This is a guest post by Sky Croeser. It originally appeared on her blog.
Lately, I’ve seen quite a few claims that hackers are persecuted minority floating through my streams. It’s not hard to believe, when we’ve seen the effects that the aggressive prosecution of Aaron Swartz had, that one of the hackers who helped to bring attention to the Steubenville rape case could end up with more jail time than the rapists, Barrett Brown remains in prison, Matthew Keys was threatened with 25 years in prison for aiding hackers, and more. Weev, one of the hackers currently imprisoned, has written a short essay comparing hackers to other persecuted minorities, including Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
In response to this persecution, weev writes:
Hackers need statehood. For self-preservation against ethnocidal states, for control of our destinies and for the liberties of billions. No nation now protects Internet speech, privacy, and commerce rights. If but a single well-armed nation did, those rights would be a VPN or SSH session away for the whole planet. General computation and the free Internet are as important advents in human rights as the abolition of slavery. Let our electronic freedoms not sway in the shifting whims of dying governments.
I’ve also seen this argument bouncing around Twitter a bit, the idea that hackers need statehood.
Obviously, what is being talked about here is not citizenship alone: most hackers already have that, unless they are stateless for other reasons. This also seems to move beyond a call for existing states to provide better protections for hackers (or cease their attacks) – this is not an appeal to Iceland or one of the other states which are currently being seen as potential havens for leakers, hackers, torrenters, etc. It’s a call for hackers to get a state of their own, and one with a powerful army.
I want to start by discussing this within the standard narrative around the liberal democratic state, which is based on the assumption that states are the legitimate protectors and upholders of human rights. What would it mean to have a state that was somehow ‘for hackers’ (rather than just be a state that protected human rights generally, including those of hackers)? The liberal democratic state, as an ideal (leaving alone the reality for now), doesn’t allow a whole society to be set up almost entirely to support one class of people. Who will be part of the army that protects hackers’ rights? Who will produce food? And more importantly, how will the political system retain protection hackers’ rights while simultaneously being based on democratic participation by all citizens? Given geek communities’ frequently-poor record on misogyny and racism* (including weev’s harassment of Kathy Sierra, who nevertheless supports attempts to free him), would a ‘hacker state’ really be a beacon of freedom and liberty for all? Israel, unfortunately, gives us a very good idea what a state might look like if it was set up primarily to protect a persecuted group, and how well the rights of those not in that group might be protected.
Even without the problems associated with trying to jam ‘statehood for hackers’ into the model of the ideal liberal democratic state, it’s worth questioning the assumption that the best way to build safe, just, communities is through the state. States are, unfortunately, frequently responsible for precisely the persecution we’re seeing today – as well as for attacks on women’s rights and bodily autonomy, massive rates of incarceration for marginalised communities (including people of colour in the US and Aboriginal people in Australia), and other such issues. In seeking an alternative, community-based attempts to build secure systems may be more useful than calling for a ‘hacker state’ (for more on this, read my post on Anarchism Today, and particularly the references to Rossdale’s work).
Calls for hackers to gain a statehood of their own is only one step up from the libertarian streak which runs through many tech communities. They fail to connect the struggles of hackers with those of other communities, fail to understand that the persecution hackers face is only a microcosm of broader problems, that other communities have suffered this and more for generations. There are, thankfully, people within geek communities who connect their struggles with those of others, who see themselves as embedded within broader systems. A better world for hackers can only come as part of a better world for others, including more marginalised groups.
* I also remember reading other stories about more overt racism in tech communities (not necessarily hacker communities), but I’m having trouble finding them at the moment. Jamelle Boui’s article, linked above, is an excellent summary of some of the more subtle structures that exclude people of colour from tech (and other) communities. If you have recommendations for people writing from an excellent, informed, perspective on race and tech communities, please feel free to share in the links. I also don’t have a very good idea how well geeky communities do on other issues, like ableism and homophobia, so feel free to share links (including positive stories of awesomeness).
Good Post! White, cis, american dudes get absolutely no where with me by comparing themselves to the jews in Nazi Germany, Rosa Parks, or anyone else who experiences/d violent subjugation. I don’t mean to to minimize the author’s point, but really? How does 41 months in low security prison for actually breaking a law and being convicted by your peers anywhere compare to the large scale genocide of the Holocaust?
This. So far, the persecution of every hacker I’ve seen has been to maintain some other oppression, like the prosecution of Swartz to maintain rape culture.
If there are groups of hackers who want to set up formal protections for whistle-blowers, investigators, and people who are involved in the business of exposing the problems of democratic states, then more power to them. Maybe a place to start would be in collaboration with journalists (whose job description ideally encompasses such activities). But the apparatus for occupation or workplace-role-specific protections already exists: it’s called “having, joining or creating a union or professional association”.
I suspect this sounds a little too blue-collar and/or collectivist for the (g)libertarian sensibilities of some of the people involved, but really, that’s the more logical option than actual “statehood” (which in context is rather like swatting a gnat with a sledgehammer). Unions, in their most extended form, exist to further the occupation-related interests of their members, and can speak as a collective voice where the voice of the individual can’t be heard. Professional associations can provide similar services for their members – although it may require some work from the membership to convince the association this is the direction they’re wanting to go in.
So why not form an association for hackers (if there isn’t one already) and set up some kind of rules or constitution there, and see whether they can keep it running for a period equivalent to a US election cycle, before embarking on the much greater challenge of statehood?
I really like your well thought out comment, that is all.
Here’s one example of racism in tech in the heart of the San Francisco startup seen, at hilariously brogrammer-ish Kixeye: http://venturebeat.com/2012/10/04/kixeye-fires-four-after-investigation-into-allegations-of-racism/
Outside of the US, you get political parties who are about civil liberties online and off-. The German version made eg the Berlin state parliament in their last election (Berlin is a member state of Germany like New York is a member state of the US).
Without the principle of a legitimate state we are left to the dubious mercy of robber barons as exemplified by the neoliberal attempts to dismantle liberal democracies by the Koch Brothers and other corporatists via the Tea Party (http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2013/02/20/tobaccocontrol-2012-050815.full) and ALEC, or of non-state weapons-bearers.
Hackers have a place in a liberal democracy – it would be nice if they made bare more of the ways in which corporatists undermine democracy, but at least the BMJ article works towards that, and we have a hacker to thank for the inadequate-but-at-least-real convictions in Steubenville. But an extra-state existence for hackers would simply play into the hands of everyone who is happy to kill actual people in the pursuit of power, whether through enforcing poverty or using guns.
As the author points out: somebody has to grow the food, make the wiring, keep the systems going. Either that’s done by slavery or by some attempt at liberal democracy, however improvable that may be.