Monthly Archives: August 2011

Chaos, information abundance and the Kardashev scale of civilisations: 2009 interview with Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Just over a month ago, I published the full transcript of my interview with Julian Assange at the 2009 Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin. If you’ve read my new book Barefoot into Cyberspace, you’ll know from Chapter 2 (“Courage is contagious”) that I also interviewed Daniel Domscheit-Berg – then known as Daniel Schmitt – at around the same time. Today I’m publishing the full transcript of that interview.

Daniel’s been in the news last week, after the Chaos Computer Club, the renowned German hacker organisation who put on the Congress each year in the days between Christmas and New Year, expelled him from their number. OpenLeaks – the spin-off whistle-blowing website Daniel has been developing since his split with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange midway through 2010 – was felt by Club members to be exploiting the collective’s reputation when it used the once-every-four-years Chaos Communications Camp as a platform to announce an initial round of security testing to the world’s media. The following week, news began to emerge that Domscheit-Berg destroyed data leaked to WikiLeaks (motivated, he says, by fears about lax security), for example by whistle-blowers associated with the Bank of America. Just yesterday, he was in the news again thanks to new revelations about a possible data breach at WikiLeaks. Enemies of transparency and free expression must be mighty glad of the respite this in-fighting is affording them.

2009 was a simpler time. Julian and Daniel were still working together, and that work was not yet the focus of the world’s attention. In this interview, Daniel talks about his philosophical motivations for being involved in WikiLeaks, and the strong ideological connections between WikiLeaks and the Chaos Computer Club. As with the Assange interview, I am publishing this now for the cheap thrills of hindsight and the benefit of posterity. I make no claim, and nor should anyone else, that the opinions expressed in this interview conducted more than 18 months ago are opinions Daniel holds today.

A few more random notes:

  • This transcript is basically word for word, except for explanatory notes I have added in italics. It is, moreover, the words of a non-native English speaker. So apologies if it’s hard to read as text. If you want something easier to read, consider reading my book.
  • I use ellipses (“…”) to denote pauses in conversation, or changes of tack mid-sentence, and not elided speech.
  • As with the Assange interview, if there’s enough interest, I might find a way to share the audio of this interview as well, so please indicate interest in the comments.

Here goes…

Interview recorded 29 December 2009 at the 26th Chaos Communications Congress, held at the bcc Berliner Conference Centre in Berlin, Germany. “Interviewer” is Becky Hogge, “Respondent” is Daniel Domscheit-Berg (then known as Daniel Schmitt), spokesperson of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

[Start of recorded material]

Interviewer:   So this is Daniel Schmitt and first of all your role within WikiLeaks, are there defined roles? What’s your role?

Respondent:  I’m sort of a spokesperson.

Interviewer:   You’re the spokesperson.

Respondent:  No, there are different spokespeople obviously, so I’m one of them.

Interviewer:   So my first question is, I was really struck by…ummm.. when you gave in your presentation, you said you’ve provided more scoops around the world in one year than the WSJ have in 30 years. Why do you think that WikiLeaks is so successful at delivering scoops compared to the people whose real job it is?

Respondent:  So first of all it was the Washington Post.

Interviewer:   Oh, sorry.

Respondent:  That’s all right. Then, it’s since we are in existence, so that means like in the last 2½ years or so. And that was not something we said but rather something that The National quoted, so …

Interviewer:   But nonetheless it does seem that you are never out of the news these days.

Respondent:  Yes, that’s… OK, so there… I think there is various explanations for this. One is that obviously a lot of people are starting to use the internet and they start to see that there are possibilities maybe outside of what they perceived before as, let’s say, the opportunities they have within the social framework that they know, or other possibilities where they can interact. So there are a lot of people that obviously have knowledge about things that are going on, but that don’t have any close reporter to them in their life where they feel they would want to talk to a journalist because they can trust them. So that is something where we help, just because we are… we have a certain reputation by now, that helps. And we offer these services to anyone that feels motivated in this right moment in time, where this person feels motivated. In the sense that you can go online and just do it, when you have this peak of motivation of doing it. You have reasons to believe that this is anonymous. You don’t have to worry about who could you contact, what newspaper could you call? I don’t know, about these sorts of things. And that I think leads to us receiving a lot of, more and more, high quality material.

Interviewer:   That’s not simple though, because making people trust an architecture or a system, that it’s secure, must be a big job. I mean, when you first launched a lot of people… one of the big worries was that the system wouldn’t be secure, you know. So how have you built that reputation? I must myself try and submit something to find out.

