Why the Politicisation of Infrastructure, Including Banking, Must be Stopped

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Why the Politicisation of Infrastructure, Including Banking, Must be Stopped  Nigel Farage

Defence companies have been the most recent victims of DEI/ESG motivated debanking, joining Nigel Farage, Canadian freedom truckersEnglish vicars and pr0stitutes. Banks now seem to think that providing arms manufacturers with the same sort of banking services they would provide to any other company exposes them to ‘risk’, but getting invaded by a foreign power somehow would not. As banking is now as much a part of our infrastructure as phone lines, mains electricity and running water, this is a very ugly trend indeed. In this article I discuss the dangerous trend of the politicisation of infrastructure, and why it must be stopped.

Imagine a company working to produce or popularise something genuinely diabolical – a moral abomination which we can all agree should never see the light of day. Consider perhaps that they are trying to bring back vaccine passports, or sell networked facial recognition cameras to be mounted on every street lamp.

Now imagine you are their bank manager. Should you cut them off?

Scratch that. Imagine you’re their energy company, with a contract to power their factory.

Maybe you’re their water company. Does cutting off the supply to their office water coolers interest you? You supply the family home of their CEO too. Should he be able to flush his lavatory?

It sounds tempting doesn’t it, but it’s a dangerously slippery slope. And while I’d argue it might be reasonable for public protest, customer boycotts, or sabotage by their own workers, to be used against that dreadful hypothetical company, it is most definitely not the role of infrastructure providers to make these decisions. If you can cut them off for doing what we all know to be truly abhorrent, then someone else can cut you off when you offend their, perhaps rather more questionable, moral, political or legal opinions.

The date of the world’s earliest infrastructure really depends on what you consider to be infrastructure. Paved roads appeared in the city of Ur in around 4000BC, but Bazalgette’s London sewerage system provides a good example of one of the earlier pieces of infrastructure we would definitely recognise as modern. It was built because it was known to be necessary, particularly when the Great Stink of 1858 focused the minds of MPs. While the classical Left and classical Right might disagree on how infrastructure should be paid for, everyone used to agree that it is there to serve everyone who needs it. It is there to be a passive system in the background to keep society running, not an active instrument with which to enforce political dogma. Today, we still need sewerage, and much of Bazalgette’s system is still handling that for Londoners. We also need running water, electricity, gas, phone lines, internet connectivity and the to process those payments which are beyond the capabilities of trustworthy old cash. Banks and the internet, the two fields in which the political neutrality of infrastructure is under the worst assault, belong nowadays in much the same category as sewers. They are things we expect should just work.

Another key point is that infrastructure not only exists to provide service to everyone, but to provide the same sort of service to everyone. One user of a bank may be paying in £100 of cash, another taking out £10,000 by transfer, but they are both converting wealth between different forms and moving it around. One user of an internet connection may use 100Mb per day, another 20Gb, but their ISP is in both cases simply providing a pipe for those bytes. Those in the business of operating infrastructure cannot then use any arguments around compelled speech as a reason to withdraw service. When you are providing the same service to all your users you are not in any way endorsing any of them. If an artist refuses to paint an artwork of disagreeable subject-matter for a disagreeable client, he is refusing to put his talents towards a specific work. A software developer refusing to assist in the development of specialised surveillance software for a client known for targeting journalists, as Moxie Marlinspike did, is refusing to let their creativity (engineering and technical fields involve just as much of this as traditional artistic endeavours do) become an assistant to oppression. But because a bank, or phone company, or any other infrastructure provider, is providing the same service to any user, they face no compelled speech dilemma. An infrastructure company serving a client is not, by doing so, announcing their approval of that client’s opinions or actions, nor are they providing individually tailored services in whichever field that client may or may not be acting unethically. When providing the same service to everyone, there is no excuse to refuse to provide it to a specific someone.

Where the idea of withdrawing infrastructure services as a means of enforcing compliance with an ideology is allowed to flourish, the power to cut people off ends up in far more hands than you might initially expect. Consider that company from the second paragraph again.

Now consider that you’re the company that owns and maintains the substation that actually supplies 3 phase AC to their factory. You never had a contract with them, but you know what that factory is making and you don’t like it.

This situation has already happened in an online context, with Visa, Mastercard and American Express blocking donations to Wikileaks. These companies are card payment processors, not banks. Like the substation example, they are middlemen, with neither Wikileaks nor its donors being direct customers of Visa, Mastercard or American Express. In what has since become a decidedly unusual event, a court had the courage to make a sensible ruling and ordered the lifting of at-least part of this blocking effort. With it now being common practice for companies to be politically pressured in to withdrawing services, such as Google and Amazon ending domain-fronting services which enabled censorship evasion and Apple letting the Chinese Communist Party pressure them in to removing VPNs from their app store, there are all too many different pressure points where an urge to withdraw service can be made. And when an infrastructure company buckles to any pressure, censorious activists swarm like hyenas around wounded prey. Cloudflare, the anti-DDOS service, for example, makes a point of being an infrastructure company and was at pains to explain that it only withdrew service from the likes of 8chan and kiwifarms because they were uniquely violence-glorifying cesspools. But since doing so, Cloudfare is now constantly contacted by furious activists demanding that it should withdraw services from reasonable websites which offend them. One can also see that, in their blocking of Wikileaks payments, Visa et. al. opened themselves up to future demands from those who considered Wikileaks “bad” and argued that some other service was “worse” and therefore also in need of financial censorship. This kind of buckling also normalises the abuse of infrastructure as a politicised tool, thereby paving the way for PayPal’s cutting off of the Daily Sceptic and the debanking plague now sweeping Britain.

