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Liberty as secure as your books

Technology

I own books. Many books. They are the tools of my academic trade. But they are also the highways of my political and even spiritual liberty. Access to my books is like my access to air. Seizing my books would be worse than placing me under house arrest.

If books are important to you—as they should be—and if you are transitioning over to electronic books, you should consider your vulnerability to intellectual asphyxiation and political assault.

Your access to ebooks depends first of all on technology, the proper functioning of your ereader. Granted, those are easily replaced, and the book files are stored remotely. But that’s another problem.

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Your ebooks are not, strictly speaking, yours. You have only licensed the use of them. In 2012, Lynn Jordet Nygaard discovered the practical significance of this when Amazon mysteriously canceled her Kindle account. Amazon officials gave no reason for this action, and even when under media pressure they restored her access to her Kindle library they would not explain why they barred her in the first place.

In other words, your access to your books depends also on administrative competence. Imagine the use of your dearest and most intellectually vital books depending on the proper functioning of the IRS or some equally opaque, unincentivized, and unsympathetic apparatus of cubicled time-servers.

But systems don’t have to malfunction for you to lose your elibrary. Ultimately, you hold your books at the whim of a corporation. Deep within its website, Amazon asserts that it “reserves the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders in its sole discretion.” Do you trust corporations to keep their word with you and to guard the public good in their decisions? I see no reason for an unhesitating, “Yes.”

If for no other reason, consider the recent moral fluster at Mozilla where the company leaned on its distinguished new CEO to resign under pressure from gay activist groups who somehow discovered that he very privately donated to a politically controversial cause. It is easy to imagine in the near future a successful campaign against the continued licensure of what will be termed “hateful” books, i.e., books with which the empowered cultural left strongly disagrees. Liberal fascism is without conscience when it comes to restricting free inquiry and open conversation.

Lastly, corporations, like all of us, are also subject to the government. There is little chance at present that our government would restrict what books a company like Amazon may continue to license to us, or that it would force a company to disclose your library holdings to politically motivated government agents or even to leak such information to a vindictive third party with which the government is sympathetic. But eternal vigilance as the spirit of liberty means that free citizens keep their freedom by anticipating what government could do in the future with power it presently possesses and then providing appropriate safeguards.

My books are mine. Nothing but flames can take them.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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