This paper concerns moral obligations with respect to exporting Canadian digital technology used by “oppressive” regimes with poor human rights records. 

Two Types of Immaturity

An Obligation To Control Markets

Does Netsweeper have an obligation to control or eliminate the distribution of its technology in some circumstances? Yes, replies Ron Deibert, the director of Citizen Lab at University of Toronto’s Munk School.

The Right To Expand Markets

“Bullshit” is Perry Roach’s reply to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, when it asked him about Citizen Lab’s criticism. Roach’s response is immature.

So is Citizen Lab’s perspective.

“Immature,” however, does not mean incorrect. Both immature responses have my sympathy, one more than the other.

 Absurdities: What Is Legal vs What Is Moral

It’s absurd for Netsweeper to assert its legality. To ask legal counsel to assert that the company “cannot prevent an end-user from manually overriding its software” is ridiculous: we all know this. Software can be re-imagined because it can be reverse engineered. We used to call this “hacking” when I was in school.

It’s absurd for Citizen Lab to assert that human rights are a universal imperative. Human rights are a western first world standard not welcome, to different degrees, by other nations. Ron Deibert, Citizen Lab’s director, is a trained critical thinker. So am I, and I’m amused:

A left-libertarian technorat, who normally vilifies cultural appropriation, wants the post-colonial world to endorse western standards on human rights.

Does he understand the irony of his position? I wonder.

Yet Citizen Lab has begun an important conversation, I applaud them, and Netsweeper’s replies to date lack sobriety (in the Canadian sense of “sober, second thought”).

Marketing & Morality

I commend Netsweeper to rethink its replies to command my respect. I do not need to agree with Netsweeper to respect them.

I certainly respect Citizen Lab. I certainly disagree with them.

I’ve had an interesting life. I’ve done many things, I’ve accomplished a few, my spiritual life is rich, and among the many things I’ve done two stand out: marketing and morality. This May I celebrate my 41st year as a marketer and also my 18th year as a religious educator. I suppose that makes me both a marketer and a moralist.

Marketers and moralists view boundaries differently. Marketers hate boundaries when these impose economic barriers to entry. Moralists appreciate boundaries — but honest moralists understand that boundaries must sometimes be either stretched or re-shaped. An honest moralist? Social conservatives and social progressives can agree on this, if nothing else: the modern idea of society tends to leave the traditional idea of morality behind.

Netsweeper is not immoral. Profit is not immoral. The use of technology to deny “human rights” is not immoral — only a philosopher thinks human rights is a moral issue; it isn’t:

Human rights is the noble lie of the secular nation-state and its social system. Human rights is the greatest noble lie western society tells.

The noble lie of traditional society is based on human obligations, not human rights. Interpersonal relationships breed mutual aid, what Stephen Covey, I think, calls interdependence in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The noble lie of human obligations is more truthful.