Few, if any, presentations at conferences in the coming years will manage to combine the intellectual depth and delivery skills shown by Software Freedom Law Center director Eben Moglen in this penetrating analysis of privacy and technology.
Moglen begins with the statement that the history of social life is the history of the technology of memory. More than that; the social order and control within society depends on the nature of the technology of memory.
A lightning tour through ten centuries of memory capture brings us to the technology of photography, which finally brought about the interpenetration of private and public memory, where items can be possessed or shared.
It seems that the primitive belief that taking a photograph can steal your soul may not be so fanciful: think surveillance and spying. Or identity theft, which is little more than the aggregation of a specific number of secrets or semi-secrets related to an individual. The technology that has followed photography means we are the first generation to really experience what the loss of privacy means.
Moglen then poses an important question; namely, what will be the most successful intelligence organizations of the 21st century? The answer is intriguing and forms the bulk of the second half of Moglen's talk.
What seems to the the real secret of our current relationship with technology is that we have participated so willingly in the invasion of our privacy. While it's easy to believe that the data we reveal is only relevant in distinct commercial streams, Eben points out that the political parties of most advanced nations are involving themselves increasingly in this data.
It is key that we have given this data freely and without contractual agreement, and it is only right that those who now possess the data should think about it and share it with others. It is in the development of necessary contracts that we should concern ourselves. One solution may lie in storing the data ourselves in voluntary collectives: it's all the same free software after all. It is not the technology of memory itself that is the problem; that is the solution, as long as we can agree with what we mean by the term privacy.
Eben Moglen is Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia University Law School and General Counsel of the Free Software Foundation. He has also represented many of the world's leading free software developers.
Professor Moglen earned a PhD in History and his law degree at Yale University. After law school he clerked for Judge Edward Weinfeld of the United States District Court in New York City and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court. He has taught at Columbia Law School – and has held visiting appointments at Harvard University, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Virginia – since 1987.
In 2003 he was given the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award for efforts on behalf of freedom in the electronic society.
This free podcast is from our MySQL Conference series.