Responding to attacks

In a very thoughtful and interesting post L’Hote writes about the Japanese response to their terrorist group/cult Aum Shinrikyo. The calm determination not to close down society and the results it caused to understand terrorism and threat assessment, look to Aum

Just as important was what the Japanese government and people did not do. They didn’t panic. They didn’t make sweeping changes to their way of life. They didn’t implement a vast system of domestic surveillance. They didn’t suspend basic civil rights. They didn’t begin to capture, torture, and kill without due process. They didn’t, in other words, allow themselves to be terrorized. Instead, they addressed the threat. They investigated and arrested the cult’s leadership. They tried them in civilian courts and earned convictions through due process. They buried their dead. They mourned. And they moved on. In every sense, it was a rational, adult, mature response to a terrible terrorist act, one that remained largely in keeping with liberal democratic ideals.

This reminded me very much of the Norwegian response to the Norwegian Breivik killed 76 people and bombed parliament buildings in central Oslo. He was politically motivated and left a, so called, manifesto “arguing” his misguided case.

The Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reacted immediately by calling for more democracy and more openness. It was a very moving and heartfelt response from a man who knew very many of the victims personally. He would go on to reinforce this position later (Huffington Post):

Five days after an attacker incensed by Norway’s culture of tolerance horrified the world, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday issued a quiet call of defiance to his countrymen: Make Norway even more open and accepting.

“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” Stoltenberg insisted at a news conference.

Of course each situation is different but it is interesting to note that the “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach seems to be the quickest way of returning to a state of normality and healing that ensures that the attackers have failed in impacting the society they attack. L’Hote ends his post, which talks about the American response but applies equally to other countries, with the words

We have examples of adult responses to terrorism. Instead, we betray ourselves, in every sense a terrorized, terrified people.

Don’t see this as a spoiler – go read the text.

Public servants and Private individuals

TJ McIntyre has a brilliant quote from Glenn Greenwald that summarizes much of what is important in the privacy debate:

The way things are supposed to work is that we’re supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that’s why they’re called public servants. They’re supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that’s why we’re called private individuals.

Release Bassel Khartabil

The post is copied in its entirety from the Creative Commons weblog

What open means to you
Bassel / joi / CC BY

Earlier this year, Creative Commons issued a statement in support of Bassel Khartabil, a longtime CC volunteer who has been detained by Syrian authorities since March 15. Amnesty International recently released a document with information suggesting that Bassel has been ill-treated and even tortured. This morning, we sent a letter to President Bashar al-Assad, Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Mu’allim, and Minister of Defense ‘Imad al-Fraij; urging that Bassel be released unless he is promptly charged with an internationally recognized criminal offense. We urge Syrian authorities to grant Bassel immediate access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, and all necessary medical treatment.

Bassel has played a crucial role in the open technology and culture communities, both in Syria and around the world. Through his service as Creative Commons’ project lead in Syria and his numerous contributions to the advancement of open source and related technologies, Bassel has spent his career working toward a more free Internet. Many of us at Creative Commons have become friends of Bassel’s over the years. All of us have benefited from his leadership and expertise.

Please stand with us in support of Bassel. Amnesty International has provided instructions for contacting Syrian authorities. For more information, visit freebassel.org.

Read Creative Commons’ call for the release of Bassel Khartabil (PDF).

Real Fame at Last: my acceptance speech

As an academic we measure stuff and compare all the time. I’m not talking about research but rather the comparisons between each other. Who has the longest publication list, given the most keynotes, sat on the most advisory boards…

Today is a major moment as I have received the highest form of praise an Internet researcher can obtain. It is an object of desire that I have been dreaming of, but not daring to hope for.

So I would like to thank the academy, my advisers, supervisors and all my collaborators: without you guys none of this would have been possible.

Today a cease and desist letter finally graced my inbox.

We are requesting that you remove the link back to our site.

Admittedly it’s the weakest form of c&d letter and is not accompanied by evil threats but it contains the most vital statement necessary to enable induction into the halls of Internet fame. Once again: Thank You.

Police, Evidence and Facebook

One of the things I presented at IR13 was in a 10-minute panel presentation on the regulation of Internet by spaces such as Facebook. I wanted to use this all to brief time to enter into the discussion of a problem of police, policing, procedural rules and technological affordances – easy right?

This is going to be a paper soon but I need to get some of the ideas out so that I remember the order they are in and so that people who know better can tell me how horribly wrong, ignorant and uniformed I am about the rules of evidence in different jurisdictions.

So the central argument is that computers have been used for a long time in police work and we have created safeguards to ensure that these computers and databases are not abused. In order to prevent abuse most countries have rules dictating when the police can search databases for information about someone.

Additionally, many countries have more or less developed rules surrounding undercover work, surveillance work and the problem of what to do with excess information (i.e. information gained through surveillance but not relating to the investigation that warranted the surveillance). As you can tell I need to do more reading here. These will all be in the article but here I want to focus on a weakness in the rules of evidence, which may be presented to the courts. This weakness, I argue, may act as an encouragement to certain police officers to abuse their authority.

