News Release

Free Software Pioneer Denounces “Security-Industrial Complex” and Portable Phones as “Stalin’s Dream”

RICHARD STALLMAN, rms at gnu.org
On Wednesday, Stallman was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. He is founder of the Free Software Foundation and has pioneered the notion of copyleft.

He said today: “It is said that ‘knowledge is power.’ Internet corporations took this maxim to heart, and set out to know as much as possible about each of us. Then the U.S. and other governments began massively collecting personal information from these companies, and in other ways too. That’s how they hope to have power over us. Digital technology turns out to mean building a giant digital dossier about each person. This might be OK if we had a government we could trust implicitly to respect human rights, one that would never try to stretch its power. What we have, under Bush and Obama, is a security-industrial complex that systematically crosses legal limits, egged on by corporations that will make more money through putting together more extensive dossiers, and saying they are doing this to ‘keep us safe’ from real but minor threats.

“It used to be that the threat to people’s freedom from computers was that they used programs that the users don’t control — nonfree programs, that is. The free software movement aims to provide free/libre replacements for nonfree programs. Free software is software that respects the users’ freedom and community. A program that isn’t free gives its owner unjust power over its users. Often it is designed to spy on them, restrict them, or even abuse them. (See ‘Proprietary Surveillance,’ DefectiveByDesign.org and ‘Proprietary Sabotage.’) With free software, the users can fix the program so it doesn’t spy, restrict, or mistreat.

“But the threats have multiplied. For years I’ve called portable phones ‘Stalin’s dream’ because of their surveillance capabilities. (Their movements are tracked, and they can be converted remotely into listening devices that transmit your conversations all the time, even when you try to shut them off.) For years I’ve warned that it is a mistake to entrust personal data to web sites, or even identify yourself to them. For years I’ve paid cash rather than use my credit card.

“The U.S. is slowly converting driver’s licenses into national ID cards. Without showing ID, you can’t fly, or ride Amtrak, or stay in a hotel in New York City, or open a bank account, or fill a prescription for pain killers. The immigration bill now being considered may make it impossible to get a job without national ID.

“Meanwhile, as license-plate cameras spread around our cities, the U.S. is slowly assembling a system that will track all movements of all cars, as is done in the UK. ‘Smart meters’ will build a dossier of how much electricity you use each hour or each minute, which says whether you are home. And the Internet of Things threatens to recruit all the products in your home as digital informers.

“Once data is collected, it will be misused. Formal limits on accessing the data will do nothing to stop the state from collecting all sorts of data about anyone it is determined to crush, such as torture whistleblower John Kiriakou. If no one dares tell us what the state is doing, the state will get out of control.

“We need to stop the accumulation of digital dossiers about people in general. Such collection should be permitted only under a court order applying to a specific person.”

See a brief video of Stallman and a longer speech of his on free software and copyright.

Stallman sent his statement in an email with the following at the top:
[To any NSA and FBI agents reading my email: please consider
[ whether defending the US Constitution against all enemies,
[ foreign or domestic, requires you to follow Snowden’s example.