Pirate Cinema wins the Prometheus Award

I could not be happier to announce that my novel Pirate Cinema has won the Libertarian Science Fiction Society's Prometheus Award, along with Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I won the Prometheus in 2008 for my novel Little Brother, and it's among my proudest honors. My sincere thanks to the judges and the members of the society for this honor. Read the rest

EFF's guide to Comic-Con

Headed to San Diego? The EFF Guide to San Diego Comic-Con is a thorough guide to where to go to hear about comics and free expression, meet friends of the EFF, learn about surveillance and privacy, and find like-minded civil liberties comic geeks. Read the rest
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Where to get an EFF laptop sticker like Edward Snowden's

Hugh from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "Edward Snowden's computer sported stickers for EFF and Tor. You can buy the EFF sticker here." Read the rest

Last chance for an ORGCon2013 ticket!

Ruth from the Open Rights Group writes,

There are still some tickets left for ORGCon2013! Don't miss out on a rare opportunity to hear John Perry Barlow speak in London, this Saturday June 8th! John Perry Barlow, co-founder of Electronic Frontier Foundation, will be headlining ORGCon2013 along with writer of The Master Switch, Tim Wu.

Debate the big issues hitting the headlines, including the cry for a Snoopers' Charter revival following the Woolwich attack, and the calls for new Internet filters in the light of April Jones' murder. As politicians use the latest tragic news stories as an excuse to regulate the Internet, now is the time to get involved with digital rights!

The final programme has the perfect mix of panel debates, workshops, rapid fire talks and guest lectures! You can look forward to sessions on the Digital Arms Trade, freedom of speech, child protection on the internet, online censorship, copyright, creative citizenship...

Plus, hear from an impressive line-up of speakers including David Allen Green of #twitterjoketrial, Jeni Tennison, Policy Head at the Open Data Institute, Richard Allan Policy Director at Facebook, Diane Duane, Star Trek and Young Wizards writer, and many more! Individual tickets are priced at £28, £16 for ORG supporters and just £6 for students. FREE tickets if you join ORG today!

Open Rights Group - Join us at ORGCon2013! (Thanks, Ruth!)

(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group and am pleased to serve as a volunteer advisor to it) Read the rest

Why lie?

Here's an excerpt from Judge Alex Kozinski's opinion in US v Xavier Alvarez (PDF), in which the judge describes some of the reasons that people lie:

Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying. We lie to protect our privacy ("No, I don't live around here"); to avoid hurt feelings ("Friday is my study night"); to make others feel better ("Gee you've gotten skinny"); to avoid recriminations ("I only lost $10 at poker"); to prevent grief ("The doc says you're getting better"); to maintain domestic tranquility ("She’s just a friend"); to avoid social stigma ("I just haven't met the right woman"); for career advancement ("I'm sooo lucky to have a smart boss like you"); to avoid being lonely ("I love opera"); to eliminate a rival ("He has a boyfriend"); to achieve an objective ("But I love you so much"); to defeat an objective ("I'm allergic to latex"); to make an exit ("It's not you, it's me"); to delay the inevitable ("The check is in the mail"); to communicate displeasure ("There's nothing wrong"); to get someone off your back ("I'll call you about lunch"); to escape a nudnik ("My mother's on the other line"); to namedrop ("We go way back"); to set up a surprise party ("I need help moving the piano"); to buy time ("I'm on my way"); to keep up appearances ("We're not talking divorce"); to avoid taking out the trash ("My back hurts"); to duck an obligation ("I've got a headache"); to maintain a public image ("I go to church every Sunday"); to make a point ("Ich bin ein Berliner"); to save face ("I had too much to drink"); to humor ("Correct as usual, King Friday"); to avoid embarrassment ("That wasn't me"); to curry favor ("I've read all your books"); to get a clerkship ("You're the greatest living jurist"); to save a dollar ("I gave at the office"); or to maintain innocence ("There are eight tiny reindeer on the rooftop")….

Read the rest

Girl who was arrested for making a tin-foil volcano tells her story

On May 1, Kiera Wilmot, a Florida high school student, was arrested for mixing toilet bowl cleaner with tin foil, causing a small, harmless explosion. Though she had a spotless school record, she was expelled and charged with a felony as an adult -- a harsh penalty widely ascribed to institutional racism (Wilmot is black). On May 16, thanks to Wilmot's bravery, a crowdfunded project by former NASA engineer Homer Hickam, and the ACLU, the charges against Wilmot were dropped and Wilmot and her twin sister were awarded a full bursary to the Advanced Space Academy program at the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala..

Now, Wilmot has written a must-read editorial for the ACLU on her experience with zero-tolerance, detailing the awful treatment she received and the thoughtless way in which the gears of the a discipline-obsessed educational system grind up its own students:

The principal and dean of discipline came over and asked me to tell them what happened. I was kind of scared, but I thought they'd understand it was an accident. Before that, I've never gotten in trouble this year other than a dress code violation because my skirt was two inches too short. I told him it was my science experiment. In my third period class I was called up to discipline. I wrote a statement to the dean of discipline explaining what had happened. Afterward I was told to sit on the resource officer's office. They told me I made a bomb on school property, and police possibly have the right to arrest me.

