|Thomas Schreiber | Jan 20, 2013|
The myth states that Zeus withheld fire from human kind to take revenge on Prometheus for deceiving him. In response, Prometheus climbed Mount Olympus, lit a torch from the sun and shed the light of knowledge on humanity. In this parable it is demonstrated that those with power can wield it in opposition to others, or the privileged can redistribute that power to benefit the masses. In the information age questions of who is privy to specific knowledge are everywhere. From Wikileaks to BitTorrent, computers and the Internet have given our society new tools with which to share information. "Information wants to be free", goes the cries. "Then hand over your medical records and bank credentials", is the response. As an Internet activists how can we ask for all information to be freed in one breath, and ask for privacy from corporate and government surveillance in the next? What we really need to be demanding is the freedom to share.
Of course, freeing knowledge is a valiant act, but it is not the same as a right to share. If we lived in a perfect world perhaps we would truly have "nothing to hide", but the reality of the world is we often do have much to hide in order to protect ourselves. Be it gender identity, sexual orientation, religious belief (or lack there of) or any other part of our identities the ignorance of others may result in violence against us. For this reason privacy is a strong tool to defend ourselves and our communities. But who is to decide what should remain private and what should be made public? If we wish to be free from those that wield the power of knowledge over others we cannot select a few to rule us all. It is also not possible for the masses to accurately be able decide who should and should not be privy to a piece of information without the masses also being exposed to that piece of information. One way an individual can stand up to those in power is to act as Prometheus and release information, but the cost is often high.
An equation is left with which we can calculate the cost and benefit of releasing information. Knowledge is a power, and if it is being used as a weapon we can evaluate what side it is fighting for. Will the information endanger others? Is the lack of knowledge causing a power vacuum that is being exploited by those that wield the information? These questions must be evaluated by the would be liberator. When a person is privileged with a piece of information they must figure out if the power of the information will aid humanity or harm it.
Often the calculation is simple and the information is shared with others. If only this could be our happy ending, but the power hungry Zueses of our world do not sit idle as their power is diminished. Threatened by the liberators of information some choose to repress those that take their power. Threats, harassment, imprisonment, violence and even torture have recently been employed against sharers. The power hungry are afraid to lose what they have. They fear the loss of their supremacy and status above all, and will use the threat of violence to demand that the status quo be kept. Using repression against those that seek to share is an act of a tyrant. To prevent someone from sharing will always result in building a cage around the sharer. If as a society we strive to be free we must allow for the right to share.
Perhaps information does trend toward freedom, but it can't always disburse itself. Information requires discovery or sharing. Sometimes it is unethical to disclose a piece of information in a very public manner much in the same way that sometimes speech and expression can be. However, if we want to live in a free society we must demand freedom from state repression for giving knowledge. Because sharing is a right. Those that risk everything to share information today are doing so at a great cost. Their payment cannot be in vain. We must have the strength to accept the torch they pass and pass it on ourselves.