Information Liberation:
Challenging the Corruptions of Information Power

Brian Martin

Freedom Press 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000
Starting with Acton's dictum that power corrupts, Information Liberation explores the corruptions and abuses of information power — and some of the ways of opposing and preventing them. Largely independent chapters cover topics ranging from the mass media to celebrity intellectuals, via defamation, copyright, and privacy, among others. (The only major topic not covered is direct censorship.)

Martin begins by arguing that the concentrations of power produced by mass media are inherently corrupting. He urges a withdrawal from them in favour of alternative participatory media, and campaigns to undermine the influence of mass media by changing attitudes. This is followed by an extended argument, in the longest of the chapters, for the abolition of intellectual property. In a chapter titled "anti-surveillance" rather than "privacy", Martin connects privacy concerns with power inequalities and advocates, as an alternative to relying on governments for protection, technical counter-measures (such as encryption), active surveillance disruption, and working to change institutions.

A chapter on whistleblowing explores the ways in which free-speaking employees can undermine and challenge bureaucratic power, and the opposition they face. And a chapter on defamation laws argues that they serve to help the powerful silence criticisms rather than to protect reputations: "more speech and more writing" is a better way to do that. Here Martin restricts himself to examples from Australia, which (like the United Kingdom) has particularly bad defamation laws.

Three chapters then cover issues in the production and evaluation of information. The first looks at the politics of research, arguing for the involvement of a wider range of people both in deciding research priorities and in carrying out research itself. The second argues for the value of simple ideas, suggesting that complex and abstract theories are often much less important to activists than simpler models and ideas, though the latter have their own dangers. And the third criticises the cult of celebrity intellectuals (especially those of the left).

Martin's political stance is explicitly anarchist, which may perturb some: he occasionally suggests that the ultimate solution to a problem is the abolition of the state, while his focus on power inequalities won't endear him to most right libertarians. But as he himself stresses, overarching theories often matter less than practical guidelines and proposals — and most of what he writes isn't dependent on commitment to any narrow political position.

July 2000

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%T Information Liberation
%S Challenging the Corruptions of Information Power
%A Martin, Brian
%I Freedom Press
%D 1998
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 090038493X
%P 181pp