Stallman: ‘We’ve got to limit surveillance to keep democracy’
We need to change a lot of things about digital technology so that they're not surveillance engines. The idea is that human rights should be respected in digital activities as in non-digital life, software freedom activist Richard Stallman told RT.
The world is witnessing a transition from non-digital life, in which people mostly have a lot of autonomy. However, people should also have human rights in their digital activities, the world famous technologist and philosopher Richard Stallman said, interviewed by Oksana Boyko in RT’s Worlds Apart show. Stallman argues that though there are many exceptions in terms of human rights, they should be stopped in order to have effective democracy.
“It simply means returning to users of computing the autonomy that they have in non-digital life. What we see happening is a transition from non-digital life, in which people mostly have a lot of autonomy ... There are countries that don't respect human rights, but we call that an injustice. The point is that you should have human rights in your digital activities as well,” Stallman said.
“We need to change a lot of things about digital technology so that they're not surveillance engines, but part of it is that we need to use software that the users control,” Stallman continued.
Richard Stallman tries not to use mobile phones in personal communication, he says, but that doesn’t mean he’s advocating some pre-digital innocence. We’ve got to limit surveillance to keep democracy, he believes.
AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards
“When I say we should have portable phones with only free software in them, and that the system should be designed, under legal requirement, not to track anybody but court-ordered investigation subjects, that's not saying go back to an innocent pre-digital world,” Richard Stallman told RT.
“There are others who say using digital technology means total surveillance, just surrender to it. But since that surrender means no democracy anymore, because whistleblowers who tell us what the state is doing will be caught, and they have to flee to places like Russia in order not to be caught, that means it's too much of a sacrifice. We've got to keep our democracy, and that means we've got to limit surveillance,” he added.
Stallman is known for developing the concept that every computer program must be free for users to study and modify as they want.
“Even those of us who are not programmers and won't personally exercise the control, if the users control the program, and since most of the users don't want to be spied on, each of us can count on the other users to make sure the program isn't spying on us,” Stallman told RT.
He admits that depending on others can’t guarantee perfect results, but compares it to non-free software, when users are dependent on the “tyrant” whose interest is to take advantage of them.
“With non-free software, the decisions about that program are all made by somebody whose interest is to exploit the users and you can pretty well expect the decisions to be bad for the users, whereas when you’re depending on other users, you’ve got a pretty good chance it’s going to be more or less good,” Richard Stallman said.
He added that the argument “Never try to get rid of a tyranny because you don’t know what’s going to happen, just accept the tyrant” is an utter fallacy, since this is particularly the thing that guarantees tyranny.
“So, this doesn't mean that every contributor is an angel. It does mean, however, that none of the contributors faces the same kind of temptation to abuse power that a proprietary developer faces, because none of them has that kind of power,” Richard Stallman said.
The fact that various big companies like Google, Microsoft or Facebook were ready to cooperate with intelligence services is not surprising because they were money-driven, Stallman says. Nevertheless, it’s important to distinguish between governments spying on other governments, which is something that governments have been doing plenty of, and governments spying on all citizens.
“That [governments spying on governments] is just what governments do to each other. For me, that's not the scandal. The scandal is not spying on other governments and their activities, it's spying on all the citizens. And of course there are countries that work together to spy on the citizens of these countries,” he told RT.
“Thirty years ago we had phones, but they weren't in general being monitored. There wasn't a list of everybody's phone calls, but now there is. And now the US government is collecting that all the time, and in Spain as well, with the help of the Spanish government. So, now we have to address that issue as well,”Stallman added.