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Culture, Conflict and Control in the Infosphere

From "The Future of Computer Arts" Edited by Marina Grzinic Published by MASKA, Ljubljana MKC, Maribor 2004

A far cry from the optimistic sentiments that ran across the emerging net communities in the mid Nineties, "freedom of information" in electronic networks is increasingly viewed as a "security hazard". The control and commodification of information is not limited to the inorganic world. Systems of containment are emerging, political and information landscapes appear in which flows are directed by architectures of control wherein bodies and data are contained. This rise of control society is enabled by a security paranoia which equates openness with danger.

Most of new media and ICT have a military control technology background. With technology introduced as seemingly neutral, despite its military background, a primary concern regarding these technologies is the use for political control. The control characteristics have been clearly emerging over the last few years and the events of 9-11 have only triggered this development into an accelerated speed.
The spectrum of applications ranges from fully simulated digital theaters of battle and High-tech Non-lethal weapons to an all pervasive surveillance and dataveillance system preying on the exploitation of the databody and encroaching public streets and private appliances. The totality and pervasiveness of these systems are driven by the fusion of flesh and machine where increasingly the whole biosphere including humanity itself is converged into the information market economy. This includes the control of the food chain and patents on indigenous crops, animals and human genes the increasing biometric scanning, profiling and sorting of the population and the cyborgization of the individual.

The new security paradigm overshadows the world of technology and communication and society at large as conflict is increasingly being shifted to the infosphere. In the midst of Homeland Security Alerts for the terminally over-informed, the new conflicts of the DisInformation Society are not so much about blood and steel but the psychological positioning of ideas, the creation of adversaries - the supposed clash of cultures. Communications technology becomes a carrier for media PR and psychological "truth projection" operations where truth maintenance is a socio-technical engineering challenge.
The skies are filled with a dense veil of electronic eyes, ears and transponders with the aim of a multiple redundant sphere of "information awareness". With the US DoD set to integrate, broaden, and automate these current approaches, interfaced information systems are installed with the hope to counter asymmetric threats by achieving "total information awareness useful for preemption; national security warning; and national security decision making".

Paranoia has become a business model for the security and media industry and supports a climate for political influence based on an assertion of identity. The paranoid energy can be manifested as consumer sales which increase personal feelings of security through spending or panic cohesion instrumentalized for "national interests". Terror as a psychological phenomenon has entered the Information Age where everyone becomes a suspect in a world of self-learning algorithms that police the population into following the norm, where it becomes undesirable to create attention by deviant behavioral patterns. Statistical in/significance turns into a general lifestyle and ideology, where automated databases rule the lands. This trade-off in exchange of freedom of thought, association, movement and speech for security is questionable in many ways.

Military conflict management has always been a driving force in the development of ICT and is increasingly based on advanced electronic command and control systems. As private prison management companies such as Corrections Corporation of America or Wackenhut are transforming prisons into experimentation grounds for new digital tracking technologies, the conceptual boundaries between convicted prisoners, potential security risks and ordinary people are dissolving. Privatized surveillance, accountable only to share holders interested in profit, cuts the dividing lines between prisons and free environments. Unaccountable structural correction seems to become a new characteristic of the public sphere.

The new conflicts on the distribution of wealth are less focused on the traditional creation of value in material goods and energy production but on the intangible world of Intellectual Property and distribution rights. Society at large is drawn into conflicts concerning the distribution of wealth in access and content. We can see a gap widening not only in the control of the communication infrastructure but in the increasing imbalance in the control of information itself, be it in the form of patents, copyright control, software or media content. Not only in some progressive urban sectors of society it has become "cool" to ignore so called "copyright" but it is by now a widespread mass phenomenon. Although the industry spends huge amounts of money to make everyone feel guilty, seemingly nobody feels that they are doing something wrong. People like to share their memories, their experiences and their songs. And the answer of the IP industry is to criminalize sharing; the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sues 12 year old girls and 75 year old pensioners for downloading music on the net. For private prison industry the fact that a major part the African-american population is in detention centers provides a great business opportunity, why not jail music fans too. Or even better: build prison walls and digital divides around ideas and culture. In this scenario the appropriation of digital information amounts to cultural self defense.

