#IloveFS: The humble downloader that could

There are lots of reasons to love Free Software. The stack of little games that comes pre-packaged with most GNU/Linux distributions. The way it makes you feel empowered rather than constrained. How it has taught an entire generation to see sharing knowledge as the normal thing to do, not as the exception.

And all those handy little tools it provides, right there at your fingertips. Like wget. This little program, part of the GNU project that aims to create a free operating system, downloads stuff. Nothing more, nothing less. Fire up a command line, type “wget” plus the URL of the file you want to download, and off you go. In its simplicity, you can compare wget (and its cousin curl) to a screwdriver. Regardless of what it is that you’re working on, you’ll want one around.

Information is power. wget’s specialty is to move information from one place to another with great efficiency and speed. Add the “-r” option to you command line, and wget will happily copy to your computer whatever files it can find on the target server.

Reports say [Warning: the article isn’t very good] that it was this humdrum sysadmin tool that Edward Snowden used to collect a stash of internal NSA files documenting the agency’s aggressive, and frequently illegal, surveillance programs. And it was this tool that Chelsea Manning used to collect the documents she handed over to WikiLeak, documenting illegal killings, torture, and much bumbling by the US government in Iraq and elsewhere.

Only last week, a French journalist was fined for downloading a batch of files that a French government agency had made available on its servers, without realising that they were accessible to the general public. Perhaps information really wants to be free, and wget opens the doors of its cages.

As we fight for our freedom, and against surveillance, censorship and oppression, simple tools like wget may be some of our best weapons.