Respondent:  No, that’s all right. The thing is it’s built by success…

Interviewer:   So you’ve had one success…

Respondent:  …People see – yes – and people see that somebody else entrusted us with confidence and with… entrusted us with something that might have screwed him over if it went wrong; and it worked out. And the more good examples there are where this works out for people I guess the more people will rely on you and they hear about you and then maybe they see that there’s been other information that has been much more confidential or where you think, “Oh wow this has been more risky than what I’m doing here”. I mean, most of the things, it’s not like lives are at stake for people that provide most of the information. So I mean there are certainly lives at stake for some people. For these we need to take special care. But generally that’s what we’re trying to say with “courage is contagious” because one of these things that we try to advocate is that people are… if people perceive that you are doing something courageous and you’re not suffering from it because you’re doing it wrong, then they see that as a good example.

Interviewer:   So, in saying that, are you implicitly saying that the mainstream media, who were… before WikiLeaks were the place where leaks would go to, have failed to establish that trust?

Respondent:  OK, so as I said initially, there are many, many reasons to this. This trust thing I think is one part. You just don’t have to deal with newspapers, especially single reporters or whatever, because for that single purpose of leaking a document there is a service. Compared to, I don’t know, finding the right newspaper that has the interest in that specific topic that you could provide information of, about. And then finding the right journalist in that paper that you will trust, that [has integrity], that writes good stories, I don’t know. And in the end what do you get? You don’t get anything but a journalist sitting on your document, in most cases.

Interviewer:   Right, because you have promised to publish.

Respondent:  Yes, and that is the next thing why people come to us and not newspapers is… Newspapers do not provide all the information, from my point of view at least, that is necessary to… in order to provoke the change that is possible with the information. Or that actually the source, in many cases, I guess, wants to see. So the source has an objective. They want that what they expose becomes known to people so that something changes. That is in most cases their motivation. If this is because they are pissed off by people, whoever they work for or if it’s because they feel that something morally is going on, but anyway they want something to change and that is why they are leaking the document. So they want that people know about it in as much detail as possible and that’s why they are giving us stuff so that not just one journalist that they give it to makes a story about it but actually everyone can do a story about it. So that is the next, maybe the next component what motivates people to come to us instead of going to the regular press.

Interviewer:   It strikes me… I had the wrong impression of you guys before I met you and Julian here because I’d thought that what you were engaged in was very much more directly related to failures inside the mainstream media but the more I speak to you and the more I think actually that’s only just a small side effect of, you know… Actually what you’re doing is getting truth out there and working towards transparency and it sounds like you’re learning to work with mainstream journalists. Your next steps are to use the… to take your practice and work with journalists to make the leaks more effective, is that right?

Respondent:  Yes, absolutely. This is, we’re sort of a more complementary effort, or we’re filling a gap that was opened up for various reasons.

Interviewer:   What reasons do you think that gap opened up?

Respondent:  Ah, that’s complicated. I think there are a lot of different aspects. So it’s a general funding situation with all of the media. The whole idea that, or the whole topic that no-one has a real idea of where it’s going to with print versus digital media and there’s a lot of liability issues with, let’s say, hot stories that are being covered in investigative journalism that is being conducted. So it’s not very attractive any more to invest in investigative journalism. It’s very expensive, it’s very unlikely that you… or it’s becoming more and more unlikely that you get material just because maybe, I don’t know, journalists are not, they can’t always protect their sources anymore. That leads to sources not being maybe so open to giving out material in the first place, which is where we come in again. That might be another angle. But… so the whole legal aspect. But there are so many reasons why this whole industry is suffering from these developments and we are sort of a complementary effort to try to make this cheap again. I’m sure that Julian has mentioned something about this economic side of ..? [I guess I nod here] OK. And to encourage all, I don’t know, single reporters, every investigative journalist, every journalist actually that feels he wants to investigate, to have access to this…

Interviewer:   Who funds the WikiLeaks? Do you disclose that?

Respondent:  Well… WikiLeaks was initially funded and is up to now still funded by people that are believing in what this project is doing.

Interviewer:   Individuals?

Respondent:  Yes. So it’s individual people that are investing money into keeping this thing running. That is how it was kick-started and we’re still sort of in the kick-start phase that is now going over, let’s hope, into some more regular operational model.

