The mundane produces a sort of blindness, a numbing of the contemporary man's critical sense. Our world seems to be accessible: we can access unlimited information at the touch of a finger, our personal lack of knowledge is no longer a shortcoming, since Google is almost able to read our minds, answer our questions, and retrieve long-lost memories. Interconnectivity is a form of transparency, which brings comfort, creates the illusion of normality, and gives us the confidence that we can see what needs to be seen. The question, however, is: do we really look? Are we ever really allowed to look?
The recent scandal of the so-called Panama Papers stands to prove that governments and other state institutions fail to apply genuine scrutiny, to ensure true transparency of their own offices, and to address some obvious loose ends of capitalism in democracy. Like every batch of leaked information, the sudden knowledge of the off-shore accounts points to the broken structures that allowed it to happen. It is, of course, shocking to read the content of these files, and they might provide some valuable information in the future. But what surrounds the scandal has just as much importance for the way we, as a society, credit what is presented to us as transparent, true, accurate.
This scandal makes it possible to categorize people into: those who don't know, those who don't care to know, and those who don't know how to care. It might be, in fact, that our digitally developed need to see everything and have access to everything becomes the factor that contributes to our mistaking of the illusion of transparency for genuine transparency? Have we turned ourselves blind in the process of trying to make our world more visible?
The concept of hacktivism combines the technical skills of hacking into private, protected networks, and the civic drive of activism, the dedication to social change and improvement. Hacktivists work at the borderline of the legal. Activism, in general, pushes the limits of the acceptable, the comfortable, the legal. And this is yet again an indication of the curtain that falls in front of us, and blocks our view: we need to employ disruption, aggression, violation of protocols, in order to find the truth.
As President Obama commented, as a reaction to the leaks, the law itself seems to be failing in addressing the legality of these off-shore accounts: “A lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem. It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed.” On the other hand, the law is extremely keen on criminalising revealing acts such as hacktivism.
Whistle-blowers are turned into criminals, although they almost always work towards exposing actual crimes. Is it, perhaps, time to rethink the distinction between privacy and secrecy, the right of the people to be informed and protected from those who should, theoretically, inform and protect them?
Often, we give up our privacy, in order to help ensure security – locally and globally, and this, some argue, falls within our civic duties, as citizens of a world under threat. As citizens of a world built on, among others, respect of human rights, we fight sometimes for our privacy and secrecy, and this is alarming, and it often bears legal consequences. Ironically enough, the fight for transparency has, as well, legal implications. Where are we, then, in this realm of visibility, which we claim to be able to access at a touch of a finger? What do we see? Where can we look? It is time to realise that we might just be in the dark.
Words: Giulia Catani
Images Source: Ryoji Ikeda/Süeddeutsche Zeitung
Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu