Aug 2, 2013

Is Edward Snowden a Pirate?

Spoiler alert: in the next few lines, we're going to argue that yes, Snowden is a pirate. But before you get angry about this statement, please read another few lines and give us a chance to explain what we mean by that.

We are neither politicians nor clerics, so we're not too interested in having discussions about whether Snowden is a traitor or a whistleblower, a selfless hero or a prick seeking media attention. Informed citizens can certainly make their own opinion about these aspects of the case without our interference.

The US government considers Snowden's actions illegal. But many consider them legitimate nevertheless. Looking back at the intertwined histories of piracy and capitalism, we argued in a recent TED Talk (below) that 17th century sea pirates, 20th century pirate radio and computer hackers, and 21st century biopirates shared the following:

1/ Pirates do things considered illegal by some government (but not by some other), and yet considered legitimate by the broader civil society.
2/ Pirates operate in uncharted territory (that is, a territory for which there are no consensual rules of ownership; for example, in the 17th century, Spain claimed to own portions of the high seas whereas others argued that the high seas cannot be appropriated)
3/ Pirates contest centralized monopolistic arrangements supported by the State (sea pirates struggled against the East India company's trade monopoly, and British pirate radio against the BBC's monopoly; clearly, the NSA-Google-FB-Amazon alliance is not unlike a global monopoly on private data collection, storage and analysis)
4/ Pirates emphasize the principles of openness and free circulation, and the notion of common good (sea pirates were in favor of the open seas, pirate radio in favor of free radio broadcasting, and hackers support Net neutrality and the idea of a unique, global cyberspace belonging to humankind as a whole, rather than to some secret agency aided by a tech oligopoly).

Just to be clear, when we say 'pirate', we don't imply that pirates are bad guys or evil creatures, neither do we imply that they're heroes - or cool guys. Pirates just consistently do the kind of things described above, and by so doing, they contribute to the (a-moral) evolution of capitalism.  

So yes, Snowden is a pirate. A pirate who just got offered a safe harbor in Russia (who says Putin isn't politically savvy?). Now let's see what happens.


  1. Arrg, shiver me timbers. Let Obama walk the plank

  2. This man is a patriot to humanity! He deserves the support of the world and has put his life on the line for all of us! Its time to wake up and smell the coffee people, the more support he has the less power the NSA and CIA have over him! So stand up and be counted people.....just like this man has.!!!

  3. It seems to me you are defining not the commonly understood (then and now) pirate, but rather the "privateer", commissioned to benefit the common good of a nation/king/royalty/elite and its commerce, but who often (always?) interpreted (parsed) its commission in the privateer's own terms. Like religionist theocracy, this could evolve into an organization of true democracy, equitable contracting and justice WITHIN its domain/ship/harbor/island -- but it could also devolve into ultimate fascist, imperial exploitation and violence OUTSIDE in the world at large.

  4. Very interesting, I am sold on the idea I think!


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