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MacLeod's dystopian masterpiece Intrusion in paperback

Ken Macleod's amazing dystopian novel Intrusion is out in paperback today. Here's my review from last March:

Ken MacLeod's new novel Intrusion is a new kind of dystopian novel: a vision of a near future "benevolent dictatorship" run by Tony Blair-style technocrats who believe freedom isn't the right to choose, it's the right to have the government decide what you would choose, if only you knew what they knew.

Set in North London, Intrusion begins with the story of Hope, a mother who has become a pariah because she won't take "the fix," a pill that repairs known defects in a gestating fetus's genome. Hope has a "natural" toddler and is pregnant with her second, and England is in the midst of a transition from the fix being optional to being mandatory for anyone who doesn't have a "faith-based" objection. Hope's objection isn't based on religion, and she refuses to profess a belief she doesn't have, and so the net of social services and laws begins to close around her.

MacLeod widens the story from Hope, and her husband Hugh (a carpenter working with carbon-sequestering, self-forming "New Wood") who has moved to London from an independent Scotland, and whose childhood hides a series of vivid hallucinations of ancient people from the Ice Age-locked past. Soon we're learning about the bioscientists who toil to improve the world's genomes, the academics who study their work, the refuseniks who defy the system in small and large ways, and the Naxals, city-burning wreckers who would obliterate all of society. The Naxals, along with a newly belligerent India and Russia, are a ready-made excuse for a war-on-terror style crackdown on every corner of human activity that includes ubiquitous CCTV, algorithmic behavior monitors, and drones in every corner of the sky.

With Intrusion, MacLeod pays homage to Orwell, showing us how a society besotted with paternalistic, Cass Sunstein-style "nudging" of behavior can come to the same torturing, authoritarian totalitarianism of brutal Stalinism. MacLeod himself is a Marxist who is lauded by libertarians, and his unique perspective, combined with a flair for storytelling, yields up a haunting, gripping story of resistance, terror, and an all-consuming state that commits its atrocities with the best of intentions.

Intrusion

Transcript of Lessig's talk: "Aaron's Law"

On Naked Capitalism, The Unknown Transcriber has transcribed the full text of Lawrence Lessig's Aaron's Law talk, which was one of Larry's finest moments.

So Aaron was a hacker. But he was not just a hacker. He was an Internet activist, but not just an Internet activist. Indeed, the most important part of Aaron’s life is the part most run over too quickly – the last chunk, when he shifted his focus from this effort to advance freedom in the space of copyright, to an effort to advance freedom and social justice more generally.

And I shared this shift with him. In June of 2007 I too announced I was giving up my work on Internet and copyright to work in this area of corruption. And I’m not sure when for him this change made sense, but I’m fairly sure when it made sense for me. Happened in 2006. Aaron had come to a conference, the C3 conference, the 23rd C3 conference in Berlin, and I was with my family at the American Academy in Berlin and Aaron came to visit me. And we had a long conversation, and in the course of that conversation Aaron said to me, how are you ever going to make progress in the areas that I was working on, copyright reform, Internet regulation reform, so long as there is, as he put it, this, quote, “corruption” in the political field. I tried to deflect him a bit. I said, “Look, that’s not my field.” Not my field. And he said, “I get it. As an academic, you mean?” And I said, “Yes, as an academic, that’s not my field.” And he said, “And as a citizen, is it your field?” As a citizen is it your field?

And this was his power. Amazing, unpatented power. Like the very best teachers, he taught by asking. Like the most effective leaders, his questions were on a path, his path. They coerced you, if you wanted to be as he was. They forced you to think of who you were and what you believed in and decide, were you to be the person you thought you were? So when people refer to me as Aaron Swartz’s mentor, they have it exactly backwards. Aaron was my mentor. He taught me, he pushed me, he led me. He led me to where I work today.

Transcript: Lawrence Lessig on “Aaron’s Laws – Law and Justice in a Digital Age”: Section I

EFF-Austin benefit after Cory's Book People event on Feb 22


After my event at Austin's Book People on Feb 22, I'll be doing a benefit for EFF-Austin on their location privacy campaign. We did this the last time I came through town and it was tremendous -- come on out!

An evening with Cory Doctorow and EFF-Austin

Cypherpunks: articulates and challenges Internet freedom


Cypherpunks -- a quick, stirring, scary read -- transcribes a wide-ranging conversation between Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum (Wikileaks/Tor Project), Andy Müller-Maguhn (Chaos Computer Club) and Jérémie Zimmermann (La Quadrature Du Net).

