/ / News

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?”

Saying information wants to be free does more harm than good

One Response to “Time to kill “Information Wants to Be Free””

  1. Daniel Kinzler

    I agree that “Information Wants to Be Free” is not a good political slogan. However, I think it’s a fundamental truth that needs to be considered: keeping data secret is hard, and getting harder. It wants out.

    I think this is what Stuard Brand was driving at, as you also pointed in the Guardian. I think however that it’s not merely a prediction about the development of information technology and society, but rather a fundamental truth, as fundamental as thermodynamics. To quote from an old blog post I wrote in 2008:

    It becomes more and more evident that trying to keep confidential data from spilling out is very much like plugging leaks in a tank or insulating drafty windows: it’s a battle against the laws of thermodynamics. It’s a battle against entropy, a battle that ultimately can only be lost. It’s debatable whether all information *should* be free. But all information does *want* to be free, whether we like it or not! [http://brightbyte.de/page/Information_wants_to_be_free]

Leave a Reply