Policy Recommendations for a Civil and Democratic Digital Future


Whenever there is talk about improving the Internet, politicians helplessly start speaking of more broadband and faster speeds, while the general population is experiencing forms of technological abuse day-in, day-out. You may have heard before, that #youbroketheinternet works on a legislation proposal to address most threats to democracy, civil society and the future of the human species caused by digitalization and the Internet. This document provides a more general series of policy recommendations that you are invited to include into the programme of whichever political project you feel part of, putting these goals in comprehensible terms. Or you may put them on a cardboard poster and walk the streets.

CODE IS LAW. TOTALITARIAN LAW.

 

Something about microprocessors is different from most other technologies mankind has created: While a carpenter inevitably shows how a chair was made when selling a chair, a smartphone can be sold without giving the buyer any access to its function and design.

To motivate the carpenter to design even better chairs, society has invented the concept of a patent. Legislators and judges can then decide whether chair designs should be patentable or not. With microprocessors, everything the technology does is imposed on us. As long as this is permissible, it becomes a near inevitable requirement for competivitity to keep developments proprietary, or to at least put a proprietary wrapper around open source code, to ensure that in the end the device does what the manufacturer wants, not what the customer would want. Whereas putting a stop sign to these developments would allow an entire industry to compete on more ethical, transparent and fair grounds while letting a customer actually own the thing they paid for.

"Among EU member states, it’s hilarious: they claim digital sovereignty but they rely mostly on Chinese hardware, on American software, and they need a famous Russian to reveal the vulnerabilities" — Michael Sieber, Head of Information Superiority of the European Defence Agency.

 

Instead, the combination of proprietary code running on proprietary hardware and connected to proprietary cloud services has created the perfect infrastructure for surveillance of mankind, collecting information about your every movement, your every hand gesture, your every electronic communication. Technology has bypassed democratic fundamentals such as secrecy of correspondence — now that you can't discuss your political strategies without your opponent knowing them — and freedom of association — now that your opponent can find out who you have been meeting. You may think this isn't happening yet (although some fellas at Cambridge Analytica claim they already have that sort of information at hand), but even then — if it is technically possible, it is already a breach of democracy: By definition of democracy, this must be impossible to happen, in any case.

You heard it before: "Code is law." So the challenge is to understand how much algorithms are an implementation of ethical values and goals. Code must be under the same severe scrutiny by society as laws are. The development of software and hardware has been, to the largest extent, let run wild under the auspices of capitalism, which has inherently conflicting interests with human society.

Laws can easily degenerate into not representing our idea of ethics and society. But laws are easier to read than code, in particular closed code that is distributed to use in machine executable form. Additionally, capitalism has invented the privilege of putting laws of technology behind copyright control, which wouldn't be possible with traditional written laws.

While conventional laws must be transparent, the code is obfuscated both legally by a much contended notion of intellectual property and technically by the fact that your smartphone does not need access to actually human-readable source code to run the laws on your device, the extension of your self. Some folks out there have the privilege of writing the code that runs your life. So it is a logical deduction, that iPhones, Windows 10 and unrooted Android devices are, let's face it, totalitarian.

Therefore our first recommendation for politics would be, that any code that interacts with private communications among citizen, which accesses critical data and metadata, must not be proprietary. It must be reproducible from source code at any given time.

  Proprietary applications can exist within so-called sandboxes, where they do their job without having access to critical data and only limited access to the Internet in strict correlation to their purpose, like providing you with a game of chess or Angry Birds, but no third party on Earth should be technically enabled to peek into a private video conversation between your spouse and you. Reproducible means that citizen are enabled to recreate the exact same executable code that is on the device from the source codes that are publicly available.

All hardware and operating systems that handle personal data must be publicly and individually scrutinizable and reproducible as to be legally available on the European market.

 

This is not as radical as it sounds. Tech industry does not need proprietary code to make a living. It's the current state of things which is radically lunatic, just like the current global developments in economic inequality and ecological sustainability. Utter political madness is everywhere these days, so why should you be surprised to find it in electronics?