Interviewer:   And the operational model will be, do you think, based on donations or will you start to look at commercial models? Or are you not there yet?

Respondent:  There are ideas for commercial models. I mean, we’re always trying to figure out how to make best use of whatever we’re doing. Ironically, if you provide things for free they are not worth anything. Which is, by creating scarcity you somehow create value that’s objectively there before, but no-one cared about it.

Interviewer:   But that’s a problem everybody is facing now, not just …

Respondent:  Yeah, this is, yeah that is just interesting to perceive for us. And there are some commercial models that we could think of. On the other hand the general idea that information will be public and it will be free for everyone to use, that will never change. So we are… for the funding part, I guess we have to rely on getting partnerships with organisations that fund these kind of things, like investigative journalism foundations, human rights foundations, all sorts of anti-corruption people maybe, depending on, I mean we’re working for very different groups of people that can benefit from what we are doing. So all these people hopefully will be supporting what we are doing at some point in time and from that there will be a pool of resources that can sustain this, let’s say, on a regular basis. And then there is the second part of people, independent people that are still contributing individual contributions and that, I guess, will always, let’s say, guarantee the independence from single points of interest. So that’s why we also rely on people donating servers for infrastructure. Just because the infrastructure as an operational part as, let’s say, the project existing with its mechanisms is something that should be carried by individuals, rather by any foundation for example.

Interviewer:   Sure. Good. I just want to shift the conversation now and talk about transparency and information. Obviously there are lots of traditions around freedom of expression. There’s an American tradition, which is a very radical free speech tradition. There’s a European tradition which is freedom of expression, which is… there are contingencies on free speech based around what either the state or society would see as societal goods, so illegal content, blah blah blah. But I think there’s also this kind of establishment view that people shouldn’t know everything. There’s kind of a very – [reacting to growing noise levels in the CCC press room] we’re going to have to speak a bit louder, sorry – but a kind of paternalistic view that it’s right to cover the eyes of society to promote, I don’t know, integration or harmony.

Respondent:  Yes, no absolutely, absolutely.

Interviewer:   It strikes me that WikiLeaks sits right at the end of the spectrum of ideas about free speech. Are you for radical transparency? What’s your philosophy as an organisation?

Respondent:  OK, so if that is a matter, OK so you want, just to be clear: as an organisation, that is a different question from …

Interviewer:   All right, as a personal view I’ll ask you.

Respondent:  OK. I mean, I’m absolutely for any kind of radical transparency that you would want to think about, I guess. I mean, in the end, so what I believe is that, and I think, I mean in parts this fits with what the whole project is about and that’s basically, I think, why I’m involved with this as well because I believe in these things personally and they fit into what this project accomplishes. So in order to get to, let’s say, the next step of civilisational model that we need for this world to live in, I mean in the next few hundred years or whatever. I’m not sure if you heard about the Kardashev Scheme for example, if that is something  you …

Interviewer:   The Carter ..?

Respondent:  Kardashev Scheme.

Interviewer:   No.

Respondent:  It’s done by some Russian astronomer from the 1960s and it’s a civilisational model to measure …

Interviewer:   Like that? [I’m spelling it out on a bit of paper, Daniel reaches over and corrects the spelling]

Respondent:  Like that, Kardashev.  I mean, it depends a bit on how it gets translated from Russian to… but you should find something like this.

Interviewer:   And he talks about the next step for civilisation?

Respondent:  No, he talks about how can you measure the progress of civilisational advancement. So how can you measure at what stage in its development, in its evolution is this civilisation. And he proposed this model that said that he’s going to measure it just by the energy production of a civilisation. So it’s purely related to, let’s say, your technological advancement of society that will happen basically in whatever society you are. You have pure technological evolution, that represents how advanced you are as a society and it’s independent from your political views, social, religious views, whatever. So it’s a pretty factual view. So right now we are some way in between Type 0 which is like the start of this whole scheme and Type 1, which is the first step. So we’re at point 0.8 I think. [I’m probably looking a bit baffled at this point] It’ll make sense in a second, OK? So a Type 1 civilisation, from an energy production perspective, means that we are harvesting all the energy that we can produce with what is on this planet. So this encompasses like all natural resources like wind, solar, all of that. And if we are, if we have the means to harvest this all as efficiently as possible we are, from an energy production perspective, in a Type 1 civilisation. So if you now abstract the requirements you have for this next kind of world to live in, or civilisational model, then you realise that the whole idea behind Type 1 is that we are living in a global world and that we today realise that whatever we do is happening on a global level, that I need to know if I’m buying certain things in a shop today, from a certain brand, that this has an implication on whatever’s happening on the remote end of the world. So that… this information that is underlying my decisions that I’m taking and basically anyhow that I’m behaving in this whole world is very crucial to make sure that the, let’s say, the holistic development of our global society in some way is, let’s say, at least tending to go into a good direction. So the more people that have access and easy access and full access and detailed access and unfiltered access to all of this information that we have, that is out there, and that in many cases unfortunately people are trying to hide because they know it would change things, so this information becomes really important. Just because we need to be able to take these decisions. So for me it’s basically a matter of being able to sustain society to a point where we, as a species, can actually, I don’t know, survive in the long run just because we had the right information to take decisions. I’m not sure if we got away too far from the question.