Read the rest

MEP explains the security problem with militarizing the Internet

The Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake has a fantastic, must-read essay on the problem with "cyber-war." She lays out the case for securing the Internet (and the world of people and systems that rely on it) through fixing vulnerabilities and making computers and networks as secure and robust as possible, rather than relying on weaknesses in security as vectors for attacking adversaries.

Mass surveillance, mass censorship, tracking and tracing systems, as well as hacking tools and vulnerabilities can be used to harm people as well as our own security in Europe. Though overregulation of the internet should never be a goal in and of itself, regulation of this dark sector is much needed to align our values and interests in a digital and hyper-connected world. There are many European examples. FinFisher software, made by UK’s Gamma Group was used in Egypt while the EU condemned human rights violations by the Mubarak regime. Its spread to 25 countries is a reminder that proliferation of digital arms is inevitable.

Vupen is perhaps best labelled as an anti-security company in France that sells software vulnerabilities to governments, police forces and others who want to use them to build (malicious) software that allows infiltrating in people’s or government’s computers.

It is unclear which governments are operating on this unregulated market, but it is clear that the risk of creating a Pandora’s box is huge if nothing is done to regulate this trade by adopting reporting obligations. US government has stated that American made, lawful intercept technologies, have come back as a boomerang when they were used against US interests by actors in third countries.

Read the rest

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Computer scientists to FBI: don't require all our devices to have backdoors for spies

In an urgent, important blog post, computer scientist and security expert Ed Felten lays out the case against rules requiring manufacturers to put wiretapping backdoors in their communications tools. Since the early 1990s, manufacturers of telephone switching equipment have had to follow a US law called CALEA that says that phone switches have to have a deliberate back-door that cops can use to secretly listen in on phone calls without having to physically attach anything to them. This has already been a huge security problem -- through much of the 1990s, AT&T's CALEA controls went through a Solaris machine that was thoroughly compromised by hackers, meaning that criminals could listen in on any call; during the 2005/6 Olympic bid, spies used the CALEA backdoors on the Greek phone company's switches to listen in on the highest levels of government.

But now, thanks to the widespread adoption of cryptographically secured messaging services, law enforcement is finding that its CALEA backdoors are of declining utility -- it doesn't matter if you can intercept someone else's phone calls or network traffic if the data you're captured is unbreakably scrambled. In response, the FBI has floated the idea of "CALEA II": a mandate to put wiretapping capabilities in computers, phones, and software.

As Felten points out, this is a terrible idea. If your phone is designed to secretly record you or stream video, location data, and messages to an adverse party, and to stop you from discovering that it's doing this, it puts you at huge risk when that facility is hijacked by criminals. Read the rest

TSA hearing for "Naked American Hero" John Brennan

Remember our happy mutant comrade John Brennan, who removed his clothes at the Portland Airport during a TSA screening? He was acquitted of a ridiculous indecent exposure charge, and now he is appealing an equally stupid fine from the Transportation Security Administration for “interfering with the screening process.” This might sound silly, but it's serious business. As Brennan points out in his press release below, "This is the first time the TSA has followed through on assessing civil penalties for 'interference with screening" purely for nonviolent, non-obstructive protected expressive conduct.'"

I'm grateful to Brennan for being a civil liberties champion. Read the rest

Short UK documentary about woman threatened with terrorism charges for videorecording cops while they stop-and-searched her boyfriend on the tube


Obama's regressive record makes Nixon look like Che

Redditor Federal Reservations has made a handy post enumerating all the regressive, authoritarian, corporatist policies enacted by the Obama administration in its one-and-a-bit terms. You know, for someone the right wing press likes to call a socialist, Obama sure makes Richard Nixon look like Che Guevara. And what's more, this is only a partial list, and excludes the parade of copyright horrors and bad Internet policy emanating from the White House, via Joe Biden's push for Six Strikes, the US Trade Rep's push for secret Internet censorship and surveillance treaties like TPP and ACTA and TAFTA; the DoJ's push to criminalize every Internet user by expanding the CFAA, and much, much more.

