It was a tough read, drier than a philosophy text.

How is our society prisonlike? It’s dedicated to concealing things, hiding things, an imprisoning people not in jail cells but something far more powerful. The government–state, local, and federal–collects information on us all the time. Fingerprints, police records, Social Security information, forwarding addresses. The private sector does too, through the internet and retail stores. They see which websites you visit so that they can target you with ads, and see what products you buy at the register thanks to barcode scanners so they know how effective those ads are.

Basically, there’s a lot of information out there about you and me–information that we have no access to. Imagine a person who wanted to collect all his information. They barge into the county court house and steals their file; they goes to their internet service provider and download their information off the servers.

What happens to this person? They’re thrown in jail, of course. After all, they’re guilty of breaking and entering, going where they’re not supposed to go and taking what they’re not supposed to take. Never mind that the information belonged to them originally, or that it was collected without their consent.

But the funny thing is, even though many people know about the information people gather about us, no one tries to retrieve it. Even in the digital age, when accessing it could be as simple as guessing a password, no one tries. Why? Because the people in power have done their best to make our society do most of their job.

If a policeman had to follow you around everywhere to make sure you didn’t do anything wrong, that would be a tremendous strain on the government. Far better to make society itself act as the policeman. After all, who would want to steal their personal data? It’s not important, after all–just silly little things. Who would want to commit a crime? You’ll just go to jail and people will look down on you. Some people do these things anyway, of course, but there are few enough that they’re easily locked away.

If our society said information access was a fundamental human right, people would be more likely to disobey the people in power, who tell us that some things must remain “secret.” People would break the rules, and eventually break the people that made the rules too. Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state or by private companies. Everyone has the right of access to any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.

These are fundamental, undeniable rights of humankind. But the people in power would say they’re not, and they’d say we’re silly for thinking so. But the reality is that they would soon fall from power if information were free, as it ought to be. Those in power remain in power because of the oppressive society they and those before them helped create. Freeing information–all information–from their grasp is the first step toward making things better. Without information, there is only nothing.