Interviewer:   No, actually I think that’s a really interesting way of putting it. I suppose the fear that the paternalistic approach has when they shield people from information is that people can’t cope with all the information that they will use maybe primitive instinctual tools to interpret the information, like ideology or this… and you’ll get the wrong… so an example would be with the corpus of emails that you published from UEA. Unfortunately because there was a very strong ideological barrier, then it didn’t have this effect that maybe it could have done if people were open and ready for information.

Respondent:  Yes, but the main thing is I believe that it’s like Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Nobel Prize speech that the only solution to, what is the exact translation?

Interviewer:   The only solution to speech is more speech? No.

Respondent:  No, it’s similar to it. The only solution to the problems we have in society is that everything is everyone’s business. And that, I think, is the key to the information society, is that we have to actually care about what is, what information is, and about the information we have. So that we go from a world that we live in right now where we rely on others taking responsibility for knowing about things but we don’t actually want to know about things, that we are in a society where we expect politicians and the media to filter things for us because we don’t want to know all about it. That we go from this society to a society where we actually want to know. So on a philosophical perspective you could now argue maybe that, let’s say, one of the proofs of being global enough to survive in the long run is that you actually care. And that you’re not just deciding to offshore the responsibility – to offshore? Not offshore but – outsource the responsibility, the knowledge and everything to someone who is taking the decision for you and you’re just like some sheep in a herd running after it. But that actually you participate again. It’s going from spectator sports again to participating in the game, somehow. And if you don’t, you’ll just be sitting there watching it until it’s over and that’s it, basically.

Interviewer:   Yeah. This is a big question. I feel bad about throwing it in, but what happens to privacy in this world?

Respondent:  That’s a good question. In a world where you think that …

Interviewer:   …If everything is everybody’s business …

Respondent:  …Where does the privacy belong?

Interviewer:   Yeah. Because the traditional understanding is that privacy underpins human dignity, which is the foundation of every human right going. But again, I heard Julian say privacy is like terrorism, you know. People invoke it as a fear mechanism when actually… so what happens to privacy?

Respondent:  Yes, the question is where do you draw that barrier? It’s like, I don’t know, hearing of, I don’t know, child abuse cases where people had, I don’t know, their children locked into cellars for years…

Interviewer:   …And nobody knew…

Respondent:  …And nobody knew. Or people… or you find out even worse that people could easily have known if they just had cared about it. Or had just not been this ignorant around… of everyone else, which is sort of a misunderstood privacy again. It’s, I think the question …

Interviewer:   That’s great. “I’ll see your privacy and I’ll raise you paedophilia”. That’s a really good answer.

Respondent:  No [laughs]… you know… it’s… the question is not, I think, about privacy. It’s more a redefinition of something like, not sentiment, but maybe emotional capacity towards others as well. It’s… the question is: Where does privacy begin, and where does your emotional attachment or your emotional binding to another human being begin as well? It’s not so much about… I mean sure there are facts, I mean we’re publishing documents and in many cases this pertains to private information but then where’s the trade-off between the public benefit out of spoiling someone’s privacy because he was doing something bad, and the benefit that the public has? Where’s this trade-off protecting that privacy again? Where’s the trade-off between not being too interested in what your neighbour is doing and maybe understanding that something terrible is happening? So, this is all part of what I think can only be solved by having people that are of a good nature and that have a good horizon, good perspectives in life and emotional… good emotional character somehow. So it all, again, boils down to all of us having access to more information, to understand how complex this world is, how complex human beings are, how complex human emotion is and how all of this affects how people are behaving. It’s similar to this BNP membership list, for example. The question is what do you do? What do you make out of it? So do you torch your neighbour’s car because you understand that he’s a BNP member and you don’t agree with his radical political view? Or do you maybe start, I don’t know, talking to him when you meet him on the street and you start questioning why he has these motives and you understand that he wasn’t born like this or it’s not a genetic issue that he has, but it’s rather that he as a person has been treated in a certain way all over his life, that he has developed these political views. So I totally agree, from my perspective everyone is entitled to his political views, whether left or right, it doesn’t matter, he’s a person and that is his private business. But if that means that for me as a person in this society this has implications because these people are interacting with me then I need to understand their motives and I need to understand why… what maybe we have to change in this world in order to not grow people that are hateful towards others, that have these radical views. But rather to grow people that are happy and that live in a world that they are comfortable with.