Edited together in thematic chapters (The Militarization of Cyberspace, Fighting Total Surveillance With the Laws of Physics, Private Sector Spying), Cypherpunks exceeded my expectations. I know some of the book's protagonists personally and know how smart and principled they are. But I was afraid, going into this, that what would emerge would be a kind of preaching-to-the-choir consensus, because all four of the participants are on the same side.

Instead, I found Cypherpunks to be a genuine debate, where each speaker's best arguments -- well-polished, well-spoken, and convincing -- were mercilessly tested by the others, who subjected them to hard questions and rigorous inspection. Most of our discussions about Wikileaks lack nuance, and they're often hijacked by personal questions about Assange. Whatever you feel about Assange, he is not Wikileaks -- Wikileaks is an activity, not an organization, and its participants, including Bradley Manning, are engaged in something important and difficult and fraught, and there is a place for a debate about whether the tactics of Wikileaks best serve a the strategic end of a free and open Internet in a just and humane society.

The debate recorded in Cypherpunks -- though leavened with humor and easy to follow -- covers a lot of nuance of the sort that has been missing from the discussion. The wider points -- that the universe's in-built mathematics favor the keeping of secrets because it is easier to encrypt a message than decrypt it, say -- may dazzle, but the getting down to cases afterward, the chewing the point over and challenging it, that's where the book shines.

There aren't many titles that pack as much argument, ambiguity and theory into as small a package as Cypherpunks. It's a book you can read in an hour or two, but you'll be thinking about it for years.

Cypherpunks

ACLU guide to running an online business that respects privacy & free speech

Danielle from the ACLU sez, "The ACLU has just released a new guide for tech companies on why they should and how they can better protect user privacy and free speech. The guide features dozens of real-life case studies from A(mazon) to Z(ynga) and updated recommendations for policies and practices to take the guesswork out of avoiding expensive lawsuits, government investigations, and public relations nightmares. It walks companies through essential questions and lays out steps to spot potential privacy and free speech issues in products and business models and address these issues head-on."

Five things companies can do to protect user privacy and free speech:

Respect your data.
Companies should carefully evaluate the costs of collecting and retaining data to avoid the fallout, lawsuits, and government fines that Path suffered for silently uploading users’ contacts.

Stand up for your users’ rights.
Companies can earn public praise and user trust for protecting user privacy rights like Amazon or for supporting free speech like Facebook.

Plan ahead.
Incorporate privacy and security from start to finish, and evaluate these practices as the company grows.

Be Transparent.
Give users the ability to make informed choices by letting them know what data you collect, and how it can be used, shared, or demanded by the government. Transparency reports like Google’s are important tools.

Encourage users to speak freely.
Give users control over the content they access and the tools they use rather than censoring content like PayPal.

ACLU Guide: Tips for Companies on Protecting User Privacy and Free Speech in 2013 (Thanks, Danielle!)

Law and Little Brother

I'm excited to see the folks at Law and the Multiverse (a blog that considers legal questions through the lens of comics, movies and fiction) having a look at the legal issues raised in Little Brother. It's very timely, what with the sequel, Homeland, coming out on Tuesday!

A large portion of the book’s plot rests on the intersection of law and technology. Bruce Schneier thought the technology was handled pretty well, which is a strong endorsement. But what about the law? There are a couple of minor errors (e.g. referring to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as the “9th Circuit Appellate Division Court”) that make one wonder about the larger issues. Was it illegal for Marcus and his friends to have been imprisoned at “Gitmo-by-the-Bay” without access to an attorney and without being charged with a crime? And what about the waterboarding? Could the Bay Area Department of Homeland Security be headed by a Major General and staffed by other members of the military? Could the State Troopers have saved the day?

The Law and the Multiverse people wrote a great book that runs through all the high points of US law by examining how it applies to superheros in comic books.

Little Brother, Part 1

National Day of Courage for the Rosa Parks centennial

Lish from The Henry Ford Museum writes, "Henry Ford Museum in metro Detroit is hosting a National Day of Courage in honor of Rosa Parks' 100th birthday. We're encouraging folks to share a digital badge of courage that they want to stand up for. We'll also be unveiling the new Rosa Parks stamp from the USPS that day, too." Cory

How the NY Daily News covered Stonewall

The Stonewall Riots kicked off on June 28, 1969, and marked a turning-point in the gay rights movement. Today, they're remembered as a kind of shot heard round the world, but at the time, the coverage was a lot less sympathetic. Here's a mirror of "Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad," a story by Jerry Lisker that ran in the New York Daily News on July 6, 1969.

