I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Cory Doctorow for the Stoke Newington Literary Festival last weekend.
Cory is an author, blogger, journalist and general tech genius. If you aren’t aware of him yet, in 2007, Entertainment Weekly called him, “the William Gibson of his generation.”
He was joined in conversation with Padraig Reidy, News Editor of Index on Censorship, to discuss free speech, cyber utopianism and whatever question was thrown in by the audience.
The event got started with a summary of Cory’s latest novel due out in paperback this month, Pirate Cinema (review coming soon!)
Pirate Cinema, like many of Doctorow’s novels is set in a dystopian near-future that is a little too close for comfort. An activist for open rights and defender of freedom in technology law and policies – Cory has a lot to say on digital copyright. Pirate Cinema is set in a Britain where the government is now effectively controlled by media corporations. Trent McCauley, a sixteen year old kid with a talent for film making, getting footage from popular films that he downloads from the net, reassembling them to create original movies. Copyright laws are now stricter and punishments are harsher. Trent is caught three times; resulting in his entire household’s access to the internet is cut off for a year.
In a world increasingly moving online, the result is crippling for Trent and his family. It’s a similar theme to Lauren Beukes, Moxyland where criminal’s smartphones are fried as a punishment. Doctorow draws on the question – when everything is online from the education process to claiming benefits, is it ethical to deny people use of the internet?
This is the second point of discussion – Should the internet be a human right? Doctorow’s opinion is absolutely. Studies have shown that individuals given access to the internet are a lot more likely to excel in life on all standards of living/quality of life such as education, income and healthcare.
The last and more lengthy topic is on current affairs – The revelation there is a secret data-mining programme giving the US government access to emails, chat logs and other data directly from the servers of nine internet companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Apple. It sounds like a great pitch for Cory’s next novel but it’s actually a very serious article in The Guardian.
The source of the leaked info describes the US government as destroying “privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
The general consensus from Doctorow and the crowd is that governments need to be held accountable for their use of private data. Doctorow reels off a steady list of facts illustrating why we should worry about our privacy. Did you know the U.S. Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act of 1994 – or CALEA – mandates that all new telephone company gear must be wiretap-friendly? Yes, your phone is designed with a back door for the government. There is a sad camaraderie in the room when we realise no one is surprised about being spied on.
There’s a quick Q&A including an enthusiastic front row attendee who I assume is a hacker along with several publishing types questioning the future of digital publishing. By this point my head is about to explode with information and a sinister paranoia about spooks checking my facebook page. It’s time to go home!
Cory Doctorow is a man who knows his tech and how to write a gripping sci-fi. His books border just enough on reality to create a realistic version on where future technology can lead us and provoke some captivating (and paranoid) food for thought!