Threats to Internet Freedom

Threats to Internet Freedom

There are many threats to Internet freedom in the digital society. They include massive surveillance, censorship, digital handcuffs, non-free software that controls users, and the War on Sharing. Other threats come from use of web services. Finally, we have no positive right to do anything in the Internet; every activity is precarious, and can continue only as long as companies are willing to cooperate with it.

Friday, 5 February 2016 Bern, Switzerland: Richard Stallman

Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp are surveillance engines using Face Recognition and they can recognize people by the back of their heads.

Flash requires a proprietary player that is malware, and you shouldn’t install it. By the way, that’s not just an exaggeration. It’s not an insult. It’s a factual statement. I’ll tell you more later.

You should always complain to any website that has Flash.

Including Non-free Javascript code sent in the page itself is unacceptable for redistribution of this article. This is Creative Commons license and it represents a point of view.

I think that participation in a digital society can be good or bad; depending on whether that society is just or unjust.  If digital society becomes unremittingly unjust and we can’t fight that then our goal should be digital extraction from that digital society. And we’re getting pretty close to that point.

So, I’m going to talk about various threats to our freedom in the digital society, starting with software that the users do not control. In other words, software that is not free. By free software, I mean Libre, not Gratuit. It’s frais, not costamos.

Whether you pay for a program, we’re not concerned either way. What concerns us is not how you get the copy, but what you get when you get the copy. Does it respect your freedom, or does it attack your freedom?

You might think your computer obeys you, when really it obeys someone else first.

With a program there are two possibilities either the users control the program or the program controls the users.

What is freedom? It’s having control over your own life. Having freedom of the activities in your life.

So the programs that respect users freedom are generally those that are under the user’s control.

Freedom 0 is to run the program as you wish.

Having access to the source code is essential.

Freedom 1 requires access to the source code.

These two freedoms give us separate control over the program.

Freedom 1 is essential, but insufficient on its own. We need collective control, which means you are free to work with others to affect the program. Non-programmers can participate in a group deciding which changes to make. The people who work together are those who are free to work together. They are also free to run the program separately or join some other group.

Freedom 2 is the freedom to copy and redistribute the program to others. They can even publish them and offer them to the general public. Freedom 2 includes giving and selling copies. It involves non-commercial and commercial redistribution.  Any attempt at stopping people from sharing copies is an attack on society that we must not tolerate.

If one of these freedoms are missing are incomplete then we don’t control the program.

A proprietary software is a scheme to subjugate people. Proprietary software, non-free software, is an injustice. It’s worse. Now, it’s much worse.

Malicious Functionalities

Non-free software is commonly malware, because it’s designed to do malicious things to the user.

For instance, they spy on the user.

We know of spy facilities in Windows, in Mac OS, in i things and Flash player and nearly all portable phones.

Then there’s the functionality of stopping users from doing things.


This is known as digital restrictions management, or DRM.  It’s the malicious functionality of stopping users from doing what they want to do. It can only be done with proprietary software. In Free software, users would be free to add the feature. The contents of a Blu-ray disc is encrypted in a secret way and we don’t have Free software to even read them at all. The result is that every Blu-ray disc is an enemy of your freedom.

We know of these digital restrictions management features in Windows, in Mac OS, in iOS, in Adobe Flash and in the Amazon Swindle.

There are backdoors that allow commands to attack the user without asking the user for permission. For example, the (Kindle) has a backdoor for deleting books. We know about this by observation.  Amazon deleted thousands of copies of 1984 by George Orwell.

There was a lot of criticism so Amazon promised to never do this again unless ordered by the State. Amazon never intended to keep its promise.  Amazon was once again found to be arbitrarily erasing books without demand from the State. Thus they recognized that these devices were jails for their users.


Microsoft followed the same thing with Windows Phone devices. Then there’s sabotage. There’s been one in Windows since Windows XP. Microsoft did not admit it, but people proved that it was there. In Windows 10, there is still a universal backdoor, but now Microsoft says so openly. Universal backdoors are known also in the Amazon (Kindle) and nearly all portable phones. Android has something a little like a backdoor.  Google could make an app especially for you and force install it. And there’s another kind of sabotage: Microsoft first shows its security bugs to the NSA, before they patch them.

Do you think the Swiss government should run Windows?

We know Microsoft does this. We don’t know if other companies do this. I’ve demonstrated that people who use proprietary software are in general already being dragged behind the bus.

We have dozens of more examples in for them.

It’s very important not to praise non-free distros.