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn't bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt. New York City experienced its first homosexual riot. "We may have lost the battle, sweets, but the war is far from over," lisped an unofficial lady-in-waiting from the court of the Queens.

"We've had all we can take from the Gestapo," the spokesman, or spokeswoman, continued. "We're putting our foot down once and for all." The foot wore a spiked heel. According to reports, the Stonewall Inn, a two-story structure with a sand painted brick and opaque glass facade, was a mecca for the homosexual element in the village who wanted nothing but a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.

Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad (via Making Light)

(Image: New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons)

It's Internet Freedom Day: time to share MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech


Update: Holmes from Fight For the Future sez, "For Martin Luther King day, we made a video about how if SOPA had passed, you could have gone to jail for posting 'I Have a Dream'. Ironically, the video has already been taken down. Remember, if SOPA had passed, *entire sites* could have been shut down simply for linking to a video of Dr. King's historic speech."

Update 2: It's back up.


Tiffiniy from Fight For the Future sez,

A year ago today, the internet went on strike and dealt the final knockout to censorship bills in the U.S. Congress, SOPA and PIPA. To celebrate, a bunch of the people have declared January 18th, 'Internet Freedom Day.' They're asking people to help with a new holiday tradition of sharing one thing -- on their blogs or social networks -- that should never be censored. Doing that reminds us all that we can and will protect free speech on the web.

For our part at Fight for the Future, as MLK Day is coming up, we realized that one thing that we all care about deeply that faces constant censorship is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic 'I Have a Dream' speech. It's hard to find something that is as important to watch and learn from, yet since it is copyrighted until 2038, Youtube and other sites censor unabridged versions of the speech. You're supposed to wait 25 years to share it.

To celebrate both Internet Freedom Day and MLK Day, we made a video containing the complete 17-minute 'I Have a Dream' speech... so people can share it on Facebook, Twitter, and their blogs. Doing just that is a small act of civil disobedience to celebrate the freedom that Dr. King fought for and make sure his words reach people around the globe this weekend. Dr. King said, 'one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.'

Aaron Swartz passed almost a week ago today. Before that, he spent his life creating massive equality and freedom of spirit through his internet activism. Aaron and the loss of him more than ever reminds me that I am not okay with a world where when someone who is just learning about civil rights, race, and our history, goes on the web to see MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech and is confronted with a notice that says "this video has been removed." That kind of world is untenable, and we should fight against it.

We've been reeling from Aaron's death, so we're sorry this may be the first you're hearing about Internet Freedom Day. But, please do what you can, and tell people how they can commemorate how powerful the internet-using public can be in creating and protecting our social goods.

MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech is copyrighted. Share it anyway.

City buses across America now covertly recording passengers' conversations

City buses across America increasingly have hidden microphones that track and record the conversations that take place on them. It's easy to see the reasoning behind this: once it's acceptable to video-record everything and everyone on a bus because some crime, somewhere was thus thwarted, then why not add audio? If all you need to justify an intrusion into privacy is to show that some bad thing, somewhere, can be so prevented, then why not? After all, "If you've got nothing to hide..."

According to the product pamphlet for the RoadRecorder 7000 system made by SafetyVision (.pdf), “Remote connectivity to the RoadRecorder 7000 NVR can be established via the Gigabit Ethernet port or the built-in 3G modem. A robust software ecosystem including LiveTrax vehicle tracking and video streaming service combined with SafetyNet central management system allows authorized users to check health status, create custom alerts, track vehicles, automate event downloads and much more.”

The systems use cables or WiFi to pair audio conversations with camera images in order to produce synchronous recordings. Audio and video can be monitored in real-time, but are also stored onboard in blackbox-like devices, generally for 30 days, for later retrieval. Four to six cameras with mics are generally installed throughout a bus, including one near the driver and one on the exterior of the bus.

Cities that have installed the systems or have taken steps to procure them include San Francisco, California; Eugene, Oregon; Traverse City, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore Maryland; Hartford, Connecticut; and Athens, Georgia.

There are lots more exciting possibilities opened up here. For example, our phones and laptops could continuously stream all the audio from our immediate surroundings when we're in public, even when we're not actively using them. No one would listen to them in real-time (or, at least, no one would be authorized to do this), unless they were a cop or someone in government. But when a crime was committed, imagine how useful it would be if all the phones in the vicinity could be tapped for a record of the event!

Why not? If you've got nothing to hide?

This is the NSA's argument, by the way. They're recording all of the Internet and voice traffic in the USA, but they only plan on examining it after the fact, to find criminals who do bad, bad things. Once you accept that logic, there's no reason that they shouldn't put prisoner-tracking ankle-cuffs on all of us (mobile phones are only slightly less invasive than these, anyway, in the current legislative regime), start using lawful interception backdoors to watch us through the webcams in our consoles and computers, and so on.

It's also UK Home Secretary Theresa May's argument in favour of her "Snooper's Charter" -- the communications act she's pushing, which will give law enforcement the power to order service providers to retain any data, and give government and law enforcement access to it.

Public Buses Across Country Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations [Kim Zetter/Wired] (via Wil Wheaton)

EFF Power Up fundraiser: every dollar you give is matched 2-to-1


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is running a fundraising challenge called "Power Up Your Donation," where every dollar donated is matched two-to-one by a group of major donors. My family has put up part of the $140,000 matching fund, because we're living in a world where technology could go either way: it might end up continuing to empower us and improve our lives, or become the agent of an unimaginably invasive corporate surveillance state. Without EFF and groups like it, we don't stand a chance. I worked for EFF for many years, and I've never seen an organization watch the pennies more closely and make a dollar go further.

Power Up Your Donation | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Donate to Public Knowledge, avert the Mayapocalypse

Michael sez, "While preparing the PK bunker for the December 21st Mayan Apocalypse, we made a startling discovery: a machine powerful enough to prevent the end of the world. Needless to say, we were excited. The only problem? The machine's only power source is donations to Public Knowledge. And, yes, we shot some video. We are so confident that this device will work that we offer you this UNCONDITIONAL GUARANTEE: if you donate to Public Knowledge before the Mayan Apocalypse, the world will not end on December 21st."

Help Us Stop the Mayan Apocalypse (Thanks, Michael)

Understanding the NDAA, a US law that makes it possible to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial

Omems sends us, "ProPublica's point-by-point discussion of why this year's NDAA might not allow for the indefinite detention of US citizens. As clear and concise a summary as I've seen, and provides a bit of hope that our rights aren't completely irrelevant to our representatives."

I don't know that I'd got that far. ProPublica concludes that some of the senators who voted for NDAA clearly believe (and intend) that it will be used to lock up American citizens and lawful residents forever, without a trial or any meaningful due process. And all of them expect that the NDAA will allow for indefinite detention without charge or trial for foreigners who are captured abroad, or who happen to visit the USA (tourists beware). As one of those foreigners who often visits the USA on a work-visa, I'm not exactly comforted by this news.

What about people detained in the U.S. who aren’t citizens or permanent residents?

They could still be indefinitely detained.

Human rights and civil libertarian groups criticized the amendment for falling short of the protections in the constitution under the Fifth Amendment, which says that any “person” in the U.S. be afforded due process.

In the floor debate, Feinstein said she agreed with critics that allowing anybody in the U.S. to be detained indefinitely without charges “violates fundamental American rights.” Feinstein said she didn’t think she had the necessary votes to pass a due-process guarantee for all.

Cutting through the Controversy about Indefinite Detention and the NDAA (Thanks, Omem!)

Texas student suspended for refusing RFID tracker


A student in San Antonio, TX, has been suspended from school for refusing wear a RFID tracking device on privacy and religious grounds (she believes the tracker is somehow related to the "Mark of the Beast"). The school's funding is based on student attendance, so they use prisoner-style trackers to follow students' movements. A judge has temporarily reversed the suspension.

The suspended student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was notified by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio that she won’t be able to continue attending John Jay High School unless she wears the badge around her neck, which she has been refusing to do. The district said the girl, who objects on privacy and religious grounds, beginning Monday would have to attend another high school in the district that does not yet employ the RFID tags.

The Rutherford Institute said it would go to court and try to nullify the district’s decision. The institute said that the district’s stated purpose for the program — to enhance their coffers — is “fundamentally disturbing.”

“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” said John Whitehead, the institute’s president.

Student Suspended for Refusing to Wear a School-Issued RFID Tracker [David Kravets/Wired]

Encounter with a New Mexico "internal border" checkpoint

Paul sez, "Man is illegally detained at an internal border patrol checkpoint in New Mexico for nearly a half hour, not being allowed to leave and at first told that he wasn't being detained until the border patrol eventually told him he was being detained for unspecified reasons. He recorded the entire exchange on video, and spends most of the time asking when he is free to go. Eventually the patrol gives up and allows him to leave, but not before making threatening gestures, warning him that New Mexico police were on their way, and accusing him of criminally blocking traffic when he was asking to leave and wasn't given permission."

Abusive Border Patrol Agents NM Checkpoint (Thanks, Paul!)