“Save freedom,” Bijan Moini demands of Internet users
We negligently leave behind masses of personal data on the Internet: material with which corporations and extremists can manipulate us. Instead of doing without, the lawyer and author Bijan Moini advises caution – and stricter laws for IT companies.
The freedom of a society includes free communication. Wherever dictatorships are established, the word is locked up. But what if society itself makes sure that freedom is lost – and doesn’t even notice it? Because it is so convenient to communicate, to buy, to book holidays, to have fun, to stream movies, to chat on all digital channels? Ultimately, in the digitalised society, it is hardly possible for people to leave no data behind. But we are relinquishing control of this recklessly. This is why the author, lawyer and civil rights activist Bijan Moini warns in his new book that we are about to lose the freedom we take for granted. “Save freedom” is his wake-up call. Barbara Knopf has spoken with Bijan Moini.
Barbara Knopf: You say our freedom is being systematically curtailed, namely by surveillance capitalism, by right-wing populists and by a state focused on security. These are very different big players. Do you all have the same goals?
Bijan Moini: No, they have very different goals and also different goals depending on the regions of the world. But what unites them is that they use the instruments of digitization for their respective purposes. On the one hand, they limit our self-determination and in extreme cases also our freedom rights, what we can say, how we can give ourselves, and in some cases even what we are allowed to think.
If we stick to self-determination, then we are with the companies that make money out of it, with the IT groups, with the messenger services. They say we are splitting into an analogue and a digital ego – but we are not protecting that at all.
So the classic image of ourselves is that of a physical person who has himself. But there is now also a digital image of ourselves that we can no longer have at our disposal, because as soon as it is on the airwaves, on the Internet, it is under the control of companies that can process it, generate personality profiles about us from it, sell these personality profiles. And what happens to our personality profiles in particular is no longer at our disposal.
But some people would say, for example in the case of personalised advertising: “Yes, what’s the problem?
You can see it that way. I personally do not see it that way. I’m always happy when personalized advertising completely misses my interests.
Can you manage that?
Yes, you can do a lot with opt-outs and edit the settings. But I would also like to respond to those who like personalized advertising by asking whether they are sure they really wanted the things that are offered to them. Or whether this desire, the need, was not only awakened by it. And whether the decision to buy something was really their own, or whether it was not put in their lap.
Now, unfortunately, these instruments of digital tracking are also a kind of experimental laboratory for political interests. They also deal with the strategies of right-wing populism. And that’s where it gets more difficult?
That’s right. So right-wing populists are, in my view, the current in politics that most shamelessly exploits what has become possible through digitalization: to address people very specifically who are receptive to xenophobic messages, for example. And that is exactly what has already happened. In any case, Cambridge Analytica, a now infamous British company, which, when it helped elect Donald Trump in 2016, tried to target floating and undecided voters with xenophobic messages. And that is where it really becomes very dangerous when a power that relies on hatred and lies exploits the new instruments and manipulates people in ways that they themselves cannot see through.
For example, this 12-member terrorist cell that has now been dismantled. They found each other through the net, radicalized together. One can speak of a new form of self-empowerment, which of course completely curtails the freedom of others.