Obama extends Patriot Act without reform - [1] http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-05-27/news/29610822_1_terrorist-groups-law-enforcement-secret-intelligence-surveillance

Signs NDAA 2011 (and 2012, and 2013) - [2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/02/president-obama-signed-the-national-defense-authorization-act-now-what/

Appeals the Federal Court decision that “indefinite detention” is unconstitutional - [3] http://www.activistpost.com/2013/02/ndaa-hedges-v-obama-did-bill-of-rights.html

Double-taps a 16-year-old American-born US citizen living in Yemen, weeks after the boy's father was killed. Administration's rationale? He "should have [had] a far more responsible father" - [4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/anwar-al-awlakis-family-speaks-out-against-his-sons-deaths/2011/10/17/gIQA8kFssL_story.html

Continues to approve drone strikes that kill thousands of innocent civilians including women and children in Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries that do not want the US intervening; meanwhile, according to the Brookings Institute's Daniel Byman, we are killing 10 civilians for every one mid- to high- level Al Qaeda/Taliban operative. This is particularly disturbing, since now any military-aged male in a strike zone is now officially considered an enemy combatant - [5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/7361630/One-in-three-killed-by-US-drones-in-Pakistan-is-a-civilian-report-claims.html

Protects Bush’s war crimes as State Secrets - [6] [7] [8] http://www.salon.com/2010/09/08/obama_138/ https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/04/obama-doj-worse-than-bush http://washingtonindependent.com/33985/in-torture-cases-obama-toes-bush-line

Waives sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa in order to deepen military relationship with countries that have poor human rights records -[9] http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/26/why_is_obama_easing_restrictions_on_child_soldiers

Read the rest

Today, we save the Internet (again): fix the CFAA!

Read this if you want to stay out of jail.

When my friend Aaron Swartz committed suicide in January, he'd been the subject of a DoJ press-release stating that the Federal prosecutors who had indicted him were planning on imprisoning him for 25 years for violating the terms of service of a site that hosted academic journals. Aaron had downloaded millions of articles from that website, but that wasn't the problem. He was licensed to read all the articles they hosted. The problem was, the way he downloaded the articles violated the terms and conditions of the service. And bizarrely -- even though the website didn't want to press the matter -- the DoJ decided that this was an imprisonable felony, under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes it a crime to "exceed your authorization" on any online service.

The DoJ reasoned that if the law said that doing anything "unauthorized" was a crime, and if the long, gnarly hairball of legalese that no one reads before clicking "I agree" set out what you were allowed to do, then violations of that "agreement" were a felony.

Aaron's death galvanized some Congresscritters to do something about this oversight. The ancient CFAA predated the widespread use of terms of service in everyday activities like hanging out with your friends, reading the newspaper, getting an education or signing up for a dating service. Congress did not intend to create a situation where companies that provided services could put any unreasonable condition they wanted into an "agreement" you might never see ("By using this website, you accept all terms and conditions") and then ask the DoJ to put people in prison for decades if they violated them. Read the rest

What problem are we trying to solve in the copyright wars?

My latest Guardian column is "Copyright wars are damaging the health of the internet" and it looks at what we really need from proposed solutions to the copyright wars:

I've sat through more presentations about the way to solve the copyright wars than I've had hot dinners, and all of them has fallen short of the mark. That's because virtually everyone with a solution to the copyright wars is worried about the income of artists, while I'm worried about the health of the internet.

Oh, sure, I worry about the income of artists, too, but that's a secondary concern. After all, practically everyone who ever set out to earn a living from the arts has failed – indeed, a substantial portion of those who try end up losing money in the bargain. That's nothing to do with the internet: the arts are a terrible business, one where the majority of the income accrues to a statistically insignificant fraction of practitioners – a lopsided long tail with a very fat head. I happen to be one of the extremely lucky lotto winners in this strange and improbable field – I support my family with creative work – but I'm not parochial enough to think that my destiny and the destiny of my fellow 0.0000000000000000001 percenters are the real issue here.

What is the real issue here? Put simply, it's the health of the internet.

Copyright wars are damaging the health of the internet Read the rest

UK Open Rights Group is holding its first ever digital rights conference in the north

Ruth from the UK Open Rights Group sez:

ORGCon North is the first regional conference to build on the success of the national sell-out event, ORGCon, which takes place in London every year. On Saturday 13th April Open Rights Group, the UK digital rights campaigning organisation, will be running ORGCon North at the Manchester Friends' Meeting House. The event is a great introduction to digital rights issues that affect every internet user - like freedom from surveillance and free speech on Twitter and Facebook. The event runs from 11am till 5pm and is hosted by ORG-Manchester, the local campaigning group.

ORGCon North gathers experts from many technology fields and civil liberties groups across the country debating some of the big issues like: Will copyright eat the internet? Do we have a right to be offensive? There will be a keynote speech from John Buckman, chair of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and founder of the independent record label Magnatune. He will be talking about upcoming challenges to digital rights, drawing on his experiences in the UK and US. Open Rights Group are also offering an 'unconference track' with room for anyone to lead sessions or pop up a debate, to build to the conference they want.

Individual tickets are priced at £11 or £6 for ORG supporters. Tickets are free if you join ORG this month.

ORGCon North 2013 (Thanks, Ruth!) Read the rest

Politely refusing to talk to DHS checkpoints

Apparently DHS checkpoints nowhere near the border are a new thing. This guy has been videotaping his encounters and his polite refusal to answer questions.

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