Furthermore, in a world where government legislation drifts ever further from the fundamental unchanging rules necessary to maintain a stable society and towards a system of ever-changing diktats seeking to micromanage every aspect of daily life, infrastructure needs to stand above the trendy shouting matches of political debate in the media, as well as above the results of those squabbles if and when they reach parliament.

If we return to considering that company in this article’s second paragraph, just as it would be morally unacceptable to cut off the banking, internet connectivity, electricity or water to them because you know that what they are doing is morally wrong, it would also be unacceptable to cut them off simply because their activity violates some section of a law. After all, recall that for much of 2020 and 2021 the activities of every reasonable person in this country violated some section or another of a law. Where that evil company is acting illegally it is a matter for the courts. It is not the role of infrastructure providers to judge them and mete out their punishment, nor is it appropriate for infrastructure providers to exploit the trust of their customers and use the infrastructure they manage as a dragnet to search for illegal activity in the first place.

The onus to fix this increasing politicisation is very much on those managing infrastructure and those involved in its day to day running. The example of Stanislav Petrov may provide a good example if translated to the infrastructure domain. He is known to history as the Man who Stopped World War Three, on account of choosing to ignore his orders and trust his gut. Canada, today, might be in a much better place if the banks had behaved as he did when Trudeau’s orders came down the line. Rumble, while you might argue that “mere” video is not infrastructure in the way that internet connectivity itself is, has shown itself to have an excellent backbone in this context. Signal, again operating a layer somewhat higher than true infrastructure, pledged not to comply with U.K. Government online-‘safety’ demands and have gone further by stating that if necessary it will work to provide service in the U.K. despite any attempts to block them, as it has done in Iran. Even Wikipedia, recently noted to be channeling funding to activism with no relevance to its encyclopedic mission, has shown promise in this regard by pledging, in the interests of user privacy, not to perform age verification checks which governments may demand of it. If the attitude Rumble, Wikipedia and particularly Signal have exemplified were more prevalent within infrastructure companies, even if not with the executives but only with the sysadmins whom the executives actually rely upon when they want someone’s service interfered with, we could make real progress towards keeping politics out of infrastructure.

In the meantime, the situation is difficult. Infrastructure, by its very nature, is a large-scale thing. A parallel infrastructure sounds good on paper, but would take an enormous amount of resources to produce. It is one thing for a hobbyist to hack-together a means of locally defeating a ‘Smart’ appliance (as I have discussed before ), but though tools like Meshtastic can give anyone a means of geographically local encrypted communication without reliance on public or private utilities, there isn’t an obvious way to scale this up. Laser links across borders could work well to smuggle some bandwidth worth of internet connectivity in and out of repressive regimes (which seems to include most countries nowadays), but not at the scale necessary to rival the subsea fibre-optic cables over which governments and major corporations can exert influence. Social media, to a great extent now the main ‘public square’, is another victim of this scaling problem. The value of any given plan for a decentralised (therefore resistant to politicisation) social media platform is unfortunately in direct proportion to the number of people already using it to publish content others want to read. Without users already there, it is difficult to gain more users.

Payments too pose a major problem. Finding a means to replicate the advantages of cash, but in a manner practical for remote transactions and without any centralised point at which political pressure could be applied, is an open problem not just for the technical underpinnings of such a system but for whether such a concept can even work at all under established principles of economics. It seems pretty clear that BitCoin has not succeeded in providing a practical solution here. Much as parallel infrastructure and parallel societies appeal as an idea, they cannot become practical until they can provide a ‘full-stack’ from the physical layer right up to the layer at which the service is provided. For a censorship-proof internet this would mean decentralisation right down to the hardware level. It would have to be built with mesh networking or free space optical communications so as not to rely on telecom facilities which can all too easily hold political biases or be subjected to political pressures.

As a side note, given that a large proportion of projects aiming to develop decentralised internet services often wither and die without producing a final working system, one has to wonder if this is because too many of them are focusing on overly abstracted higher-stack-level concepts like NFTs whilst ignoring the fundamental questions of how to decentralise the physical infrastructure layer. Hopes for going further than decentralising simply one strand of infrastructure and towards a full ‘parallel society’ concept have to ask “where will the water come from?”, “how will we distribute electricity for ourselves?” and “how will we fabricate our own microchips?”. Until those questions are answered, everyone will be reliant on the same infrastructure. This, then, is why it is so essential that it must be depoliticised.