Is doing nothing evil?

Sunday, Jun 4, 2017| Tags:

Last weekend I attended the openSUSE conference in Nürnberg. This is a really nice conference. Awesome location, great people, and an overall very relaxed atmosphere. I gave a talk about Nextcloud Security and what we plan to do in the future to make hosting a Nextcloud instance even easier and more secure.

I attended the Saturday keynote which triggered a reaction on my side that I wanted to share. This is only my personal opinion and I’m sure a lot of people think differently. But I can’t help my self.

The talk was about management of infrastructure and automation. It was a really good talk from a technical perspective. Very informative and detailed. But in the middle of the talk, the presenter mentioned that he was involved in building autonomous military submarines. This is of course controversial. I personally wouldn’t get involved in actual weapon development, building things which sole purpose is to kill people. But I understand that people have different opinions here and I can live with such a disagreement.

However, a bit later the presenter mentioned that he also worked for the US intelligence community to build surveillance systems to spy on people on a mass scale. Global, mass scale surveillance, which obviously involves all the people in the room. Which he pointed out as a some kind of joke, noting he might have helped spy on the people in the room.

I’m sorry but I don’t think this is funny at all. The global surveillance systems are undemocratic, in a lot of cases illegal and an attack on the basic human rights of people.

I understand that playing and working with cool technology is fun. And there is a lot of opportunity to do this for secret services and for the military to earn money. But I think we as software developers have a responsibility here. We are building the technology of the future. So we as developers are partly in control of how the world looks like in a few years.

We can’t just say: I close my eyes because this is only a job. Or I don’t want to know how this technology is used. I didn’t ask and no one told me so I’m innocent and not involved. Let me quote a well known saying here: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I really have a hard time accepting that some people think that building mass surveillance systems is somehow funny or cool. And it is even more troubling to tell this the people your helped put under surveillance into their face and think that this is fun.

Sorry for the rant. But technology matter. Developers matter. Software matters and can be used in good ways and bad ways. We as developers and free software community have a responsibility and should not close our eyes.


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