by Paul Rosenberg
October 31, 2014
In 284 AD the Roman empire was in deep trouble. But then a soldier named Diocletian rode into town as the new emperor. This was the man who rearranged Rome and set it up to endure (even as it declined) for another 180 years.
How he did this was simple: autocratic control, AKA tyranny. Diocletian gave up the illusion that the emperor was merely the leading citizen. He was the boss, and if you didn’t play along, you died. And not only that, but he instituted a policy that I want to focus on today:
Anyone who wanted to see Diocletian had to prostrate themselves on the ground. Then, if they were to be shown favor, they were allowed to crawl over and kiss the hem of his robe.
People actually did this, you understand—famous people, powerful people, important people. Leading “thinkers” convinced everyone else that this was reasonable and appropriate. And most people went right along with it.
I bring all this up because prostration is being demanded of us, right now. And, as in the late 3rd century, leading voices are telling us that it’s good and necessary.
Don’t you fall for it.
The Snowden Fallout
After all the revelations, what has changed? On the government side, the answer is “nothing.” The NSA is still thieving on a massive scale and violating the Fourth Amendment 24/7. Politicians are still defending this theft and violation. Of course, the televised suits and uniforms assure us that it’s all necessary and righteous, because otherwise, bad, scary people would surely kill us all.
In other words, a surveillance state far beyond the dreams of Stalin, Hitler, or Mao continues apace, accompanied by a chorus of supporters.
One thing, however, has changed: a few private companies have been shamed into going against the NSA.
A few weeks ago, Apple and Android (Google) announced that they would make encryption the default on their new operating systems (iOS and Android OS). Apple went further and said that for iOS, they would remove the government’s back-door access.
It’s not often that I praise Apple or—especially—Google. But, credit where due: they both did the right thing this time.
Did These People Solve Any Crimes Before 9/11?
A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.—A Touch of Evil, 1958
Faced with losing their ability to steal everyone’s data, government agents pulled out the usual boogeymen. Eric Holder complained that this would “allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” a chief of detectives was put forward to say that this would make Apple “the phone of choice for the pedophile,” and the FBI director of cybercrime chimed in with more of the same.
Law enforcement agencies—and there are hundreds in the US on just the national level—are feasting on the fear of the American public. If they can imagine a scary scenario (and those are infinite), we’re all supposed to give them whatever power might be needed. It’s possible, after all!
Any discussion of too much power for the enforcer is reflexively excluded. Enforcers are presumed to be worthy of their ever-increasing power. (They’re trained, mind you!) Anyone who suggests otherwise takes risks with his or her reputation amongst right-thinking people.
Crypto War I
The awesome thing about the first Crypto War is that Big Brother lost.
Before the personal computer, encryption was treated like a weapon, and any sale or export to a foreign country was strongly criminalized. That’s a rather strange thing to do something that is essentially math, but since almost no one was using computers, almost no one noticed. Once the PC hit and once people began connecting them together, however, issues arose.
In 1991, a young cryptographer named Phil Zimmermann wrote a simple encryption program called “Pretty Good Privacy,” or PGP. But even though he wanted to share the program with his friends, publishing it to the Internet would have been a very serious crime. So some of his hacker friends took care of the problem for him:
They put Zimmermann’s program into a book (which was protected as free speech) and mailed it overseas, where other hackers—some of them teenagers—turned it back into a program and started protecting their messages.
The Feds went after Zimmermann, of course, and nearly had him jailed for violating the Arms Export Control Act. By 1996, however, the feds dropped their case and reclassified encryption from a munition to a technology.
The feds didn’t actually stop fighting encryption in the hands of the plebs at that point, but it was a major defeat.
Crypto War II
Now a new crypto war has kicked off. Less than two months ago, news of the US government’s displeasure at encryption and anonymization started appearing; US law enforcement agents started complaining at cyberwar conferences.
Then they started going after individual companies. In particular, they fined a company called Wind River $750,000 for exporting encryption to China, Hong Kong, Russia, Israel, South Africa, and South Korea. This is the first time this law has been enforced except against importers to an embargoed country, like Iran.
On the heels of this wild fine came Apple and Google’s smartphone encryption, followed by a swift, coordinated response.
The feds want all of your data, they don’t care if that leaves you vulnerable to other attacks, and they expect you to submit. Period. Big Brother must win, and you must lose.
The Phrase That Enslaves
The great bamboozle phrase of our era is one that you’ve heard a dozen times:
If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.
This is Diocletian, telling you to prostrate yourself… and to stay there.
The originator of this phrase has his gun pointed at your chest before he opens his mouth. Then he says, “As long as you keep my rules, I won’t shoot.” He’s holding you in a state of prostration. Stay down and you won’t get hurt.
You should never accept a predator’s right to say this to you. Whether he has enough armed, obedient men to hurt you is a second issue—Big Brother has no right to make you prostrate yourself, and he’s a monster for trying.
What Do We Do?
There are lots of things to do, some of which I have mentioned before. (See the last two sections of this article.) But if you want to do something to stop this evil altogether, do this:
Start telling people (friends, coworkers, everyone) that this is prostration. And don’t stop. Speak out, persist, and endure. Let them say bad things about you.
Do not, however, fight about this with anyone. People need time to abandon their defenses, not arguments. Just make your point and move along. Then come back and make your point again. And again.
Big Brother cannot survive the light of day; he cannot stand up to honest, intelligent examination. In order for him to exist, the rest of us must remain intimidated, confused, and passive. Those are the things we must defeat.
A Free-Man’s Take is written by adventure capitalist, author, and freedom advocate Paul Rosenberg. You can get much more from Paul in his unique monthly newsletter, Free-Man’s Perspective.