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Jailed Software Developer Ola Bini: ‘Privacy is Absolutely Necessary for Humans to Be Free’

Poster to Free Ola Bini from FreeOlaBini.org
Poster to Free Ola Bini from FreeOlaBini.org

Free software developer and privacy activist Ola Bini, who is in prison in Ecuador, reflects on the responsibilities of privilege, his commitment to privacy and the risks poses by the rise of surveillance.

(Peoples Dispatch) On April 11, Ola Bini, a Swedish privacy activist and free software developer, was arrested by the government of Lenin Moreno. After being held for nearly 30 hours without charges, he was finally taken for a hearing where the prosecutor accused him of attempting to “assault the integrity of computer systems” while presenting no concrete evidence for the same. Despite this, the judge sentenced him to 90 days of pre-trial detention. In a  letter handed over to his parents nearly two weeks ago, Bini expressed confidence that the case against him would “collapse into nothing”

Activists and intellectuals across the world have condemned the arrest of Bini as an attack on the right to privacy and the community that seeks to protect these rights. Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Medea Benjamin, Pamela Anderson and Danny Glover were among the signatories to a statement asking the Swedish prime minister to step up his support for Ola.

Below is the text of his latest letter from prison where he reflects on his commitment to privacy and the struggles around it.

Iʼm sitting in prison-Iʼm in my cell. Itʼs dark, someone took all the lightbulbs in the cells. So, Iʼm sitting close to the door, so the light from the corridor outside can allow me to see what Iʼm writing. Iʼve been here a week, but it feels longer. In Ecuadorean prisons there are no books, no TV, no media. We go outside 5 hours a week and can have max2 visitors during three hours on Saturdays.

The minutes pass by quite slowly. So I think and I write. Many years ago, a friend told me (and he has said this many times to many people): What is the most important thing you could do? Are you doing that? If not, why not? This has stayed with me as an important guideline. Indeed, our time is short, we should do the most important thing.

I was born with a lot of privilege. And during my life, mostly through luck, Iʼve acquired even more. Let me be clear, I donʼt deserve privilege over anyone else. In my opinion, no human being deserves privilege. However, I have it, so what do I do?

One option is to ignore it and act like it doesnʼt exist. To me, this is an abhorrent option. No, privilege for me means responsibility. I hate something I donʼt deserve and I canʼt get rid of it. Thus, I have to use it for the improvement of the world. Itʼs really that simple. Privilege means responsibility, power means responsibility. Then, what is the responsible thing? Like my friend told me, logically, the most responsible thing you can do is to work on the most important thing you could ever do. It follows logically.

Of course, itʼs not as simple as that. You have to choose something where you can have-or can acquire- the right skills. You have to choose something where you have a chance of success. You must be able to access the right resources. All these considerations are embedded in the original questions.

Sitting here in my cell, I ask myself the question. The same way Iʼve asked myself the same thing hundreds of times over the last year. Iʼm still not sure of the answer.

Obviously Iʼm not very productive sitting here. But maybe me being a martyr, kidnapped by the Ecuador government, will serve to start discussions, catch attention and open new ways of fighting. Maybe it will serve to wake some people up.

Of course I donʼt have much choice in my current situation, but I can apply the question to my previous life and I can start thinking about what should come next. These thoughts are taking most of my headspace these days.

So, about my previous life, I decided many years ago that the field of privacy is both something extremely important and also something where my specific knowledge and connection would allow me to do something important So, Iʼve worked on privacy enhancing tools. To me, privacy is something that is absolutely necessary for human beings to be free and the rise of surveillance is threatening this to the core.

My goal with  (and the previous iterations) of the concept was to create a group of people with the necessary skills to push privacy forward in several different efforts. There are so many things to work on. Both hardware and software protocols and implementations, infrastructure and end user systems. And we were only just getting started.

The thing about the most important thing is that it can change. When I get out, I will have different possibilities than I had before. I donʼt know what that means. Maybe thereʼs no good way to know until Iʼm out. But itʼs still something Iʼm thinking about. I urge all of you to consider these questions. Devote your life to the most important thing.

In solidarity,
Ola Bini

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