The dark side of the Internet comes under scrutiny in Black Code

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      A documentary by Nick de Pencier. In English, Portuguese, and Tibetan, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      The Internet has been a fluid place since a start, recalled in Werner Herzog’s recent Lo and Behold, that came from the gleam in just a few programmers’ eyes. The potential to do good and harm was built into something that enabled at first hundreds and then millions to communicate, often anonymously.

      Made before the U.S. Congress used its power to do harm (for profit) by agreeing to remove privacy protections, Black Code is mostly concerned with the dark side, although it’s amazing how often the bad shit piggybacks on top of the good stuff. Case in point is the Arab Spring, in which countless young people saw a way out from under autocratic, often theocratic regimes through the flash-mob capabilities of Facebook and other social media. A few years later and those same regimes are using the Net to track down, trick, and/or entrap potential dissidents.

      Based on a book of the same name by computer specialist Ronald Deibert, the 90-minute doc follows the unassuming University of Toronto professor as he travels to some hot spots where the Internet has provided both hope and horror. Back in 2009, Deibert and his crew at the Citizen Lab uncovered the GhostNet, a Chinese enterprise that hacked citizens and governments in more than a hundred countries. Hence an emphasis here, from Canadian director Nick de Pencier (known for producing and lensing docs like Watermark and The Ghosts in Our Machine), on Tibetan exiles in India.

      He also looks at, among others, an Ethiopian expat who thought he’d be safe from surveillance in the U.K. (guess what?) and Brazilian activists who find themselves beaten and arrested for perfectly legal activity, documenting the seemingly random use of violence, detention, and intimidation that is increasingly the first strategy of corporate security forces everywhere. The director’s approach is scattershot, to be sure, but it’s hard to picture a more coherent response to threats that keep evolving even faster than we can identify them.