Posted on Aug 21, 2017 by Rick Falkvinge

When you can’t tell the truth, anonymity is your rescue

The liberty we know as Freedom of Speech, when written into law, only says that your government cannot retaliate against you for speaking your mind. But your friends and family can, and would. When people have something important to say that can’t be said, privacy and anonymity are the liberties that make it possible to say it anyway.

There are many things you can’t say.

Even if you know them to be true, or at least genuinely believe them to be true, you still can’t say them out loud. You know you’d be in a mountain of aggression for saying them. The backlash from your peers would not be socially worth it.

What these things are varies from person to person. Somebody may question scientific consensus on a current topic. Others may have sensitive opinions on hotbed political issues. Others still may explore the spiritual (or lack thereof) in ways that would not be approved of among friends and family.

Whatever these things are, we run into the inevitable distinction between “narrow” and “rich” Freedom of Speech.

But before we go into this, let’s first establish that there’s no such thing as “limited” Freedom of Speech. There is never a “Freedom of Speech, except for”. If you don’t have Freedom of Speech for the most reviled subjects, you don’t have it at all. This is really a black and white issue: Freedom of Speech was specifically constructed to allow the most unforgivable to be spoken; to allow the utterances people feared most.

(Generally speaking, people fear neither the agreeable nor the harmless. There is no need for a constitutional protection for statements that people agree with, or that people find eccentric and harmless. Nobody needed police escort for claiming that kittens are cute, or that the moon is made from Emmenthaler cheese.)

Rather, the narrow Freedom of Speech is the one enshrined into law. And with law comes limits — specifically, what the law applies to. The Freedom of Speech which is enshrined into law only regulates the relationship between the government and an individual. It does not limit social repercussions, because it cannot: nobody can be forced by law to like or dislike another person, only to act in certain ways or abstain from doing so.

There is no need to be correct or truthful in order to enjoy this protection of speech, nor is there any need to have protection by means of fame and status. Freedom of Speech is the basically right for idiots to be completely wrong, and that’s a good thing, for they sometimes turn out to be in the right.

But most of the time they don’t.

That’s why there are social penalties most of the time for saying things that aren’t acceptable. Things that aren’t palatable. Things that aren’t, for lack of a better word, okay to say out loud.

You could be fired from your job, you could be shunned, you could lose friends, even family. And still, these things may be important to say, or at least, they could be important enough to communicate to whomever is willing to listen, that you feel this must be done.

It could be evidence of corruption in the government. It could be evidence of crimes. It could be any material that somebody powerful simply doesn’t want to exist, much less for others to see and read.

This is where anonymity comes into play.

By being able to post something anonymously, we can uncover corruption, we can challenge the status quo, and we can say the unspeakable, without the possibility of it being held against us.

It is only when we post anonymously, that we have the rich kind of Freedom of Speech. The kind where we can’t even be held socially accountable for when we have something important to say. The kind where we’re immune not just from the government’s action, but from everybody else’s action too, merely on the account that there is nobody in particular to hold to account for speaking the forbidden knowledge.

Therefore, privacy is an extraordinarily important safety valve in society, and for the improvement of humanity as such. (People tend to not like change. People in charge tend to particularly not like change, as change often means they’re not in power anymore.)

When we can’t count on society to provide anonymity and privacy, as politicians are trying to crack down on this as much as they can, we need technology to safeguard this particular liberty for us. Technology such as TOR, if you know how to use it, and no-log VPNs.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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