Just like the carpenter's ideas can be protected, the work on a better operating system can be rewarded using societally acceptable means like patents, governmental or crowd funding. Of course, we should have a working separation of powers in democracy to try to ensure these instruments are allocated in a just and corruption-free way, but they are the means by which we defend the civil rights and democratic obligations of humankind while paying due respect to the thousands of idealistic volunteers that created GNU/Linux and BSD, the foundational software of nearly all computing today.

Proprietary software hasn't even won the race. Both Android and Apple's iOS are based on free and open source software. Yet it's enough to add a thin layer of proprietary control code on top or underneath (in form of processor microcode for the hardware) to deny the owners of such devices any real control.

PSYCHOLOGICAL DATA KILLS DEMOCRACY.

 

Pervasive observation of human society produces strategic intelligence, effective election fraud and enables Google and Facebook to dominate worldwide advertising. Bulk collection of data about humans enables these players to know everybody's psychological weaknesses, everybody's cognitive biases, then manipulate everybody through suitable action. Are you sure your father or mother would never have doubts on your honesty if suitably presented false information was delivered to them in just the strategic way that works for their brains? This is the level of psychological operations by which recent elections in Kenya, Nigeria, UK and the US have been fought, and sometimes won.

You may not be enthusiastic about representative democracy and would love to hear of something better, but don't be naive — everything that awaits us after the loss of democracy will be in different degrees of terrible. We should better do something to keep and maybe improve it.

DATA COLLECTION IS INVISIBLE.

 

Collection of personal data has been illegal in some places on Earth for decades already, but suitable laws have never been enforced. New legislation is now making it harder to abuse personal data, but it still builds on fallacies like believing people are able to judge whether it is okay to give away data, allowing them to give away data about their social surroundings and trusting corporations to act correctly on infringements that are invisible to the eye and hard to prove in court. How can these people have an educated understanding on a totally intransparent technology which is designed to betray them behind their backs? If Google and Facebook persist, they are proof that their business models have not been discontinued. Therefore it is not enough to gently ask these monopolists to somehow please change.

We need to make it illegal that corporations have access to any private data in the first place. We must make it a legal requirement that all digital communication be end-to-end encrypted on trustworthy hardware and protect the metadata of who is talking to whom.

The technical implications, especially of the second part, are non-trivial, but they are solvable and, given the political will, they will be solved.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is HARMLESS without DATA.

 

All the threat scenarios regarding the future of AI imply that all the social data that Faceboogle, the Five Eyes, the Chinese government and others have collected, are thrown at the AI to see what it can make of it. Of course the AI will be able to subdue all of humanity in little time if it has access to all its intimacy, psycho-social weaknesses and intricacies. We should stop it from learning how to fool humans, as is currently being done to make some people wealthier on the expense of others, and rather focus on it learning how to defeat diseases and counter climate change. The idea, that some big AI of löving grace may rule us stupid humans better than we could ourselves is fallacious — we will never be able to produce a genuinely neutral and honest AI that isn't operated and owned by somebody. And if we did, there are terrible risks that the AI we deploy is buggy and doesn't do what we would wish for.

By demanding an Internet that is impossible to surveil we are reducing the risks involved with Artificial Intelligence.

DATA COLLECTION CREATES POVERTY.

 

Have you noticed that recently tech monopolists have risen to the top charts of richest people and companies? Is the Internet really worth that much? Is data creating so much surplus?

No, it isn't creating surplus. It is enabling a very small selection of people to manipulate what you buy, where you put the little money that you have. It has always been the purpose of advertising to fool you into buying things you didn't care about, but this time it is personal. This time they are targeting you individually for the psychological weaknesses you have in your head. They are operating underneath your line of defense and they are making you effectively poorer. All the money ending up in their pockets has to come from somewhere, and it is coming from the entire world economy that finds it must be investing in unethical targeted advertising in order to remain competitive.

You may even appreciate seeing advertising just for those things you are interested in, but it should be your own computer, it should be an open source algorithm operating privately on your private data to select which advertising to show to you. As long as these algorithms are running against you from the cloud of the monopolists, you aren't a conscious consenting buyer. You are manipulated populace.

