Telework and totalitarianism

Here’s the last paragraph in Chapter 9 of my book Exploring the World of the Personal Computer, published in 1982.

A totalitarian government wishing to ensure that its citizens continue to toe the line and obey all government policies had better also ensure that encryption technologies are not made available to individual citizens and that existing computers not be allowed to communicate with each other.
The danger of that occurring in the United States is extremely remote, but should never be considered to be impossible. Communicating personal computers can provide another safeguard for ensuring that the popular
wishes are reflected in the actions of the government, and all that that implies. One view of political systems is that of an inverted U. Totalitarianism is the bottom of one leg of the U, anarchy at the other. Here we sit somewhere around the top in a precarious and unstable equilibrium. Information technologies keep adding grease to our roller skates.

Now here’s a quote from the 26 June 2009 edition of the Washington Times.

Iranians seeking to share videos and other eyewitness accounts of the demonstrations that have roiled their country since disputed elections two weeks ago are using an Internet encryption program originally developed by and for the U.S. Navy.

The Times article goes on to discuss the use of TOR (The Onion Router), a system of proxy servers that disguise their users’ Internet traffic. The article also quotes Noah Schachtman, the editor of’s national security blog, Danger Room.

But TOR is different because it is an encrypted network of node after node, each one unlocking encryption to the next node. And because of this, it is all but impossible for governments to track Web sites a TOR user is visiting.

So the server users can be somewhat assured that their comments, and responses to them,  on the actions of their government can pass their country’s borders unhindered.

Now let’s add another dimension to this unfolding scenario. Telework. Suppose that the number of Iranians engaged in international telework grows to the point where it constitutes a significant portion of Iran’s GDP. My forecast for Iran for 2009 posits about 100,000 potential teleworkers out of  a total population of 70 million, about 3% of the workforce. The actual number of teleworkers may be significantly less than 100,000 since my forecast is based on an evolutionary scenario like that of the U.S. I have no idea about how much, if any, of the Iranian teleworker activity is international. But suppose that, via diplomatic or other efforts, Iranian international telework activity could grow to add up to, say, 6% of GDP.

There is some likelihood that Iran’s GDP will be headed downward over the next decade or two because of decreasing demand for its oil as widespread anti-global-warming efforts begin to take effect. Then the telework-based propotion of the Iranian economy will grow in significance, as will the danger to the government of trying to suppress it.

I suggest that if international telework grows to become a significant part of many countries’ GDP then the viability of totalitarian governments will diminish proportionally.

What do you think?

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