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Back to Robin Hood, desenmascarado

Alejandro Navas , Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Robin Hood, unmasked

Mon, 31 May 2010 13:50:41 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The vigilante I am about to tell you about does not live in Sherwood Forest in the 13th century, but in modern-day Latvia. Inspired by the Matrix movie, he calls himself "Neo" and basically acts on the Internet. In the last few months he has become a real national hero: in February he started to publicize the salaries of Latvian politicians and managers of public companies via Twitter. It became clear that the drastic salary cuts, ordered by the government to cope with the severe economic crisis, had hardly affected the top management of the administration. An outcry of indignation swept through the country: once again, the politicians were once again shirking the sacrifice and carefully and stealthily protecting their privileges. People spontaneously expressed their sympathy and support for this virtual Robin Hood, while criticizing the unjust actions of the government. Authorities and police mobilized to find out his identity and his sources, since the data he was providing were rigorously accurate. It seemed logical to assume that there was a leak within the administration itself.

The mystery has just been unraveled: the modern Latvian Robin Hood is actually Ilmars Poikans, a 31-year-old computer expert at teaching. The origin of his activity as Neo is rather accidental: in the summer of last year he was doing the tax return and could not manage to open the document needed to use the electronic signature . After repeated attempts he succeeded, with the surprise that he had gained access to the national file of all Latvian taxpayers' electronic signatures. He did not report the incident to the authorities, for fear of being taken for a hacker. goal He downloaded a large part of these data and published them over the following months, with the aim of denouncing the intransparency and cynicism of the government, which, while imposing a shock cure on the country to get out of the crisis, was deceitfully clinging to its privileges.

This time it seems that the Sheriff of Nottingham has finally won, as Poikans has been arrested by the police, but the case has only just begun and its outcome is unpredictable. Several prominent Latvian politicians have sided with Poikans, for although the means used have been of dubious legality, he has contributed to the achievement of a transparency in public affairs that is more than desirable. The personality of his defense lawyer, Aleksejs Loskutovs, adds spice to the episode: he is the former director of the national anti-corruption agency, dismissed three years ago for taking his work too seriously and "annoying" the establishment. His dismissal became a national scandal, which led to the largest popular demonstrations in recent Latvia and forced the government to resign.

The "Neo case" also affects freedom of information in Latvia. Police are investigating the role of TV journalist Ilze Nagla, who was the first to report on Neo's activities, whom she has known for years. In the course of investigations into her possible complicity, police searched her home and illegally seized her computer, prompting a massive mobilization of Latvian journalists, who saw the ever-fragile freedom of expression in jeopardy. 140 prominent media professionals have signed a protest manifesto, a gesture hitherto unknown in Latvian public opinion, and are standing up to the government.

I can't help but feel sympathy for Neo, and I trust that she will come out of this ordeal well. At the same time, I admire people like his defense lawyer, a tireless fighter against corruption, and those journalists who are giving a lesson in courage and solidarity to defend a colleague in difficulties and the cause of freedom in general. Where can we find comparable gestures of civility and courage in Spain?