The Internet Must Be Defended (3): Everything is Terrorism?

One of the most ominous developments in the current conflict over Wikileaks has been the move in some quarters to define the publication of leaked information as something more than just ‘irresponsible’ or ‘criminal’ (e.g. ‘theft’ or even ‘espionage’). I have a lot of difficulty with those kinds of labels anyway, but it was only a matter of time before we saw serious, official calls for such activities to be defined as ‘terrorism’.

The Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Laszlo Kover, yesterday called for the action of leaking confidential and secret information to be redefined as ‘information terrorism’. He seemed to be referring here not just to Wikileaks but to all ‘online news reporting’, in other words, he is advocating treating those who report on such information as ‘terrorists’ too.

Terrorism, let us not forget, is the use of violence to influence politics, in other words to impose one’s political will through fear of death or injury. There is no way in the world that one can argue rationally that releasing information that allows people to see what happens inside the organisations making claims to rule over us, or act on our behalf, is that kind of violence, indeed it is highly irresponsible to try to associate the term with any processes of nonviolent communication.

The problem is that to many people this probably doesn’t seem unreasonable – people already talk about ‘information war’ as if that meant something clear and comprehensible. But this kind of action would be to extend the definition of terrorism, already stretched to breaking point by legislative changes in the USA, UK and other western countries, into the realm of freedom of speech and the politics of transparency and accountability.

Since 9/11, we have seen a gradual movement, at first indirect and associational as with John Robb’s talk of the ‘open-source insurgency’ back in 2005, and now increasingly overt, to define the advocates of openness and transparency as terrorists. This must be resisted before it takes root in any kind of legislation because ultimately this means that the Internet itself, the communications architecture which supports such activity, is portrayed as the vehicle for such ‘information terrorism.’ This will simply increase the movement of the drive to close the Net away from a crazy, fascistic notion (which it is) towards ‘common-sense.’ It will stifle the development of any genuine global polity.

What to do? Well the first thing is to respond immediately any time something like this is said by any politician or even commentator. This kind of talk should remain in the realm of the ridiculous and the repressive. We need to change the direction of the discourse.

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

4 thoughts on “The Internet Must Be Defended (3): Everything is Terrorism?”

  1. A comment by a politician I heard today in a news broadcast provides some credence to your article.
    The comment, although I cannot recall the exact wording went something like “There is no need to ask them when the law exists”.

    The freedom of life on the internet, it would appear, will always be at risk of being necessarily compromised in order to achieve some sort of natural order, be that the freedom to question openly and freely without the emotions being used as a means of direction by some other will, or the freedom to directly impose one will upon another by whatever means is available.

    As ways of openly using freely available information in a naturally personal way are practiced (Keywords facilitating internet searching without holding any data.), the emotions will no doubt always be moved into active mode.

    What is clear is that where privacy dies, so does a large element of protection from such mechanisms for a large portion of humanity.

    I do recall some writings (various) about passions/emotions being contained within but not included (This is not the Wittgenstein quote recently enquired about on Philos.L.), as a means of allowing humanity without imposing it. Now that seems a mindset that the internet could have been made for…

  2. I can’t help but think of _The Information Bomb_ by Paul Virilio constantly over this past month of news over Wikileaks, the assessments of world ‘leaders’ of its terroristic element, and the reaction of hackers to attack online institutions that have attempted to thwart Wikileaks. The same infrastructure that has allowed the convenient and efficient domination of the entire informatized world is rapidly falling prey to its subordinates, and its engineers and administrators are reacting by harnessing their apparatus to restrict it from this misuse and to return it to its original intention of the efficient and rational total administration of society. We need not be surprised when the reaction reeks of totalitarianism: it is merely a system asserting its raison d’être. The question is merely a matter of whether it will ever be possible to wrench the system from its administrators and democratize it; a proposition of which I am doubtful, but in attempting this, we will be able to discover if this technical assemblage is determined by its origins. While I have my doubts, I applaud Wikileaks and its defenders for either freeing the internet from its origins on the one hand, or exposing its untenable contradictions on the other. Thanks for yet another informative and thought-provoking blog.

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