Copyright itself turns out to be highly questionable - like who holds the rights on language- (probably Google) because if it really is a virus from outer space, as William Burroughs has claimed, we might be in trouble with UFOs checking on copyright infringement. Is it the aliens out there, out to destroy the common cultural grounds of humanity? Will we see the end of the public libraries soon? Another example where new technology is used to restrict access, where new licenses don’t allow remotely lending electronic journals or documents anymore? Technology is increasingly used to close down and narrow, instead of opening minds.

Maybe copyright is not so great to begin with and even more problematic in the digital age. Intellectual Property and copyright is a relatively new concept, it’s a very western concept and although its introduction came about differently in European countries the origins of IP are very shady. The introduction of copyright to control unruly pamphleteers after the invention of the printing press in England 1557 was essentially an act of privatization of censorship. The Queen Anne Statute in 1710 licensed these copyrights to the booksellers- and not the authors. So the origins of copyright lie in censorship and the creation of monopolies. Although a continental "Droits de Auteur", based on ideas of the French Revolution developed, the increasingly homogenized and globalized copyright regime that we see emerging today clearly has a very strong bias towards the interest of the business - not those of authors. But to most cultures which have a long cultural and literary tradition like China or India, in many ways the concept of IP is still quite alien.

There is a geopolitical conflict for the New World Information Order but the mother of all battles for the control of knowledge has just begun. The final frontier is the mind and the control of cultural memory. When you remember a song or a poem, and say it out loud, this is already an infringement of copyrights. There is an e-book license out for "Alice in Wonderland" which states that you must not read it aloud, while recently English school kids were getting into trouble for singing "Happy Birthday" on TV; it's copyrighted by Warner bros.
Therefore every time you remember "Yesterday" a penny shall go to cyber heaven- that’s where the Datalords are having heir bank accounts, behind their padded doors robbing our past to resell our future. In the global Information Society and the new privatization of censorship the meaning of the acronym I-C-T might turn out to be "International Criminals and Thieves" - the Warlords of the Information Age taking over the cultural heritage.

Digital Restrictions Management, quite often deceptively presented under the misnomer Digital Rights Management, is not just the equivalent of prisoner handcuffs for digital documents or ideas in data space. Global Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) is set to redesign the entire information landscape into a control environment with a view to technically enforce copyrights. It is peculiar to see that while there appears to be some enthusiasm amongst various authors for the idea of Digital Restrictions Management they fail to realize that it is not only about control of content but the biggest surveillance system the world has seen.
Since the mid 90's, a whole spectrum of DRM technology including encryption, watermarking, authentication, online registration, remote update, and revocation have been developed. But so far they all share a common feature: they were broken as soon as they entered the market. The entertainment industry therefore challenged lawmakers to create legal protection for DRM. Starting 1996 with the Copyright Treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) it was first implemented into US-American Copyright Law in 1998 as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Europe followed in 2001 with the EU Copyright Directive which is currently being implemented into the national European copyright laws. Although it‘s still possible to circumvent DRM technically, it has become even more illegal than without the new laws.

Parallel to pursuing new copyright legislation, a more radical approach has been pursued by a large consortium set up in 1999 that formed the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) in April 2003. It is again based on a military technology where the idea to not only control data itself but the entire computing environment has been around for a long time. With the "trusted computing" scheme large corporations are planning to make your computer obey them instead of you. Trusted systems, to be sure, are systems that can be trusted by the Datalords, the huge media and entertainment corporations interested in making the Intellectual Property (IP) rights business as profitable as possible. A cryptographic chip with a unique "endorsement key" is put in charge of starting the PC, validating all hard-and software elements. To make DRM and TC work it will have to be absolute, total and all encompassing. Supported by the psychological operations of information peacekeeping troops it is an attempt to build dominion on knowledge and a keystone for building the new Information Feudalism.
The new rules and standards of trusted systems established in the exclusive environments of corporations shape people’s behavior in a subtle but effective fashion. Once interests have taken on the shape of seemingly neutral technical standards, they will simply be accepted. Today, as never before, technology has the possibility of changing and redefining human existence.