Interviewer:   I have one last question, which is going to a different… shifting again. And that is: What is the link between WikiLeaks and CCC [the Chaos Computer Club]? You did a great talk here. Why is this a good audience for you?

Respondent:  So I think one of the main reasons is that, let’s say, we are on the internet, this is how, I mean we’re publishing on the internet and all of these things and we are defending a lot of the freedoms on the internet just because we are engaged in keeping the internet a place for free speech and for publication of information. So this is where there’s a mutual interest in what we do and what the CCC does and what a lot of other technology, computer-oriented cultures do. So this is, let’s say, one part. Then Germany generally, the German computer scene is pretty political as well, which is a good thing – at least compared to, let’s say, from my perspective at least, to the United States for example. They are very more technology-focused here, it’s, I think, traditionally more political, in some way. So this is how I think that fits on a very basic level. And these people know what we are doing, they know… they are… maybe there are a few people in our society that understand the real value of the technology we’re using. So they understand what is at stake that we are trying to defend and what the implications would be if no-one was defending it. And that is, I think, why they know they can value what we are doing maybe much better than my grandfather, for example, who understands why suppression of free speech is an issue, why it’s important that no-one can censor the press, but he does not maybe understand why defending this medium that is just transporting information from A to B and not doing anything else, why defending this medium is so important for future generations to come. Because no-one wants to revert what we’ve done wrong, it’s better to just prevent before something has gone wrong.

Interviewer:   Did you come to conferences like this before you were involved in WikiLeaks?

Respondent:  Yes, sure.

Interviewer:   What’s your background? Journalist, hacker?

Respondent:  No, I’ve had some… I’ve worked in the computer network security industry for quite a while so that’s basically my background and I have a large interest in… I mean as everyone here, as I said… I have some political interests and a big interest in the freedom of speech and freedom of the press and the media and just to preserve the ways of communication for the future. I mean, I understand why that is important, so…

Interviewer:   Excellent. That’s it. Thank you very much. Do you want to say anything more?

Respondent:  That’s all right. I guess we had some good questions. I just hope I was not still too tired.

[End of recorded material]

Too much information: links for week ending 26 August 2011

Torture in Bahrain becomes routine with help from Nokia Siemens
This in-depth report from Bloomberg details the extent to which repressive regimes are using Western technology to monitor dissidents: “Across the Middle East in recent years, sales teams at Siemens, Nokia Siemens, Munich-based Trovicor and other companies have worked their connections among spy masters, police chiefs and military officers to provide country after country with monitoring gear”.

UK Home Secretary meets with Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry
The UK Home Secretary was scheduled to meet with senior police officers and executives from Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry this week to examine how to stop citizens using social media platforms to plot violence following the UK riots earlier this month.

Turkmen leader renews call for satellite dish ban
The president of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has called for a satellite dish ban because the “reflect negatively” on the architectural appearance of the country’s capital, Ashgabat. The president first proposed the removal of satellite dishes in 2007. The Moscow Times reports that “Satellite television is one of the few means by which residents of Turkmenistan can access independent channels in a country dominated by state media”.

Dangerous cybercrime treaty pushes surveillance and secrecy worldwide
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports on the resurrection of the decade-old International Convention on Cybercrime, which it calls “one of the world’s worst internet law treaties” thanks to the overbroad surveillance powers it grants law enforcement agencies without specifying correspondingly strong privacy protections for citizens.

Slovenia launches web app to monitor public spending
Techcrunch reports on the launch of a new online public service to monitor public spending in Slovenia and reflects on the different types of challenges posed by open budget monitoring in countries outside of the US.

