that “the legislative environment is very hostile today”, however, “it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.”
There is a value, he said, “in keeping our options open for such a situation”. Those people are as despicable as terrorists when they would seek to exploit the deaths of these people, to erode our liberties for their own personal power.
We must be extreme in our openness, in our welcoming nature, we must be extreme in a commitment to justice.
So there is technology today that helps us to confirm, to ensure, and to expand our liberties, where we have a right to read, and we have a right to speak freely, and a responsibility to be good to each other. These people wish to weaken our infrastructure, they wish to enable private and government censorship on the internet, they call for back doors, or front doors which would put us at risk.
There are two things you can do right now if you would like. First, you can install Signal on your smartphone, which will give you encrypted voice calls and text messages without backdoors, beating targeted and mass surveillance. I encourage you to do that now, it’s free software, and it’s free of cost. And you can install the Tor browser, which will give you the ability to browse the web and to be anonymous on the internet, where you'll actually be able to do things without leaving a data trail where spies can twist it and harm you later. And where it will make it more difficult for people to target you for other kinds of cyber-crime. Both of them are free software, implemented for freedom.
Remember, it is the same intelligence services who want backdoors today, who are exploiting this tragedy, who exploited Vodafone in Greece, to wiretap the prime minister, who did mass surveillance on all of Europe. We cannot trust them. It is the intelligence services of the US and the UK that use their surveillance systems to enable extra-judicial assassination.
We should secure the internet, and to ensure that such things are more difficult, if not impossible. Our security situation today is not a matter of security versus privacy. Our security requires strong privacy, and our security requires autonomy, it requires transparency and accountability, it requires free speech, it requires fundamental human rights to be respected. And rather than less democracy, we need more democracy. Rather than less secure systems, we need more secure systems. And we need to use them, to run them, and to fund them.
I hope you'll join me in installing free software for freedom and fighting against mass surveillance, and refusing to be instrumentalised by the people who have failed us – our intelligence services.
This article is published as part of an openDemocracy editorial partnership with the World Forum for Democracy. The insights gathered during the annual Strasbourg World Forum for Democracy inform the work of the Council of Europe and its numerous partners in the field of democracy and democratic governance.