How Hackers Are Disrupting Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism
416 pp., 6 x 9 in, None
- Published: July 27, 2021
- Published: March 10, 2020
- Published: February 14, 2020
Hackers as vital disruptors, inspiring a new wave of activism in which ordinary citizens take back democracy.
Hackers have a bad reputation, as shady deployers of bots and destroyers of infrastructure. In Coding Democracy, Maureen Webb offers another view. Hackers, she argues, can be vital disruptors. Hacking is becoming a practice, an ethos, and a metaphor for a new wave of activism in which ordinary citizens are inventing new forms of distributed, decentralized democracy for a digital era. Confronted with concentrations of power, mass surveillance, and authoritarianism enabled by new technology, the hacking movement is trying to “build out” democracy into cyberspace.
Webb travels to Berlin, where she visits the Chaos Communication Camp, a flagship event in the hacker world; to Silicon Valley, where she reports on the Apple-FBI case, the significance of Russian troll farms, and the hacking of tractor software by desperate farmers; to Barcelona, to meet the hacker group XNet, which has helped bring nearly 100 prominent Spanish bankers and politicians to justice for their role in the 2008 financial crisis; and to Harvard and MIT, to investigate the institutionalization of hacking. Webb describes an amazing array of hacker experiments that could dramatically change the current political economy. These ambitious hacks aim to displace such tech monoliths as Facebook and Amazon; enable worker cooperatives to kill platforms like Uber; give people control over their data; automate trust; and provide citizens a real say in governance, along with capacity to reach consensus. Coding Democracy is not just another optimistic declaration of technological utopianism; instead, it provides the tools for an urgently needed upgrade of democracy in the digital era.
Coders seeking to do good in the world will find much inspiration here.
She's building a powerful case for the fact that technology as we know it—omnipresent, flawed, world-improving—has become so entrenched and static that it really does need the hackers worrying the edges of its firewalls. In Webb's telling, hackers aren't heroes destined to bring the world to a grand new order of their own transgressive imaginings. They're agents of positive chaos.
'Coding Democracy' is a thorough, well-written work of scholarship that should be seen as a welcome addition to a growing body of work about the relationship between computing, society and government. A lawyer, Webb is able to weave the hacker narrative into various strands of thought relating to political science, history, legislation, law enforcement, regulations, civil law, politics and ethics.
Journal of Cyber Policy
Included in Wired's "13 Must Read Books for Spring 2020."
Coding Democracy is an in-depth international study of the emergence of hacking as a democratic initiative. The story is fascinating and instructive. The struggle for the Internet continues a long history of attempts by computer users to reconcile technology and freedom. That struggle is not yet over.
Andrew Feenberg, author of Technosystem: The Social Life of Reason
Chaos Computer Club, PGP, EFF; Assange, Cyphepunks, Anonymous; Snowden; GNU, Tor, Solid, Bitcoin, Cinque Stella, Liquid Democracy, Xnet, Ethelo: Coding Democracy is an accessible hacker ABC for both Generation Z and those coming late to the party. Enjoy this journey to the electronic pioneers who are reinventing democracy in the digital age.
Geert Lovink, media theorist and internet critic at the Institute of Network Cultures
Since information warfare is now a daily reality, it's important to understand how the global hacker community has evolved over decades. Coding Democracy shows how the current generation of hackers have turned themselves toward protecting the public against the more dangerous pursuits of today's information war.
Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies
In Coding Democracy, Webb charts the history of the thinkers, activists, and hackers vying to define the contested terrain that is the internet. At a time when technology seems to be enabling the most dystopian impulses of corporations and countries alike, Coding Democracy renews hope by spotlighting the counter-current of resistance that imagines technology enabling a better, more just world. Maureen's background—as both a labor activist and attorney—infuses her storytelling with a thought-provoking, critical perspective.
Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers