The Seismic Shift of Choice.

Considering Jacob Appelbaum’s Keynote Address and the Steubenville Rape. 

(originally published on Dec ember 29, 2012, updated October 6, 2014)

Hurricane Sandy ushered in a change in people’s lives beyond that which is brought by the force of wind and water. It may be merely symbolic, but since that day in late October a series of events occurred that seemed to show us the ills in our world, (the mass killing at Sandy Hook, the gang rapes ignored by authorities in India and Steubenville, OH).  But if you look closely, a seismic shift has occurred and provided a small glimpse into how the escalation of corruption, cruelty, and the senseless destruction of life does not go on forever. The bad actions of a few can spread like a virus, and corrupt a group or culture. But if those actions reach a fevered pitch, those who normally sit by silently in fear or apathy begin to hear the cries of the victims and finally the pendulum swings and the other side rises.

Human psychology is complex and group dynamics even more so. It is hard enough to figure out how to earn a living in a troubled economy, let alone care about the troubles of another, or a societal ill. But at the same time, we know when as a group, we are moving in the wrong direction. We sense it. We will ignore it for as long as we can, but at some point, one then two, then many of us, will join together and say:  enough.

Europe’s largest annual hacker meeting, the Chaos Computer Club conference is being held this week and Jacob (Jake) Appelbaum was chosen to give the keynote speech, (see below). For those who do not know him, he is a computer programmer and Wikileaks volunteer.  He was employed by the University of Washington, in Seattle, and is a core member of the Tor project which supports an anonymous internet and secure communications.  Although he has never committed a crime, he has recently been the target of continued surveillance and harassment by US authorities that has gravely impacted his life.  His surveillance became noticeable after Wikileaks was targeted by the US following their leak of US military documents revealing what might be called widespread unethical behavior.  As he said during his keynote, each night when he goes to sleep, he fears waking up “to a gun in his mouth”.  He described this to make a point that having to live your life with such a fear is not freedom.  He lives like this in the United States, in a country that values freedom.  He has been detained at airports, and had his phones confiscated. His ill mother has been targeted and put in jail. Her home was taken from her. He believes this would not have happened had he not been targeted. He believes if you become a target of US surveillance, as he has become, your life will be crushed.

His keynote was not just a message to inspire fear or sympathy for his plight.  He repeatedly described
the NSA’s (National Security Agency) efforts, in particular, the building of a huge data repository, where US authorities are storing the digital communication and internet activity of all US citizens.  Where once this was an illegal practice and against the constitution, the Patriot Act and later legislation signed by Obama without much press, (sections in the 2012 NDAA), has made it legal.  Appelbaum points out that this data is being stored for the “future”.  It is there  just in case it is desired to create a full dossier on someone who has become a “person of interest”, like Appelbaum, (and even his poor mother) have become.

But Jacob Appelbaum did not leave his listeners in a dark place. Instead he made the point of describing how such surveillance can only be carried out, with the help of computer programmers who were willing to assist such an effort and be well paid. He said, you have a choice, and it is an ethical one. Either you can choose to turn a blind eye, and accept a position where you will be helping to build such a surveillance state or you can turn down such offers, and make a living creating free software (or take other actions),  that stop such intrusive behavior and control.  You do not have to join with others in the destruction of freedom. Nor do you have to join with others in the destruction of a target, or victim. You have a choice.

And choices are made. In a small town, outside of Pittsburgh, PA, a revered football team decided to allow a few of their members to continuously rape a 16 YO girl, (a minor), while she was unconscious. She was dragged, naked, limp and unknowing, from party to party, and filmed via the phones and iPads of the various team members, as her attacks occurred. Her alleged rapists were so arrogant and unaware that their behavior was unacceptable, that they uploaded images and videos of her attack to twitter and youtube, implicating themselves in a crime.  They tweeted glibly, referring to her as a “dead body”. They reportedly urinated on her.

This young girls experience will change her life forever. But many of the authority figures in Steubenville, including the coach of the team were angry at the victim, for bringing “trouble” to their beloved team.   This incomprehensible destructive behavior was endorsed through their public sentiment. And it was this public sentiment by the town leaders that enabled the rapists to feel entitled to attack the unconscious girl, on video, in the first place. But this is not the end to this story.  The world is shifting. And such over the top behavior, endorsed by leaders in a community, finally reached a pinnacle, where a bell was finally rung and others heard that something is wrong.

Anonymous, the loosely knit collective of computer hackers took up the call to stand up for the rights of the rape victim. They organized events to hold those responsible accountable, including the attackers, those who supported her attack by allowing it to happen, filming it, or watching it. They drew the disbelieving eyes of the world to the community who seemed intent on silencing the victim. This appeared to be beneficial to everyone.

UPDATE: In an incomprehensible act, the US Government went after the Anonymous hacker instead of the rapists, who now is serving time in prison, while the rapists were released after serving a only few months. Unbelievable. I wrote about this on my tumblr


Above: Protest against Steubenville rape, December 29, 2012, organized by Anonymous.

Jacob Appelbaum’s Keynote Address. It starts out in German, but then shifts quickly to English:

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