These are comments I delivered at a fundraiser co-sponsored by Tech Solidarity and Blown Deadline Productions on February 13, 2017 at Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore. A video of the event is available here.
The fundraiser was in support of the National Immigration Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, International Rescue Committee, and American Civil Liberties Union Maryland.
Special thanks to David Simon, who organized the event and generously pledged to match $100,000 in donations. There are still matching funds available, so please donate right now!
—Maciej Ceglowski, Tech Solidarity
The economic basis of the Internet is mass surveillance.
If you came here with a phone in your pocket, that phone is now broadcasting your location to a cell tower, where Verizon or some other company will keep the information for months or years.
If you found out about this event online, that information has likely been logged. If you’re watching it on the livestream, that fact will be stored by your ISP, by Facebook, and by an entire swamp of advertisers and middlemen accountable to nobody.
In other words, we know who you are, and we know where you live! So please take a moment to donate generously to tonight's event.
This dragnet was not designed explicitly as a tool of social control. It was built for the most part by well-intentioned optimists in California who dreamed of rocket ships and robots, and thought they had figured out a clever way to pay for them.
Those optimists grew up with certain American institutions. Those institutions worked so well for them that they assumed they could be taken for granted—borders that were easy to cross, the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, a functional government, the rule of law, the promise of equal protection under that law.
But today those institutions are in crisis. And we have helped build the weapons that are being deployed against them.
There has been a lot of talk about a Muslim registry in recent months. But America already has a Muslim registry—it's called Facebook. We already track nearly every undocumented immigrant, nearly every Jewish person, nearly everyone who is foreign-born. We store the most intimate details of your lives on our servers. All it takes is one subpoena, one hack, or one leak for that information to become a weapon.
And we’ve seen how powerful a weapon it can be. Leaked data can be used to threaten or coerce individual people, but it can also be used as a smokescreen, a distraction, a tool to manipulate the press, or even a way to create an alternate reality.
Having built this great apparatus of surveillance, it is our special responsibility in the tech industry to dismantle it.
When General Electric filled the Hudson River with PCBs, they were forced to clean it up, at monumental expense.
When tobacco companies suppressed research proving a link with cancer, they had to pay billions.
Similarly, the tech industry will have to confront the damage it has done. The only question is whether we do it now, or whether we wait and watch the damage compound.
Our industry leaders are still in denial about this. They don’t want to let go of their fantasies of rocket ships to Mars.
But the rank and file tech workers are not in denial. Because for us, it is not just an ethical imperative, but a question of self-preservation.
When 15% of the Facebook workforce is on an H1-B visa, and the site is used to spread harmful propaganda that dehumanizes those workers and aims to get them deported, we can’t remain silent.
We can’t sit back and watch modern-day Nazis use Twitter to orchestrate anti-Semitic attacks, or terrorize and threaten women.
And we must never forget the most shameful episode in our history, when IBM provided the punched cards and tabulating machinery that helped Nazi Germany identify Jews during the 1933 census and eased the path to the Holocaust.
That is a lesson we should only learn once.
So I am here tonight to tell you that tech industry has your back. It may not look like it if you watch the news. You've seen our smiling CEOs and venture capitalists seeking accommodation with power, persuading themselves that it’s better to be on the inside than to be left out, pretending that it’s business as usual.
But those of us who work in tech—your neighbors, friends, fellow citizens, and fellow non-citizens—know that the time has come to fight. And there are far more of us than there are of them.
American history teaches that there is nothing more persuasive than a militant, organized labor force. And in the weeks and months to come, we intend to do a lot of persuading.
What’s at stake are the values that made it possible for our industry to exist in the first place. So tonight we stand united with the four excellent organizations represented here, and pledge to do everything in our power to fight with them, to fight for them, and to keep fighting until we win.