Envisioning our Future – Bits of Freedom

Bits of FreedomDutch Digital Rights organization Bits of Freedom presented four different scenarios for the future. In their day to day operations they sometimes feel like their work is mostly being shaped by current affairs. They wanted to take some time at Noisy Square to show three different ways that an event like OHM could be organized in four years while taking the global context into account:

  1. Hacking for profit 2017, the conference moves into a hotel in Amsterdam, with rooms sponsored with companies Palantir and Booz Allen Hamilton. The whole conference is very commercially oriented (e.g. doublespending nanocoins with Bitcoins, the market for exploits). Geopolitically there is a rift in this scenario between Asia on the one end and Western countries on the other end. Digital rights aren’t part of the debate and it isn’t relevant to talk about scarcity.
  2. HUG 2017, in 2015 there is a massive cyber-attack: two weeks of epic downtime. The NSA lose all their databases. So the government proposes tougher legislation and prohibits encryption. It was tough to organize the conference in this setting. So they organized an aircraft ship and sailed from Russia (with a special guest) to Latin America, one of the only countries caring about privacy. The program is full of talks about an architecture for and ways of sustaining self-sufficient communities. In this scenario there is a lot of fear and digital rights are practically non-existent.
  3. Hacking in Heaven 2017, there has been a complete political turnaround. The location is an out-of-use SigInt station in Friesland, in the Netherlands (one of the largest hackerspaces in the world). There is a keynote by the eternal optimist Jeff Jarvis (talking about the most challenging first world problems such as boredom, delayed shipping times and preventing Google glasses from fogging). There is a talk about the 2% that isn’t on PGP yet. There is proper transparency for companies. The Quantified Self movement has cured obesity and even Hollywood is working on sustainable open business models. The Arab summer has helped revolutionaries to use surveillance against their dictators. And there even is Total Happy Online Freedom (no filtered except for unhappy things). There is privacy and that has made the world even safer.

After presenting these three scenarios a conversation with the adience about each of the scenarios followed. One person mentioned how the first scenario looks like the Black Hat convention. Another mentioned how there is some truth in the first scenario about the commercialisation of our communication infrastructure. There was some discussion about the speed of the developments, four years seemed too short for this level of change.

There was a short discussion on the basis of the second scenario asking whether there can be a data-privacy apocalypse that can jolt us into action. Isn’t this event happning right now? One audience member referenced Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine showing how governments use crises to push forward their agenda. The privacy agenda could be furthered in a similar way by the current crisis. The second scenario can be interpreted in a more positive way too: a set of slow growing communities. The scenario is too centralized: hackers wouldn’t do that.

A lot of people in the audience liked the third scenario, but they weren’t sure that is is very realistic. This third scenario also felt “wrong” to some as it doesn’t seem like there is any resistance left, which means that power must have moved elsewhere and become less transparent. Somebody wished we could work towards a society where nobody would need PGP encryption.

It was interesting to see that the future seems to be already present in the current situation. Bits of Freedom urged everybody to pick up the torch and run with it: striving for digital freedom.