“Vietnamese authorities orchestrate DDoS attack against Viet Tan website”
The No Firewall blog draws the conclusion that a sustained Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on pro-democracy website is likely to have been orchestrated by Vietnamese authorities, based on the fact that those authorities lifted a technical censorship block on which otherwise would have inadvertently protected it from the Vietnam-based botnet responsible for the attack.

ICANN departures after Web suffix vote draw criticism
The Washington Post report on the revolving door at internet governance organisation ICANN (the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers), which has seen its chairman depart to take on a new role at a commercial top level domain (TLD) registrar just four days after ICANN voted to introduce hundreds of new TLDs.

Stallman warns of new software patent risk in Europe
The father of Free Software Richard Stallman has written an op-ed in the UK Guardian warning that a proposed EU-wide “unitary patent” system could usher in an age of software patents in Europe. Unlike in the US, software patents are generally not permitted in the EU, following a successful campaign to prevent their introduction several years ago led by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) and others.

The technology of corporate accountability
David Sasaki tracks the history of corporate accountability tools – from crowd-sourced wikis to recent data mashing projects and beyond – in this epic post for his Latin America-focussed blog Informacion Civica.

When algorithms control the world
This excellent feature from BBC reporter Jane Wakefield examines the role algorithms play in our cultural and economic lives and highlights the dangers of creating algorithmically-devised decision-making systems we are unable to understand.

Inside the hackerspace
Heather Brooke recounts her tour of the world’s hacker spaces, from the Chaos Computer Club in Berlin to Noisebridge in San Francisco, and argues that these informal, creative workshops and clubs are “the digital-age equivalent of English Enlightenment coffee houses”. Brooke’s book “The Revolution Will Be Digitised” is released in the UK this week.

UK social media controls point to wider “info war”
This Reuters Africa analysis piece reveals that the UK is positioning itself closer to China than to its European and American allies with its ambitions to control the use of social media services.

The US is falling behind in the race to open government
Susan Crawford details how countries such as Brazil, Kenya, India and the UK are racing ahead of the United States in their employment of online technology to promote open government, in this analysis piece for Bloomberg.

Report: The evolving landscape of internet control
This new report from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society summarises two years of their research into internet censorship and control in the context of changing government strategies across the world, and offers some thoughts on the future of internet freedom.

Book Review: Free Ride
Evgeny Morozov takes a forensic approach to his review of former Billboard editor Robert Levine’s new book “Free Ride: How today’s internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy”, singling out for particular criticism a content industry that believes “the internet is merely TV on steroids – its impact on the Arab spring, economic and human development and the future of learning be damned”.

Barefoot onto the airwaves

A last-minute roadtrip to hang out with the vanguard at the Chaos Communications Camp in a former Soviet airbase outside of Berlin has seen me check out of polite society for the past week-or-so. Good times were had.

Now I’m back, I’ve been catching up on some of the press for Barefoot Into Cyberspace, and I’d like to draw your attention to two longish interviews that aired last week and that I think are worth some of your time, as well as another one that’s happening this week.

The first is with Jamillah Knight for the BBC Outriders show on Radio 5 Live (which older readers may remember as Pods and Blogs). An impressive lady and a really fun and challenging interview, we cover hippies, consumerism, the politics of hacking and the contradictions of undertaking radical activism in liberal democracies.

The second is with the chaps at Linux Outlaws, and goes on for a full hour. Among other hardcore digital rights issues, we talk about the changing role of ISPs in policing the net, and whether we’ll ever be able to truly reclaim the word hacker.

This Friday, the mike is turned at Little Atoms with me in the hot seat and Neil asking the questions. If you’re within the London orbital, tune in to Resonance 104.4fm at 7pm to hear me squirm, or else subscribe to the feed for the podcast.

Happy listening!

Tux flies high at CCCamp 2011 - photo courtesy of esouillat@Flickr

Tux flies high at CCCamp 2011 - photo courtesy of esouillat@Flickr

Too much information: week ending 19 August

Ugandan Minister accuses opposition of staging “Twitter insurrection”
The BBC reports that Ugandan Security Minister Muruli Mukasa has accused the opposition Forum for Democratic Change party in Uganda of using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to prepare Ugandan youth for insurrection. The accusation comes amid widespread protests against the rising cost of living in Uganda.

BART “pulls a Mubarak” in San Francisco
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that operators of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) shut down mobile phone service at four stations in central San Francisco on the weekend in response to a planned protest against the police.

Argentinean court blocks access to whistle-blowing websites
The Argentinean National Criminal Court has issued an order to all ISPs in the country to block the websites and, Global Voices reports. Leakymails is a project which publishes the email correspondence of political officials, among other documents, in order to expose corruption. The interim blocking order follows a complaint from the Argentinean Ministry of Security.

California legislators at crossroads over learning resources
A battle is heating up in California over legislation designed to legitimise new fees being charged by commercial publishers for online community college courses. The debate has left legislators conflicted over whether to encourage commercial publishers to charge students for online courses or instead promote open educational resources.

OpenLeaks founder’s integrity questioned following expulsion from hacker collective
The Chaos Computer Club (CCC), Germany’s oldest hacker collective, has voted to expel Daniel Domscheit-Berg after he falsely claimed that his new whistleblowing website, OpenLeaks, had been vetted by the CCC. Domscheit-Berg worked with Julian Assange on the WikiLeaks project, but left last summer citing irreconcilable differences. A spokesperson for the CCC said he now doubted Domscheit-Berg’s integrity.
Report | Interview with CCC spokesperson

“Repressing the internet, Western style”
Evgeny Morozov argues in the Wall Street Journal that repressive regimes are closely watching Western responses to social media-fuelled uprisings like the UK riots: “Such regimes are eager to see what kind of precedents will be set by Western officials as they wrestle with these evolving technologies. They hope for at least partial vindication of their own repressive policies”.

Auto-BAHN is a smartphone application based around Bluetooth and wi-fi that provides users with a method to quickly communicate with others during an emergency situation when telecommunication systems are down.

The Public Domain Review
The Public Domain Review is an irreverent online cultural almanac that specialises in works in the public domain: “By providing a curated collection of exotic scraps and marvellous rarities and linking to freely distributable copies of works in online archives and from far flung corners of the web, we hope to encourage readers to further utilise and explore public domain works by themselves”.

Video: How to improve your podcasting
This short video from the BBC gives some great tips for podcasters.

Too much information: week ending 12 August

Turkey backtracks on controversial internet filtering plans
Turkey’s communications regulator has postponed the introduction of mandatory internet filtering until November, reacting to growing public concern about the new regulation.

RIM helps police inquiries into London riots
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) have stated that they will “co-operate fully” with Home Office and UK police force investigations into the London riots this week, which are rumoured to have been facilitated by the encrypted BlackBerry Messenger service.

Baidu shuts down Twitter-like service
Baidu, China’s dominant search engine company, will close its micro-blogging platform Baidu Talk in August. Despite attracting 1m users in its first three months, the platform faced stiff competition from Sina’s Weibo among other domestic products. Facebook and Twitter are blocked within China.

India: Legal case prompts fears for intermediary liability
The Spicy IP blog reports on a recent decision in the Delhi High Court which held MySpace liable for copyright infringement: “The most significant implication of such a ruling… is that it recognises that the IT Act does not protect intermediaries against copyright infringement claims”.

Dutch journalist fears criminal charges after exposing flawed technology
A Dutch journalist who demonstrated flaws in chip technology used by the Dutch public transport system on national radio and television earlier this year has said that fears he may come under criminal investigation are preventing him from reporting further on security issues. Trans Link Systems, which represents the companies who run the Dutch public transport system, have filed a criminal complaint against the journalist, Brenno de Winter, with the Dutch public prosecutor.

Russia: New legislation against online extremism
The Global Voices RuNet Echo project highlights reports that the Russian Duma is considering new legislation that would punish the online distribution of extremist content with up to five years in prison. The legislation would bring requirements of online distribution channels such as blogs in line with those imposed on the mainstream media.

“Making fun of Wikipedia is so 2007”
This New York Times report from the seventh Wikimania conference held in Haifa, Israel last week highlights a new film about the world’s largest reference work and focusses on the challenges Wikipedia faces, including how its citation policy is blocking its ability to document oral cultures.
Report | Film

The future of the internet updated: interview with Jonathan Zittrain
John Battelle interviews Jonathan Zittrain and asks how his views on the future of the generative internet have changed in the years since he wrote “The Future of the Internet (and How To Stop It)”.

The war on web anonymity
This Der Speigel feature examines the cases for and against anonymity and pseudonymity on the web.

“Anonymous and LulzSec need to focus their chaos”
This extended post for Wired’s Threat Level blog provides a glimpse at the security communities fears about Anonymous and Lulzsec. It reports on a panel of security experts at last week’s DefCon conference who urged hacktivists Lulzsec and Anonymous to concentrate their work on “significant” issues but expressed their fear of reprisals for speaking out against the groups.

