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Information wants to be free

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Information wants to be free has, according to Wikipedia, become the unofficial motto of the free content movement. It is usually understood as a political demand, a battle cry of hackers trying to free humanity by freeing information, as suggested in John Brunner's Shockwave Rider.

I believe however, that "information wants to be free" is not (only) a political slogan -- it's something more simple, more mundane, more fundamental: it's simply a fact. Call it the First Law of Infodynamics. Information wants to be free just as much as energy wants to be free. It strives to even out imbalances in informedness. It takes effort to keep it in, to maintain a difference in potential of information. It takes insolation, a dam or, more appropriately, a firewall.

The phrase "information wants to be free" was, according to Wikipedia, coined by Stewart Brand at the first Hacker's conference in 1984, when he stated the following:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

But not only is the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. The cost of keeping it in is rising steadily, as the complexity of our computer systems and the ways they communicate and interact increases. There are more and more ways that information can be leaked. There are viruses and trojans coming in through various communication vectors, or backup CDs getting lost (as has happened a number of times recently to government agencies in several countries). We get increasingly used to being able to access everying from everywhere, using whatever device we like -- and anything that gets communicated can be leaked. And every communication means a copy, and every copy needs to be tracked and protected. This is getting increasingly difficult and costly.

It becomes more and more evident that trying to keep confidential data from spilling out is very much like plugging leaks in a tank or insulating drafty windows: it's a battle against the laws of thermodynamics. It's a battle against entropy, a battle that ultimately can only be lost. It's debatable whether all information should be free. But all information does want to be free, whether we like it or not!

So, if there is information we don't want to leak, get public or to be abused, we'd better make sure it never gets recorded in the first place!

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