The buzzword of so called "convergence" has never found a more profound materialization than in the convergence of civil and military communication technology. An increasing convergence of security and culture and the rise of the so called Military Entertainment Complex or MIME-Net (Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment- Network) have been described by authors like James Der Derian (Virtuous War 2002) amongst others. Virtual Warcraft has gone to Hollywood where the boundaries between computer simulations for military purposes and computer games and entertainment graphics have long dissolved into mutual cooperation. What John Naisbitt dubbed the Military-Nintendo Complex refers to an increasingly intense collaboration of high tech, media, military and the intelligence sectors involving personnel and technologies from both the security and the entertainment industry in cooperative ventures. This development creates a fusion of the digital simulation and the factual, of the virtual and the real and with it the disappearance of the borders between fantasy and reality. It’s one big industry, to win the minds and hearts, if necessary by force.

Open cultures with freedom of expression are in need of Freedom of Information and the mobility to freely access and use Information. All forms of culture draw from cultural heritage, the building blocks of cultural accomplishments throughout the centuries in the same way as new texts are written by arranging older texts new, by interpreting information and enriching it. Old information is the base for new and more than ever the old and the new are inseparably interwoven, as Bruno Latour puts it, "there is no information there is only transformation", data turns into information. It's not just that some major practices in modern art, like found footage, assemblage, detournment and sampling will become illegal. A major part of the European culture would have hardly been possible under the rigorous copyright regime that is in the making. Bertolt Brecht referred to Beethoven when he said "Artists everywhere steal mercilessly all the time and I think this is healthy."

The pressure of the IP lobby which tries with legal and technological means to control access to information, creating scarcity out of abundance, makes the concept and practice of a commons more needed than ever. Against those who see information as a commodity to be sold to consumers, how can we ensure Information Commons where the greatest number of people has the most unrestricted access to scientific and other types of information? How can we set up an infrastructure that would free information from the control of the distributors whose role was created by the difficulties of moving printed matter and other physical objects around? How can it be assured that the public interest is represented in a balanced way?

We have to develop and implement models how to create and share digital information that are open and dynamic. A new culture of information access needs awareness of their structures and processes towards a transparency of the information flow control: free bitflows and a politics of inclusion and dissemination instead of the opaque system of unaccountable information dominance.

The neglect of the digital public sphere bears the ugly fruits of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In regard to Intellectual Property, labor and culture, information vs. disinformation becomes a question of intelligence in public interest research. But a large number of civil-society initiatives of free information sharing are set to recovering the digital commons. For many years numerous cultural workers, artists and activists and organizations have been working towards claiming a Public Information Sphere in digital networks and electronic communication systems and making a case for Open Cultures in the Information Age. Cultural groupware, free software, peer-to-peer platforms are all part of a new appreciation of the public domain that is carried by diverse societal groupings. And more and more people are setting up communal information sharing schemes where IP rights and payments do not occur

Taking full advantage of the Internet's empowering capacities, the commons is based on the very idea that information can be copied and distributed easily and cheaply by everyone. Eben Moglen, Professor of Law at Columbia University in New York sees a moral question: "If you could make enough food to feed everyone on earth by baking one loaf of bread and press one button what would be the moral case for denying anyone the food."

Content type
Projects World-Information.Org
Date 2004


open access open cultures intellectual property (IP) intellectual property policy intellectual property rights IPR military-entertainment complex 9/11 security control society data body DRM Digital Restrictions Management DRM DMCA dataveillance data mining Eben Moglen Bertolt Brecht Beethoven Bruno Latour William Burroughs WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) James Der Derian John Naisbitt Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Trusted Computing Group (TCG) Google
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