EFF panel: Architecture is policy

One of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's founding principles was Mitch Kapor's aphorism, "Architecture is politics." The design of systems determines the kinds of politics that can take place in them, and designing a system is itself a political act. As part of EFF's ongoing 20th anniversary celebrations, it held a panel called "Architecture is policy" at Carnegie-Mellon, featuring Ed Felten, Dave Farber, Lorrie Cranor, John Buckman, and Cindy Cohn -- all heavy hitters in their own right, and dynamite together. This is one of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking hours you could spend today.

Video: EFF Panel on "Architecture Is Policy"


  1. There must be a problem with this idea, but I haven’t thought of it yet…

    Why not have a single top node to the trust network, which is verifiable by all and available globally? I imagine a daily cert key which would be used to verify the entire web of trust networks beneath it. Users need not have any awareness of nodes which they do not access, and all cert keys can be run to ground. Really, this is just Ed’s meta-cert authority idea, but with a simple stipulation: There is only One of them.

    there must be a problem with this, rite?

    This points to an entire area of software development which is lacking: the ability to understand and audit processes as a user. I remember being familiar with every twitch of my windows startup, but I always wondered why only Linux saw fit to actually *list* what it was up to. User knowledge can be classified as a mix of informed choice and blindfolded protocol. Those twitches were system feedback, just like letters on the screen, once I understood.

    I envision system visualisation tools that look like aimless games that run on my desktop bg. They would generate neat patterns off of the vital stats rather than attempt to explain them,and as a result a huge shotgun of temporal info may be encoded in what may be called a massively lossy way. The course of a curve may be cast from some droll data list for instance. Our eyes are best at finding strange than any other thing… simply flagging the existence of key system changes will raise all boats. Sometimes the hard part is figuring out what you don’t know you don’t know…

    Imagine grokking an unfamiliar linux box in a glance by looking at the throbbing gristle on the desktop bg.
    I envision geekwizrds looking at electric sheep phantoms like a crystal ball and really telling the state of a system. It’s a great Gibsonesque picture. All we have to do is let our visual encoding scheme drift into something colorful and mutedly chaotic, then let our hunterbrains pick out the prey. This sort of method might obviate many kinds of hacking attacks by simply exposing their existence; failing to report in a standard way, the system will flag brightly what would have been a good switch before.

    I’ve found some work in this vein on the net, but nothing that attempts to show a whole system. Anybody have any system viz tools that they recommend? Who works on this sort of thing? Who is marrying systems and games?

    1. There must be a problem with this idea, but I haven’t thought of it yet…

      It requires an “angel”; that is, someone incorruptible to run the single top node.

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