Julian Assange' new book Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet is now available in paperback and e-book (published November 26).
The term "cypherpunks" refers to activists who make use of coded writing or cryptography in an effort to bring about progressive change. In its "about" intro OR Books notes that "Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of and visionary behind WikiLeaks, has been a leading voice in the cypherpunk movement since its inception in the 1980s."
The OR intro goes on to say: "... Assange brings together a small group of cutting-edge thinkers and activists from the front line of the battle for cyber-space to discuss whether electronic communications will emancipate or enslave us."
The book sees the internet moving into a critical phase in which web freedom is under threat from forces that seek to exert increasing levels of surveillance and control.
Among the topics addressed are: Do Facebook and Google constitute "the greatest surveillance machine that ever existed," perpetually tracking our location, our contacts and our lives? Far from being victims of that surveillance, are most of us willing collaborators? Are there legitimate forms of surveillance, for instance in relation to the "Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse" (money laundering, drugs, terrorism and pornography)? And do we have the ability, through conscious action and technological savvy, to resist this tide and secure a world where freedom is something which the Internet helps bring about?
That is the crucial question... which direction are we headed given the momentous changes underway. The prospects don't look promising. Technological developments have placed enormous power in the hands of government. Strategic mass surveillance is a new reality, something that would have been difficult to conceive a decade ago.
Cypherpunks is partly based on interviews Assange conducted with his three co-authors for the eighth and ninth episodes of his RT show "The World Tomorrow." There is also new material included in the book.
The co-authors include Jacob Appelbaum (a Tor Project developer and research scientist at the University of Washington), Jérémie Zimmermann (co-founder and spokesman for the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.), and Andy Müller-Maguhn (head of the Cryptophone company and a member of Germany's Chaos Computer Club).
The view of the web as a vehicle for borderless communication and progressive political change, fails to take into account the downside. Revolution-by-Twitter may make a great sound bite but the less advertised truth is that the web is increasingly being deployed as a tool for political repression. Social media is also being used more frequently for propaganda purposes.
There is increasing concern about the use of the internet for surveillance and control in western countries where individual rights have been front and center. Concerns about terrorism, urban unrest, commercial crimes, intellectual property issues, illegal content are used by governments and other parties as justification in pushing for ever-greater controls over the web.
Tools for web traffic analysis can be deployed to enhance surveillance and control capabilities. When you look at the UK's $2 billion plus plan for a snooping dragnet to track email, Twitter, Facebook and other web use it's an indicator that profound changes are in the works. In Russia the parliament unanimously endorsed a bill that gives government greater control over the internet. In the United States the anti-file sharing legislation SOPA and ACTA put users on notice about what is at stake.
Persecution of activists has been taken to a new level, as demonstrated by the vicious campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks. In a recent article Glenn Greenwald describes the ways in which WikiLeaks was targeted following its decision to publish US diplomatic cables:
Over the past two years, then, this group - convicted of no crime but engaged in pathbreaking journalism that produced more scoops than all other media outlets combined and received numerous journalism awards - has been effectively prevented from functioning, receiving funds, or even maintaining a presence on US internet servers.
Other Cypherpunks authors have also been at the receiving end of law enforcement scrutiny. The book is a warning - a wake-up call that is both timely and prescient.
"CYPHERPUNKS is not a political manifesto. There isn't time for that. It is instead an attempt to raise the alarm. Few have noticed but we now live in the once-imagined futures of our darkest science fiction. Technology we do not understand surrounds us. Without understanding it we are vulnerable in ways we cannot predict. ... The latter threatens the fabric of liberal democracy and the rule of law."
In commenting on the book Oliver Stone stated: "Cypherpunks is gripping, vital reading, explaining clearly the way in which corporate and government control of the internet poses a fundamental threat to our freedom and democracy."
John Pilger noted that - "The power of this book is that it breaks a silence. It marks an insurrection of subjugated knowledge that is, above all, a warning to all."
For those who missed "The World Tomorrow" discussions featuring Julian Assange and co-authors I'm posting parts 1 and 2.