James Governor's Monkchips

In praise of… Aral Balkan

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About Aral Balkan, Cyborg rights activist. Ethical designer. Leading tech policy at Diem 25 and building Ind.ie, a startup working on a Web that isn’t based on tracking us.

So here’s the thing. Aral Balkan is a squeaky wheel. He is annoying. He is opinionated. He won’t let things lie. His rhetoric is aggressive. He is always up in your face, reminding you the tech industry is failing in some important respect or other, arguing that religion can be a clear and present danger to civil rights, that capitalism and society basically sucks.

But he is also charming, open, warm and welcoming. He makes plenty of trenchant, well thought out arguments. You want him on on your side, especially if you’re from an underrepresented group, because he has has a solid stubbornness. In 2015 when he announced Ind.ie was leaving the UK because Theresa May was introducing legislation that made it untenable to build a privacy-based business some folks said he was full of shit. Well they were wrong. Ind.ie is now based in Malmö, Sweden.

I thought of Aral today when Amber Rudd, now UK Home Secretary, announced that encryption was a Bad Thing, that wasn’t necessary for Real People. But arguments against encryption are basically all terrible. Aral does a great job of deconstructing the latest attack on our rights to privacy here. Please read it.

You might as well say people shouldn’t wear clothes, or be able to use bicycle locks, or lock the front door of their house when they go to bed. Only criminals or terrorists use encryption, right? Well yes, except for banks, and every digital business you can actually trust. I wrote recently about the coming GDPR data protection legislation, which will rely on encryption. We’ve moved well beyond questions of whether we can trust digital businesses, but whether they can trust the UK to be a place where it makes sense to build a business. Among all of the uncertainties of Brexit, the Home Office has now found another reason not to do business here.

We need people pushing the envelope the other way. People like Aral.

Why? Because. There. Is. No. Center. We live in a political hourglass. We need people like Holly Wood. We need the Democratic Socialists of America. The right will continue its inexorable push way far over that way, unless we have some voices that ask tough questions, that interrogate the new status quo. There is of course a hunger for voices – as the recent UK election showed. So let’s support them. I am heading over to Ind.ie to make a contribution, even if I can’t use its software because I am an Android user, and as such a peon of the surveillance state. So whether it’s the EFF, the ORG or someone else, support some voices asking tough questions about digital culture. We can’t expect governments or tech startups to always have our best interests at heart.

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