Facebook comes along and many government bodies (not limited to the police) are beginning to use it as an investigative tool. The anecdotal evidence I have gathered suggests no limitations within the police to using Facebook to get better photos of suspects, finding suspects by “trawling” Facebook and even going undercover to become friends with suspects.

Now here is an interesting difference between Anglo-American law and Swedish Law (I need to check if this applies to most/all civil code countries): The Anglo-American system is much better at regulating this are in favor of individual rights. Courts routinely decide whether or not information gathered is admissible. If a police officer in America gathers information illicitly it may not be part of the proceedings.

In Swedish law all information is admissible. The courts are deemed competent to handle the information and decide upon its value. If a police officer gathers information illicitly in Sweden it is still admissible in court but he may face disciplinary actions by his employer.

So here’s the thing: If an officer decides he doesn’t like the look of me. He has no right to check me up. But there is no limitation to going online.

He may then find out that some of my friends have criminal records (I have several activist friends with police records) or find politically incorrect, borderline illegal status updates I wrote while drunk (I have written drunk statements on Facebook).

This evidence may be enough to enable him to argue probable cause for a further investigation – or at least (and here is the crux of my argument) ensure that he will not be disciplined harshly in any future hearing (should such a hearing arise).

The way the rules are written Facebook provides a tool that can be used to legitimize abuse of police power. And the ways the rules are written in Swedish law are much more open to such abuse.

Here are the slides I used for the presentation

Assange and Zombie Facts

It’s not the first time and probably not the last, but last night I fell for the intoxicating allure of discussing with people online. So now I am at the office after 4 hours sleep wondering what the whole point of my Don Quixote behavior was…

I must stop doing this!

The problem is that arguing Assange is like arguing with creationists. For every answer they ask impossible questions and if you cannot answer them (immediately) it’s obvious that they are right. Most annoying. Then there is the problem that they behave like trolls. They don’t read the earlier material but just jump in and repeat the same tired (and wrong) statements. I love the term “zombie facts” i.e. statements which stagger on even when shot down.

My position is legal and can best be summarized by The blog that Peter wrote and The Statemans Legal myths about the Assange extradition.

Let me summarize some of the more important stuff:

  • “The allegation of rape would not be rape under English law” False (No brainer – rape is non consensual sex i.e. no means no. Sleeping people have not consented).
  • “This is the Personal Vendetta of one Swedish Prosecutor” False (it’s a decision by the Swedish Court of Appeals)
  • “Assange is more likely to be extradited to USA from Sweden than the United Kingdom” False (I wrote a longer post on this in March)
  • “Sweden should guarantee that there be no extradition to USA” Not legally possible (I wrote a longer post on this in March)
  • Sweden will extradite him anyway False (see Mark Klamberg for more on this)
  • “The Swedes should interview Assange in London” No: Best answer in the New Statesman article (Also: Seriously? Do you negotiate with tax authorities where to pay taxes?)

In addition I am completely in agreement with The Blog That Peter Wrote when he writes:

This issue is not like choosing sides in a soccer match.  You can be pro-Wikileaks and keen to see the rule of law operate.  This does not make you anti-Assange, an Assange Hater or anything else.  I, like you, have no idea whether he is guilty of the alleged crimes back in August 2010.  I do feel that the alleged victims deserve to be taken seriously, having taken the step of reporting the alleged offences to the Police, and that they should have some form of closure.

It is frankly irrelevant who the man is who is wanted for questioning, and what other great things he may (or may not) have done.  If you believe in judicial process and the rule of law, it is hard to argue he should not return to Sweden for questioning (after, of course, dealing with the consequences of his behaviour here in jumping bail).

This post is to remind myself to turn of my devices and go the f**k to sleep.

Your Phone Company is Watching

Data retention and mobile telephones are seen as boring subjects. But change that to “Your phone company is watching” and get Malte Spitz to harass his phone company to use his right to information. The data he gets maps out 6 months of his life – check out what he does with the data. All of a sudden data retention is not boring – it is scary serious.

Spitz demonstrates simply why this is important. He argues that we have to fight for our right for self-determination every day. He is right and history may depend on it.

 

What kind of data is your cell phone company collecting? Malte Spitz wasn’t too worried when he asked his operator in Germany to share information stored about him. Multiple unanswered requests and a lawsuit later, Spitz received 35,830 lines of code — a detailed, nearly minute-by-minute account of half a year of his life.

Malte Spitz asked his cell phone carrier what it knew about him–and mapped what he found out.

Expressions in Code and Freedom: Notes from a lecture

Being invited to give an opening keynote is both incredibly flattering and intimidating. Addressing the KDE community at their Akademy is even more intimidating: I want to be light, funny, deep, serious, relevant, insightful and create a base for discussion. No wonder I couldn’t stop editing my slides until long after sundown.

