The good geeks of Oxford were kind enough to let me do a 5-minute “microslot” talk at Oxford Geek Night 22, introducing the Pirate Party and the changing politics of a digital information age.
So I’d like to thank everyone for listening to what I had to say, and also those who took the time to speak to me afterwards, and while I’m here I’d like to remind you about the Oxford Pirates monthly meeting which I’ve been organizing, the next regular meeting of which will be at the Four Candles on Thursday July 14th.
An approximate transcript of what I said is as follows:
What is the Pirate Party?
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We are a relatively new party, having been in existence since 2009.
We live in a connected world today, where our ability to communicate and share information, knowledge and culture with each other has reached unprecedented levels, making our heads spin with the sheer rate of change that we’ve seen in recent years. And just as it makes our heads spin, our governments and established politicians have been left behind, either not understanding at all what has happened, or in some cases attempting to legislate for a digital world on the basis of declaring by fiat that it should all be similar to the analogue world of the 20th century.
That doesn’t work, and won’t work, because as I’m sure people here are well aware, digital reality is more than a simple analogy of the way things used to be, only with computers added to the mix.
The reality brings both opportunity and threat to our society. On one side, the fact that all of us can potentially communicate freely and directly with anyone else on the planet brings a vast gain to freedom of association and freedom of expression, and as we’ve seen in recent months in North Africa and the Arab world it is very hard to maintain totalitarian rule when it becomes no longer possible to keep a lid on freedom of expression, communication, and access to information without censorship.
At the same time, our own governments are also running scared of what this means, and as we’ve seen with the US government and Wikileaks, and with UK government ideas about controlling or censoring information on the internet, we still have to defend our civil freedoms in the new digital world, and that’s what the Pirate Party exists to do.
Something similar happens with our art and culture, when it no longer relies on being encoded in a physical medium, but becomes digital. After changes in the law during the last hundred years or a little more, we now have enormously long copyright duration, typically lasting multiple generations. Even so, this system did not impact as directly on individual citizens in previous centuries, when publishing a book, a record, anything, took capital investment, machinery, and required both distribution and disposal of excess physical copies.
Today, with digital media, peer-to-peer filesharing has revolutionised distribution, and we can see its success both as used by open-source software and by independent artists ready to take the plunge and take advantage of this. Today we all have copying devices, usually many of them, in the computers, smartphones, and other devices around us, all of which work by copying and transmitting copies of information – which means that copyright law, as it used to apply to physical media, now has a direct impact on each of our everyday lives where it never used to before.
Whatever the reason for exerting control, whether it is because of nervous governments, ours or those in other parts of the world, afraid of the idea of their citizens communicating freely both within in their borders and with citizens in other nations across the world, or whether it is the media and publishing industries of last century, afraid because the businesses they understood built around physical recorded media are no longer viable – whatever the reasons, if we citizens are unable freely to communicate and share digital information in a connected world, then we lose our freedoms of speech and communication, and we lose the greatest part of what is made possible by being connected to each other the way we are today.
Who here believes that we should all be free to use private communications, including encryption, to connect to others wherever they may be in the world? (I’m guessing most of you).
Unless there is a reason sufficient to justify criminal investigation, I assert that we all have that right to communicate privately, without being monitored or spied upon on any routine and regular basis, whether by governments or by business interests. And if we have that freedom, all of what I’ve been talking about follows, the inability to maintain censorship or copyright on private individuals in the way that might have been possible in an earlier age.