That's why we must also impede data collection of your surfing habits, by technologically turning around how the Web works. When you browse a website it should be ensured that you remain anonymous. Even digital payment can and should be anonymous to you as a consumer. Only in rare circumstances should you let a company grant access to personal identifying data, and it should not be useful to that company to sell that data to third parties, not even illegally.

In some cases, the position of monopoly has emerged simply by market dominance. What happened to anti-trust? Why is Amazon allowed to be the one-stop-shop for all kind of shopping? In the real world we'd be going down the street and check out all kinds of shops, so all you need is to be able to rent a spot on that street. On the Internet people have no starting point, so they predominantly go to Amazon for shopping, Ebay for trading and to Google if they don't know where to go, yet. The result is creating staggering wealth for the owners of these platforms while the shops participating on them enter a condition of trickle-down dependency. Independent shops hardly exist as there is little money to be made in independence.

New ways to redesign the Web are possible, even how we satisfy basic network needs like searching and finding traders that provide us with goods in a decentralised manner. All of this can be designed to be free from men in the middle, but this needs to be accompanied by enacting legislation.

MOBILE TELEPHONE TRACKING CAN BE STOPPED.

 

Hey wait, did you ever think this is possible? That you can carry a mobile phone with you and yet the service provider doesn't automatically know at all times who and where you are? Well, a well-kept secret is that this is actually feasible — we could have an anonymous mobile telephone system which we pay for anonymously. All telephones would then look the same to the provider and every time two people cross on the street the provider wouldn't be able to tell whether those two people didn't actually cross the street but instead met for a high five, turned around and went back instead. [Of course this doesn't work with existing telephones. We are theorizing new phones intentionally devised to protect democracy.]

Again, this is important for the purpose of protecting democracy from mobile phone operators or governments that may leverage the extensive metadata reaped from a population's movements for the purpose of predicting political developments and impeding the rise of opposition movements — a basic precondition of renewal of democracy. If the same people always remain in power, it isn't democracy.

So we should demand a mobile phone system that not only disallows access to all private communications, but makes movement tracking technically impossible.

And again, technology alone won't make this a reality. It needs political enactment.

QUESTIONS and ANSWERS

 

Would this terminate the free and open Internet?

Free and open for whom? For the predator to slay your privacy? For the corrupt to buy election results? Yes, a Next Generation Internet renewing the net from the ground would be a departure from the existing broken Internet and its abusive economy. It would open a new Internet where abuse is technically impeded. The first Internet that maybe actually deserves to be called free and open.

There should be a transition period that allows you to still chill on Facebook and shop at Amazon, but by the time that transition period is over, everyone will already have preferred the new way to weave the Web — or the European Commission won't let us legislate it, if it were against popular demand.

Why do we have to call for regulation?

In an age of delusion towards traditional politics, many people feel more comfortable in suggesting alternative technologies to build rather than saying what should be forbidden or regulated. But some of the problems are already too big to try and address on market competition level, and offering alternatives means to remain within the market competition principle. You may think of yourself as a young rebel, but you are playing by the rules, and the rules are wrong.

Regulation has become one of the last instruments that human society has in order to make ethics dominate over the market. The notion that consumers could "vote with their feet," by going to a different shop and buying ethically, seems to be a diversion tactic that achieves little and distracts from taking to the streets for your rights. This document is about things that politicians could press for, in parliaments and commissions. Regulation, possibly, is our last hope. And we could walk the streets, demanding these things.

CONCLUSION

 

We can have the cake and eat it. We can fix digital technology to no longer be a threat to our freedoms while at the same time enjoying apps that put funny ears to our selfies on our smartphones. In fact, these technology reforms could be designed in such a way that average people would hardly notice any difference. Instead of logging into Facebook, the the social network would be integrated directly into the phone, making it even easier to use. So we have the option: We can achieve a couple of steps necessary to stop humanity from heading towards doom with a bit of innovative new thinking, excellent new software and a little help from the European legislator.

No advertising, no tracking, no profiling, no data mining, no fancy website.
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