My latest Guardian column, “Saying information wants to be free does more harm than good” asks that we collectively kill the expression “Information wants to be free,” in favor of better, more comprehensive slogans such as “People want to be free.”
It’s time for IWTBF to die because it’s become the easiest, laziest straw man for Hollywood’s authoritarian bullies to throw up as a justification for the monotonic increase of surveillance, control, and censorship in our networks and tools. I can imagine them saying: “These people only want network freedom because they believe that ‘information wants to be free’. They pretend to be concerned about freedom, but the only ‘free’ they care about is ‘free of charge.'”
But this is just wrong. “Information wants to be free” has the same relationship to the digital rights movement that “kill whitey” has to the racial equality movement: a thoughtless caricature that replaces a nuanced, principled stand with a cartoon character. Calling IWTBF the ideological basis of the movement is like characterising bra burning as the primary preoccupation of feminists (in reality, the number of bras burned by feminists in the history of the struggle for gender equality appears to be zero, or as close to it as makes no difference).
So what do digital rights activists want, if not “free information?”