Meet Jacob Appelbaum: New Berliner, exiled hacktivist, passionate idealist and a longtime collaborator of Julian Assange, a close friend of Edward Snowden confidants Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald.
So why Berlin?
Berlin has an incredible culture of resistance. I have been coming to Berlin for many years because of the Chaos Computer Club, and I’ve worked with Der Spiegel in the context of WikiLeaks. I have a lot of close friends here in the art world and in the computer hacker world and in the journalistic world. I exist at the intersection of those three worlds, and Berlin makes me very happy.
So, how do you get people to go to the next level – from awareness to action?
We have to have a lot more than just individual actions. My recycling does not save the environment. It is a useful part of a much bigger picture. We need industrial action on a planetary scale. For example we have to re-engineer the way telecommunication systems work. Why can the NSA wiretap entire countries? Because the infrastructure is designed to be wiretapped and they exploit it. And that needs to be changed. The reality is that most people trust the defaults of their electronic devices. Until the architecture is privacy by design, we will have privacy by policy. Privacy by policy will always be violated by people who do not feel that they are constrained by that policy. We have to work to change the way our infrastructure works. To make it actually secure.
Berlin has an incredible culture of resistance.
But many don’t feel that concerned – as internet users, they just want to accomplish certain tasks and are unbothered about corporate or political use of their personal data….
Saying, “Oh I’m not interesting, no one will want to watch me” as a way of coping with this stress is understandable. But I would re-frame it as “intelligence agencies are normal people”. The capabilities necessary to tap a cell phone costs €1000 or less. The methods are available to everyone – an ex-lover, a competitive journalist… So, it’s about choice, not whether or not you have something to hide. There are businesses that exploit people’s lack of knowledge, and, yes, we should question the centralisation of businesses like Facebook and Twitter. We have to deal with corporate surveillance and government surveillance and the ties between them. It is a big problem. But it is something we can solve.
You called Facebook Stasibook…
Yes, because of its close collaboration with the state. They have an entire department that does nothing but turn over data to police, governments and other requesting parties. I’m sure that the FBI went to Facebook for any data that they had on me. The Department of Justice went to Twitter and Google for me. I think the big fallacy is to think that because people use Facebook they don’t care about privacy. But what is the alternative for most people? The reality is that if you live in London, when you walk down the street, it’s a privacy-violating channel of information. But what can you do? You won’t stay inside all the time, which doesn’t mean you don’t care about the cameras. So, we must build alternatives so that people can choose. And we can do it.
Read the full interview in Exberliner here.