Tweet: doubly useless

The goal of my talk was to address the problem of the increased TiVo-ization of life, democracy and policy. Stated simply TiVo-ization is following the letter of rules/principles while subverting them by changing what is physically possible (wikipedia on origins and deeper meaning)

In order to set the stage I presented earlier communications revolutions. Reading and writing are 6000 years old, but punctuation took almost 4000 years to develop and empty spaces between words are only 1000 years old. What we see here is that communication is a code that evolves, it gets hacked and improved. Despite its accessibility it retains several bugs for millennia.

The invention of writing is a paradigm shift. But its taken for granted. printing on the other hand is seen as an amazing shift. In my view Gutenberg was the Steve Jobs of his day, Gutenberg built on the earlier major shifts and worked on packaging – he gets much more credit for revolution than he deserves.

Tweet: Gutenberg

Communication evolves nicely (telegraphs, radio, television) but the really exciting and cool stuff occurs with digitalization. This major shift is today easily overlooked, together with the Internet, and we focus on the way in which communication is packaged rather than the infrastructure that makes it possible.

The WWW is one on these incredible packages that was created with an openness ideal. We should transmit whatever we liked as long as we followed the protocol for communication. So far so good. Our communications follow the Four Freedoms of Free Software, Communication is accessible, hackable and usable.

Tweet: Stallman

Unfortunately this total freedom inevitably creates the environment that invites convenience. Here corporations provide this convenience but at the cost of individual freedom and, in the long run, maybe at the cost of the WWW.

The risk to the WWW emerges from the paradox of our increasing use of the Web. Our increased use has brought with it a subtle shift in our linking habits. We are sending links to each other via social media on an unimaginable level. Sharing is the point of social media. The early discussion on blogging was all about user generated content. This is still important, but the focus of social media today is not on content generation but on sharing.

Focusing on sharing rather than content creation means we are creating less and linking less. Additionally the links we share are all stored in social media sites. These are impermanent and virtually unsearchable – they are virtually unhistoric. Without the links of the past there is no web “out in the wild” – the web of the future will exist only within the manicured and tamed versions within social network nature preserves (read more Will the web fail?)

On an individual level the sharing has created a performance lifestyle. This is the need to publicize elements of your life in order to enhance the quality of it. (Read more Performance Lifestyle & Coffee Sadism).

Tweet: coffee

This love of tech is built on the ideology that technology creates freedom, openness and democracy – in truth technology does not automatically do this. Give people technology and in all probability what will be created is more porn.

The problem is not that social media cannot be used for deeper things, but rather that the desire of the corporations controlling social media is to enable shallow sharing as opposed to deep interaction. Freedom without access to the code is useless. Without access to the code what we have is the TiVo-ization of everyday life. If you want a picture then this is a park bench that cannot be used by homeless people.

image from Yumiko Hayakawa essay Public Benches Turn ‘Anti-Homeless’ (also recommend Design with Intent)

Park benches which are specifically designed to prevent people from sleeping on benches. In order to exclude an undesirable group of people from a public area the democratic process must first define a group as undesirable and then obtain a consensus that this group is unwelcome. All this must be done while maintaining the air of democratic inclusion – it’s a tricky, almost impossible task. But by buying a bench which you cannot sleep on, you exclude those who need to sleep on park benches (the homeless) without even needing to enter into a democratic discussion.Only homeless people are affected. This is the TiVo-iztion of everyday life.

The more technology we embed into our lives the less freedom we have. The devices are dependent on our interaction as we are dependent upon them. All to often we adapt our lives to suit technology rather than the other way around.

In relation to social media the situation becomes worse when government money is spent trying to increase participation via social networks. The problem is that there is little or no discussion concerning the downsides or consequences of technologies on society . We no longer ask IF we should use laptops/tablets/social media in eduction but only HOW.

Partly this is due to the fear of exclusion. Democracy is all about inclusion, and pointing out that millions of users are “on” Facebook seems to be about inclusion. This is naturally a con. Being on/in social media is not democratic participation and will not democratize society. Why would you want to be Facebook friends with the tax authority. And how does this increase democracy?

The fear of lack of inclusion has led to schools teaching social media and devices instead of teaching Code and Consequences. By doing this, we are being sold the con that connection is democracy.

Tweet: Gadgets

So what can we do about it?

We need to hack society to protect openness. Not openness without real function (TiVo-ization) but openness that cannot be subverted. This is done by forcing social media to follow law and democratic principles. If they cannot be profitable within this scenario – tough.

This is done by being very, very annoying:
1. Tell people what the consequences of their information habits will have.
2. Always ask who controls the ways in which our gadgets affect our lives. Are they accountable?
3. Read ALL your EULA… Yes, I’m talking to you!
4. Always ask what your code will do to the lives of others. Always ask what your technology use will do to the lives of others…

 

The slides are here: