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[liberationtech] You can't beat politics with technology, says Pirate Bay cofounder Peter Sunde (Wired UK)

Yosem Companys companys at stanford.edu
Mon Nov 18 12:57:53 PST 2013


18 NOVEMBER 13

You can't beat politics with technology, says Pirate Bay cofounder Peter Sunde

by OLIVIA SOLON, WIRED

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-11/18/peter-sunde-hemlis-political-apathy

Pirate Bay cofounder Peter Sunde spoke to Wired.co.uk about the
problems with the file-sharing website in its current form, the
"imminent death" of peer-to-peer and the centralised services that
leave us open to NSA surveillance. He also urges people to dispel
their political apathy to prevent the emergence of a new Stasi-style
era of oppression.

People who are disenchanted with politics and the financial system
should try and engage with the democratic process rather than turn to
technology for alternative methods of doing things, says Peter Sunde,
cofounder of The Pirate Bay.

"You can't beat politics with new technology all the time. Sometimes
you have to actually make sure that politics are in line with what
people want. A lot of people are giving up on politics and thinking
they can solve issues with technology. These kind of arrogant
behaviours towards the rest of the society are a bit disgusting,"
Sunde told Wired.co.uk in a Skype interview.

His response was provoked by a question about Bitcoin, a technology
that he thinks is "interesting" and has a fascinating story behind it,
but one that he feels is symbolic of a depressing widespread lack of
trust in politics.

"We are a community of people, we have politicians that we elect, we
can demand that they do things," he says, "but we are way too lazy to
do that today".

His concern is that "we are just giving up". "We have this hatred of
politicians who we just see as being corrupt and we don't trust them
any more so we try to do things outside of where they can bother us."
This includes setting up cryptocurrencies that are difficult to
monitor and tax (Sunde is a firm believer in taxation, since it allows
communities to build shared infrastructure).

"The distrust of the political system is unhealthy," he says. Instead
of building tools such as Bitcoin, which he believes give "a carte
blanche" to politicians and bankers, we should be forcing them to
change -- in Sunde's view we should be aiming towards community-owned
banks. "We need a revolution instead of a technology evolution."

The lack of engagement with the democratic process and reliance on
technology is a particular problem now because we consider "the clever
people" to be those who know about technology. He describes "nerds" as
the "new elite" -- the very people who should be helping to fix the
political system. But they "are kind of lazy bastards who are too
arrogant to go onto the streets. They are too arrogant to see it's
important to not think that we can solve problems with better
technology".

He says that you are not going to stop the police from chasing you
just because you have the best encryption in the world. "You actually
need to go somewhere and vote and make sure you don't have corrupt
police," he explains. "But there's a faith in technology as the
saviour, as the new Messiah, and that's definitely not the case. I
really don't see any revolution happening."

POLITICAL AMBITIONS

Sunde hopes to try and instigate that revolution in his quest to
become a member of the European Parliament as a candidate for the
Pirate Party. His campaign will launch in January 2014 and he is
planning his policies until then. He wanted to run independently, but
the EU doesn't allow for this, "which is kind of weird". He's actually
more of a socialist and would be more likely to vote for the left-wing
parties in the Nordics ("where they are sane"), but they consider him
to be too controversial a character.

Although he doubts he'll win a seat in the European Parliament, he
hopes he can inspire people to take an interest in European politics.
"If I get in there are so many things I could draw attention to even
if I was just going there to make fun of things."

He finds it "really strange" how detached people in European countries
feel from the European Parliament when it has so much influence over
national legislation. We tend to joke about extraordinary
Brussels-originated policies relating to the dimensions of fruit and
vegetables or the fact that politicians are sent there and no one
knows what they are doing. "It's just this grotesque monster and you
don't see anything happening except when you want to stop some of the
crazy legislation they come up with some times. We have this union and
we have voting rights and we don't care enough. It's just insane that
we agreed to have this parliament if that's the way we look at it."

DIGITAL RIGHTS

The EU isn't the only grotesque monster. A major looming threat is TPP
(Trans-Pacific Partnership), another secretly-negotiated trade
agreement in the ilk of Acta and Sopa. Instead of taking a
whack-a-mole approach to fighting these treaties, we should be more
aggressive in enshrining our digital rights in "some sort of internet
human rights bill" to prevent TPP from simply reemerging under another
guise.

