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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



Archive for the ‘EFF’ Category


Program Think

I admit that, post-EFF, when I read about some terrible Internet regulatory proposal, or knotty problem of digital ethics, I often have a burst of “well, thank goodness it’s someone else’s job to deal with this now.” (Except for the narrower domain that is still my problem, I guess).

And then again, sometimes, I just feel the same pain as before. I read this article today, on a Chinese cybersecurity worker, jailed for seven years for a crime the authorities wouldn’t disclose, even to his wife. She is pretty sure she has finally worked out what that crime was: her was Program Think, a prolific anonymous blogger whose postings stopped the day before her husband was arrested:

The freewheeling blog offered a mixture of technical cybersecurity advice and scathing political commentary – including tips on how to safely circumvent China’s Great Firewall of internet censorship, develop critical thinking and resist the increasingly totalitarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

The blogger took pride in their ability to cover their digital tracks and avoid getting caught – even as a growing number of government critics were ensnared in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s strident crackdown on dissent.

Working on EFF’s international team and before that at CPJ, Program Think has a familiar feeling: the independent, “arrogant” techy, staying up all night to write because something is not only wrong on the Internet, but wrong in the country, too. We still tend to characterize them as bloggers, but before, during, and after peak blogging, they were also independent journalists, and writers, and cranks, and nobodies, and brilliant alternative voices.

Popular sympathy about this kind of character has faded recently in the West, but they do keep typing. I have a lot of criticism of the U.S., Europe, and much of the rest of the world too, but I’m relieved that I’m somewhere where seven year sentences’ for writing what you think is not culturally accepted, isn’t coded into the law, and is recognized as an aberration by the majority of the establishment, and almost certainly the population too.

“Since June 2009, (Ruan) has used his computer to write more than a hundred seditious articles that spread rumors and slander, attack and smear the country’s current political system, incite subversion of state power, and intent to overthrow the socialist system,” the court verdict said.

It added that the articles, published on overseas platforms, attracted “a large number of internet users to read, comment and share, causing pernicious consequences.”

Program Think’s archive is still available, on blogspot.


PRISM, Verizon: Surprise!

Someone in another forum was asking his friends whether they were surprised by the new revelations about US surveillance, and whether they thought there was a collective will to battle it. After the stream of “no and no” responses, I ended up saying this.

I deal with this material every day, and while what I feel isn’t really what I’d describe as “surprise”, I still feel aghast and disturbed whenever we uncover a new revelation. I also know that, if all the implications of the PRISM Powerpoint are true, there are a lot of people at the tech companies who are feeling extremely played right now. They put a lot of effort into building tools that they genuinely believed weren’t being used for this purpose, and indeed spent much of their time trying to ensure that they couldn’t be misused. If they have been betrayed by their upper management or their own government, or both, to this degree, they will be surprised, and upset, and angry.

Surprised, upset, angry, people are people I feel a bond with and sympathy. I can understand when people believe they are not surprised, although that sounds to me more like a coping strategy; I struggle a bit more with the “surprised that others are surprised” response, because that just makes you sound  dismissive of others’ ignorance, while exhibiting your own. It does no good to be aware of technical surveillance, while not knowing how most other people think of it.

I really don’t agree with the people who think “We don’t have the collective will”, as though there’s some magical way things got done in the past when everyone was in accord and surprised all the time. It’s always hard work to change the world. Endless, dull hard work. Ten years later, when you’ve freed the slaves or beat the Nazis everyone is like “WHY CAN’T IT BE AS EASY TO CHANGE THIS AS THAT WAS, BACK IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS. I GUESS WE’RE ALL JUST SHEEPLE THESE DAYS.”

You have to work hard to stop a war that kills a few hundred thousand instead of millions. You have to work hard to stop massive surveillance, instead of genocides. It’s all hard. Things can still get better. Disappointment is the price of wanting a better world.You need to stop being surprised that no-one else is fighting for it, and start being surprised you’re not doing more.


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.