Once you’ve installed a free distro, there’s still a chance that you’ll end up running non-free software as you browse the web. Many web pages contain programs. They can be free or non-free, and some of them are free, but most of them are non-free. These programs are written in the JavaScript language. So, we can refer to them by talking about JavaScript programs, but really the point is that they come into your machine in a web page and your browser installs them and runs them and doesn’t even tell you. So, to protect ourselves we’ve developed LibreJS. It’s an add-on for Firefox that checks every JavaScript program to see if it’s either trivial or free.  In those cases, it is permitted to run. If not, it warns you.

It does one other useful thing. If you’ve ever tried to complain to webmasters, it’s hard to find where to contact them.

Service as a Software Substitute

Always find journalists’ sources and imprison them Surveillance vs. Democracy You’ll find Ways to reduce Surveillance. Another threat to our freedom is censorship.

We thought 20 years ago that the Internet would destroy censorship. Any government that is willing to tolerate a certain amount of resentment and some money can censor the Internet. Finland imposed Internet censorship in 2006. Somebody decided to study the actual practices of censorship in Finland. It proves the point. There is almost no government you can trust not to try to censor the Internet. Switzerland is now faced with the threat.

You know that Facebook collects a lot of data from its used.  Facebook doesn’t have users it has useds. If you see a like button, Facebook knows that your computer has visited that page.

It’s getting data about you, even if you’ve never used the Facebook service itself.

Icecat is a variant of Firefox.

They also ask for a lot of data. It’s still collecting people’s data, and it’s still dangerous. We need to be able to say no. I don’t use those kind of disservices. In addition, there are services that offer to hold your data for you. Unless you’re very careful, that is surveillance of you.

Fortunately, there is no piracy in Switzerland. I reject their propaganda. They began perverting our technology. Hackers found ways to break their handcuffs. They developed new methods that became more difficult to break.


The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, makes it a crime to distribute anything that breaks DRM unless it has another valid commercially important use.

Only commercial importance is considered valid. This demonstrates that in selling out to that law that they sold out to business, but people found ways to break DRM until it got harder.

Streaming makes it incredibly hard. The problem is they probably have 10 more variants ready to release at a moment’s notice. If they find out the DRM has been broken into they can simply release a new version, which means that it’s basically hopeless to break their handcuffs that way, but they didn’t stop with that.

People started sharing works P2P online. Proposals were made to attack people for sharing. In some countries, they have abolished the basic principle of justice; no punishment without a fair trial. For instance, the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Panama, and the US tried to impose it on Columbia, but the Supreme Court objected to the laws that were adopted, so they’re still trying to do it.

In the US, it would be unconstitutional to punish people without at least a pretense of a fair trial. So Obama arranged a voluntary agreement between the major US ISPs and the publishers where the ISPs agreed to punish their own customers and eventually help the publishers sue their customers. Suing their customers is something that they’ve done anyway. And they’ve sued thousands of teenagers for hundreds of thousands of dollars each, which is a very nasty thing to do. In Japan, to download something from the Internet is a two year prison sentence. Of course, they will only do this when a really important publisher demands it. In their war on sharing, they will go to whatever lengths they find necessary to maintain their dominion over people. Because they are such irreconcilable enemies of our freedom, I never use anything with DRM unless I have what is necessary to break the DRM. If you have the free software to decrypt the video on a DVD, then by all means use the DVDs.

So, it’s no coincidence that they keep using ever nastier methods.

The only way to stop people from sharing is with cruel, draconian measures. We have to put an end to this entirely.We must end the war on sharing, by legalizing sharing. Everyone has the right to share copies. Sharing means non-commercial redistribution of exact copies.

The government of Switzerland is planning to surrender to the aristocrats army this time. They are coming to conquer you again. Not literally with an army. To impose cruel copyright rules. The war on sharing is still going on.

They are proposing mandatory Internet filtering for Switzerland.

They want to be able to require ISPs to block access to sites in the name of Copyright.

And, they want to impose the DMCA’s take-down system.

Google set up something called content ID; it’s unreliable. It makes mistakes. It blocks things wrongly.

But in Switzerland, they’re proposing to make content ID required for all platforms. So, if you’re small don’t think about running a platform for people to post on.

And then, they’re planning to make libraries pay for permission to lend books, as if libraries were not under enough pressure already. And, they’re planning to make ISPs reveal the identities of their users, so that Hollywood companies can sue them.

And, after talking so much about bowing down, how we have to cater so much to the authors and artists, at one point they’ve wanted to dismiss us all and ignore what we’ve said we want. When we release a work under a license that says you’re allowed to redistribute in certain ways…

The above is a transcription of Richard Stallman's talk titled "Threat's to Internet Freedom" dated Friday, 5 February 2016 Bern, Switzerland