He suggests that people might be apathetic towards politics because
"we've already given up". People complained about the NSA surveillance
revelations, but "nothing is really happening" -- there's no one
storming American embassies. "I worry that we don't really care about
our digital rights any more and we are not fighting for them."

Part of the problem is that most people don't currently feel that
their digital rights are being repressed in any major way. "We don't
really know what it's going to be like if we lose all these rights or
what happens when the data about you starts to be abused. That's not
going to happen until it's too late," he says.

Sunde suggests learning from history. He was inspired by a recent
visit to the Stasi Museum in Berlin with Anka Domscheit-Berg, wife of
former Wikileaks' spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who grew up in East
Germany under constant Stasi surveillance. "When bad people have all
of the information about you -- even though that information might not
seem incriminating -- it can be abused," Sunde explains. In the case
of Eastern Germany, the Stasi went too far and there was a revolution.
"It's better to stop right now than having to break down another
wall."

HEMLIS

When he's not taking on political apathy, Sunde is continuing to work
onFlattr, VPN IPredator, a comedy show (!) and a new secure messenger
app called Hemlis, which means "secret" in Swedish. So far the app is
being beta tested by ten people using it every day and Sunde says the
encryption is working well and it has a "really nice" user interface.
He won't be drawn into offering a release date. "It's finished when
it's finished -- we don't want to stress anything when we are dealing
with something as serious as people's secrets."

Much of his time has been spent dealing with "haters" from the
encryption community. He admits that "there's always going to be a
better solution" but that many of Hemlis's critics are "not that
helpful". One of the main criticisms levied at Hemlis is that it wants
to control the network (it doesn't allow individuals to connect their
own trusted servers) "even though controlling the network is currently
the only thing you can do to keep from being spied on," says Sunde.

Sunde sees these critics as elitist. "We want to give decent
encryption to everyone -- not just tech people. But the tech people
are the ones who are really upset that they can't connect their own
server. We decided quite early on to stop listening to them."

THE PIRATE BAY

It's not just the encryption community that has riled Sunde, but the
people who are currently running The Pirate Bay (which Sunde cofounded
back in 2003). "I don't know the people left and I don't like what I
see," he says, adding that he wishes it had closed down on its tenth
birthday in August this year. He said that the lack of new development
in the BitTorrent file sharing scene symbolises the "imminent death"
of peer-to-peer.

"Sometimes it's good to burn things so something else comes out of the
ashes. Otherwise you get to this stale position. It's like money. If
you don't spend money it's worth less because of inflation. The same
applies to technology: if you don't actually make it better, it
becomes worse," Sunde declares.

"A lot of people say that BitTorrent is good enough, but it doesn't
really matter because the scene itself is dying," he adds, explaining
that there are "no alternatives" to Spotify or Netflix. He admits that
they are both good services, but is worried about the fact that a
single player dominates in every silo of the internet. "We are
centralising everything on the internet," Sunde says, pointing out
that Facebook is the dominant social network, Twitter is the dominant
microblogging site, Skype is the videophone chat service of choice.
"All of them are based on central servers owned by an American
company, which is giving me a really bad vibe when you consider the
revelations about the NSA," he adds. "It would be impossible to have
as much surveillance if we didn't all use these centralised services."

Sunde thinks Netflix and Spotify are good services, but he stopped
using the latter after it deleted some of the music he listened to. He
had already deleted some music he couldn't get hold of any more from a
hard drive because he "trusted Spotify to have it". He was scared away
from the service permanently "because I realised that someone else is
controlling the music that I listen to".

"Even though they [Netflix and Spotify] might have their heart in the
right place, they are totally dependent on the same shitty companies
-- the same shitty Universal and Warner Bros and all these companies
that have given them the rights to license their music."

This goes against the tenets of decentralised file-sharing, where
people cared more about culture and the music that was spread than who
had the copyright. "It goes against the idea I have about how we
should handle culture and cultural heritage."



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