About a year ago I was at the house of my friend David Fanning on the Massachusetts coast when a call came in that messed up our weekend plans. David has been the Executive Producer of PBS’s flagship show Frontline for 25 years. He has fearlessly told truth to power, despite all the possible reverberations in Congress or elsewhere and the fragile funding of PBS. The call came from his webmaster who said that the whole Frontline website had been destroyed by a hacker collective called Lulzsec. Lulzsec and their leader, Sabu had been outraged by a frontline documentary on Julian Assange and had vowed revenge. I had seen the show and found it to be very evenhanded, but Sabu and his friends objected to a passage in which Julian Assange’s tactics were questioned. When Assange first gave the raw intelligence cables from the State Department, all of the names of the local informants in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere were in the docs. The editors of the Guardian and the New York Times insisted on redacting the names of the local informants so they wouldn’t be killed for helping the Americans. Assange insisted the names stay in and started dumping the raw files out on Wikileaks. That anyone should even question Assange was too much for Lulzsec and so they waged cyberwar on Frontline. They didn’t just bring down the website, they destroyed it and all the archives. It took David Fanning weeks and a lot of money to restore the site.
So now we know who Sabu, the leader of Lulzsec, was–“Hector Xavier Monsegur, hacker, informant and party boy of the projects”. Like another digital wizard who thought he was above the law, Kim Dotcom, Sabu is a criminal cloaking himself in the rhetoric of liberty.
On Twitter, both before and after he was helping the authorities catch his compatriots, he was prone to grand declarations: “Give us liberty or give us death — and there’s billions of us around the world. You can’t stop us. Because without us you won’t exist.”
Words like liberty and censorship are the cheap currency of the digital age. Politicians use them indiscriminately. But it is in the area of “Free Culture” that words like liberty really get misused. In deciding to destroy Frontline, Hector Monsegur and his Lulzsec buds were judge, jury and executioner. In deciding that he could make $400 million by selling advertising on Megaupload, which was populated with millions of pieces of stolen digital content, Kim Dotcom believes he is above the law.
Kim doesn’t give a damn about the thousands of musicians and filmmakers he is cheating while he sails around the world on his yacht. Where are the musicians yachts?
The second bit of hypocrisy floating around is the use of the word “censorship”. In the SOPA debate both Google and Wikepedia used that word in a massive disinformation campaign to defeat an admittedly flawed bill. I had students actually say that if SOPA passed they would no longer have access to Wikipedia. What nonsense. But Google is even more hypocritical. Last summer Google settled with the Federal government.
Google has agreed to a $500 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice for illegally allowing online Canadian pharmacies to advertise drugs to U.S. consumers.
The settlement, which represents the revenue received by Google for selling the ads through its AdWords program and the estimated revenue the Canadian pharmacies got from their sales to U.S. consumers, was one of the largest ever in the United States, according to the DOJ.
So if Google made $500 million off of counterfeit drug advertising, how much money are they making off of pirated entertainment advertising? Google the words” Free Movies” and see what comes up on the top of the list? This site filled with movies that aren’t even out of the theaters. So maybe Google should be a bit more honest. This is not about censorship, this is about money. Just like they agreed to stop linking to Canadian counterfeit drug sites, they could stop linking to pirate content sites.
There is a certain strain of libertarian that frequent this blog, who describe themselves as “anarcho-capitalists”. But I think what is really going on is a strain which Wikipedia defines as “Individualist Anarchism” whose main tenet is, “the concentration on the individual and his/her will in preference to any construction such as morality, ideology, social custom, religion, metaphysics, ideas or the will of others.” Personally a world governed by these ideas is a dystopian nightmare to me.Liberty without responsibility will be the death of our democracy. I know those on the left that defend Anonymous and LulzSec because they are going “after the bad guys” like the government of Tunisia. But who gets to decide who “the bad guys” are? Just imagine if Timothy McVeigh had built a hacker collective built around his neo-Nazi philosophy. Imagine if they had decided to crash the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System or the California electric grid. And in the same way, those on the right and the left defend their right to free entertainment. What’s next? Free food?
We decided in the mid 1980’s that the U.S. would be an information economy. And today the only things (aside from war machines) the rest of the world wants to buy from us are information goods–movies, music, video games, software, pharmaceutical patents. And then at the end of the 1990’s digital utopians like Wired’s Chris Anderson decided that all information should be free. That the only things we export should be given away for free is the kind of suicidal philosophy that only an anarchist could have dreamed up.