The hacker aesthetic is a mysterious one. When the unassuming nerds of the world realize they hold the key to unlocking the most secret information, what is it that clicks inside their minds when they decide to take it, make it their own, and give it away to everyone else. It seems that tremendous access has been given to those individuals who have the knowledge and expertise to unlock information systems. And when they aren’t given access, they find a way to get in. In effect, hackers are the most liberated or dangerous individuals on the planet, depending on where you stand on the issue.
Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization have taken on the hacker mission to “open governments,” to liberate the world from government secrecy, and let the documents leak out. Or, you can say they are 21st century cyber-pirates bent on thwarting the security of nations. Under the WikiLeaks umbrella, highly erratic hacker-activist whistleblowers have followed the lead: PFC Bradley Manning, a 25-year-old Army intelligence analyst, who jacked into the military system to release the Collateral Murder video (unveiling authorized and suspect secret attacks in Iraq); and now Edward Snowden, the American former technical contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who is currently hiding out in a Moscow airport after leaking top-secret American and British government mass surveillance programs to the press.
What these three share in common is the hacker determination to liberate information, in part, because they have the power to do so. Whether or not they are acting out a noble obligation to free the world from Orwellian secrecy is not altogether certain, or at least only part of the full story. Power is a transformative force of nature: it can undermine intent and the sensibility of any individual who assumes it. No one is shielded from the intoxication of exerting their weight when it affects the entire world.
Ironically, the US Government seems to have a level of control over Julian Assange that is in inverse proportion to Assange’s ability to exercise control. Holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange appears to have assumed mastery over the unfolding of events, essentially undermining the ability of nations and their leaders to determine not only his own fate, but that of others, like Snowden. It was only because Bradley Manning was still in the military when he leaked documents that he was unable to take cover.
There is no doubt that the most extreme form of activism in the future will be those who hold the cyber-keys to government information, those who have the expertise, the determination, the artistry, and the cunning to take command of the situation. Whether it’s a nation, a non-profit organization like WikiLeaks, or a government outlaw contractor like Snowden, there will be mounting escalation in the leakage. Eventually the dam will burst and then what?
Those who dare who take command of cyberspace had best envision what a free world might really look like.
“The situation is yours to command, the space is yours to sculpt.” – Jon Henry