Whether you believe it or not, we’re embroiled in a war for digital privacy and human rights. Many heroes have fallen in battles against corruption, but the tide is beginning to turn. The balance of power is shifting from small elitest government groups and into the hands of the entire populace. If you need a clue, here are some heroes from the Digital Human Rights Movement…
Both Anonymous and Wikileaks gained attention by leaking sensitive information to the public. While one could argue both sides of the debate about whether or not the public deserves to know everything a government or corporation owns, academic institutions have a duty to educate the general public.
The co-creator of RSS and markdown, along with Demand Progress and a slew of other Internet projects, Aaron Swartz didn’t steal or leak any secrets. The data theft he was arrested by MIT and prosecuted for was academic data from the JSTOR database that should be freely available to everyone anyway.
On January 11, 2013, Swartz committed suicide at the age of 26 after intense pressure from Federal prosecutors. Many still argue his death is the result of prosecutorial overreach, and the Interwebz will do its best to carry the torch of this fallen hero.
Long before Bruce Jenner broke the Internet by becoming Caitlyn, a young private named Bradley Manning became Chelsea. In fact, Chelsea even did a Cosmopolitan reveal-all long before the Kardashian-at-heart revealed herself on Vanity Fair. What makes Chelsea so stigmatizing and Caitlyn relatively safe is that Chelsea’s transformation is happening behind bars in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
She’s there because in 2010, she leaked close to a million classified military and diplomatic files to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, catapulting everyone involved into the public consciousness. Chelsea was later turned in by another hacker named Adrian Lamo, and the debate over whistleblowers and snitches has raged since.
Chelsea continues writing op-eds through lawyers and is still an active member of many online communities, despite her current incarceration. When she eventually gets out of prison, the interwebz will celebrate the release of another POW.
One of the Internet’s biggest pirates (big pun totally intended) is not a member of the Pirate Party, but actually founded (and funded) the Internet Party in New Zealand.
Kim Dotcom did a prison bid long before the feds shut down MegaUpload and went after him for copyright infringement. With The Pirate Bay and other download sites dominating the warez scene, MegaUpload’s popularity grew from the ability to stream pirated content (such as new-release Hollywood movies and TV shows), as opposed to downloading warez or torrents.
This forward-thinking visionary may be the enemy of Hollywood, but he saw the need for cloud-based applications long before Microsoft and Adobe switched to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) subscription models.
Ross William Ulbricht
In 2011, the underground hacker world was in the spotlight, due mostly to many hacker secs leaking data through the Anonymous moniker. The nearly decade-old Tor network enjoyed a surge in popularity, due to its ability to access hidden services within the Dark Web, a portion of the Deep Web built upon Darknets.
The reason everyone learned of this Knockturn Alley of the Interwebz is because of the fabled Silk Road marketplace, a Black-Market Craigslist where you could find anything illicit you could think of, from drugs to guns to hitmen.
It wasn’t long before the FBI captured Ross William Ulbricht, charging him with seven federal counts related to Silk Road, along with using his own murder-for-hire services to place hits. Despite breaking the cardinal rule of never getting high on your own supply, Ulbricht did help speed up Tor immensely, and for that the interwebz will always be grateful.
In high school, Edward Snowden always talked about wanting to expose government corruption, and he tried his hardest to get as deep into U.S. government ops as he could, applying for special forces and working with the CIA, NSA, and government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who provided intelligence to a variety of governments.
Whereas Chelsea Manning leaked data, Edward Snowden leaked process and procedural, and other training material to show the structure of the programs to journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who had them properly vetted before release and worked with Snowden to protect the whistleblower
Despite the precautions, Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald (along with anyone associated with them) still reported government harassment on various levels. The Snowden Effect, however, is that the trolling can now go both ways, as public scrutiny over government monitoring programs reaches a boiling point in the post-Snowden era.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. He’s a contributor to Huffington Post, The Street, Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, and Cannabis Now.