Kicks Condor

Ola Bini’s Letters from Detention

Reflections from a thoughtful and innocent prisoner.

I spent some of the weekend reading these letters from Ola Bini, who was imprisoned in April for basically being a friend of Julian Assange. I remember Ola from his work on the Ioke programming language—and I once chatted with him many, many years ago. He was polite and well-spoken. I am glad to hear that he is now released. (The FreeOlaBini site should probably show his release more prominently—it is more obvious on Twitter.)

Still, his blog is quite eye-opening and worthwhile. There are entries here that are simply poignant—such as Ola’s story of his birthday when his fellow inmates sang to him. In an almost deliberately Kafkaesque way, it seems he is never told what he is charged with—we can presume computer hacking, but no specifics are given. (It seems the authorities assumed this from his personal library—which Fogus catalogs here.)

I feel some cynicism toward ‘open source’/‘free software’ and cyberpunk ideologies—and I think many people also associate this with ‘tech bro’-style optimism—but Ola’s letters have me reconsidering.

[C]ode and architecture are more important than laws. Laws can be broken, but if we build our systems correctly, we can provide real guarantees. The right to privacy, security and anonymity is also a strong belief and the idea that these rights belong to everyone, not just those that can pay for it.

Related to this, is the mistrust of authority, not just governments, but any kind of authority. That means those rights cant be provided just as legal rights by fiat. Instead, these rights have to be provided by something stronger: by cryptographic systems, implemented and run in the open. This is the only real way you can ultimately provide real self-determination to everyone in the world.

A final belief: cypherpunks write code. This means just what it says. If we want a better world, we have to take the responsibility. We have to build it ourselves.

I don’t feel optimism in any of this. I just feel a person wanting to secure their life. This seems like a basic right—roughly equivalent to the very smallest property right, the ability to merely live and survive at a specific coordinate—even a prisoner has that right. Cynicism feels dangerous here—that I’d rather just wander in aloof disbelief than try.

This also has me hunting for other blogs from prisoners. Know of any?

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