An afternoon with the original code-breakers

Yesterday, I went to the Bletchley Park Summer Party, which was sponsored by the latest donor to the historic site of the WWII code-breakers, Google. Paul Clarke took a lovely set of photos which capture the spirit of the day. Here’s my measly offering, taken mainly at the National Museum of Computing (NMOC), which was a bit of a revelation.

The tradition of housing research scientists in ugly pre-fabs has a long history:

Hut 1 at Bletchley Park

Hut 1 at Bletchley Park

The WITCH is the world’s oldest computer. The NMOC hope it will soon be the world’s oldest working computer:

The WITCH at the NMOC, Bletchley Park

The WITCH at the NMOC, Bletchley Park

The PDP-11 was the machine that Stewart Brand wrote about in his iconic Rolling Stone article: “Space War: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums

A rack of PDP11s

A rack of PDP11s

Too much information: links for week ending 5 August 2011

Operation Shady RAT: five-year hack attack hit 14 countries
Ars Technica reports on a five-year campaign, revealed this week by researchers at McAfee, to hack computer systems used by organisations across 14 countries, including the governments of the US, Canada and South Korea, as well as the UN, the International Olympic Committee, and 12 US defence contractors: “For all the press that Anonymous and LulzSec have received, McAfee warns that these long-term, targeted attacks are a far more serious threat both to corporations and governments”.
Report | Research

Pakistan banning encryption?
The International Herald Tribune reports on a new legal provision in Pakistan intended to address state surveillance that appears to lay the groundwork for a total ban on encrypted internet traffic.

UK: ISP ordered to block copyright-infringing website using system set up to block child sex abuse imagery
The UK High Court has ruled that UK internet service provider (ISP) BT must use Cleanfeed – a system originally set up to prevent access to child sex abuse images – to deny its subscribers access to a copyright-infringing website called Newzbin. The judgement has serious implications for fundamental laws that govern the internet, as this post for LINX outlines.

US: Federal Appeals Court partially overturns gene patent ruling
A United States federal appeals court has partially overturned a ruling made earlier this year that genes cannot be patented. In this report for the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen examines the nuanced legal opinions, the conflict between the various judges, and the possible future of gene patenting in the United States.

DDoS attacks lead to mass exodus from LiveJournal in Russia
Global Voices reports how Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks against the LiveJournal platform in Russia, thought to be aimed at the blog of anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, have led other LiveJournal users to move to alternative platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Google and Microsoft launch free science metrics tools
Nature News reports on two new initiatives – Google Scholar Citations and the expanding toolset around Microsoft’s Academic Search – that offer free ways to track and visualise academic citation data: “the systems could be attractive for scientists and institutions that are unable — or unwilling — to pay for existing metrics platforms, such as Thomson Reuters’ Web of Knowledge and Elsevier’s Scopus database.”

German politicians use Norwegian tragedy to demand return of discredited surveillance scheme
Hans Peter-Uhl, a domestic policy spokesperson for Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats, has used the mass shooting and bombing in Norway and the more than 70 deaths which resulted as a platform to call for the reinstatement of data retention laws declared unconstitutional by the German Constitutional Court last year.

Google “effectively excommunicates” Copiepress from the web
In what is described in this report as a “tit-for-tat move”, Google has removed all search results relating to French- and German-language newspapers represented by the umbrella organisation Copiepress, against whom it recently lost a lawsuit for copyright infringement. The case had been focussed solely on results returned by the Google News service.

Uzbekistan switches off mobile internet to stop cheating in exams
The Australian Herald Sun reports that five national mobile operators in Uzbekistan shut down mobile internet and SMS services for the duration of nationwide university entrance exams “in an apparent bid to prevent cheating”.

Researchers expose cunning online tracking service that can’t be dodged
Wired reports on a newly-identified online behavioural tracking service exposed by researchers at UC Berkley that they say uses “practically every known method to circumvent user attempts to protect their privacy”.

Audio special: Patents against prosperity
NPR’s Planet Money podcast examines how the patent system, when it comes to software and the internet, is doing the opposite of what it was intended to do, and reports on a growing arms race between tech giants to amass “defensive” patents to deflect malicious lawsuits from shell companies established purely to exploit the system. The Economist summarise the report, labelling one company specialising in the licensing of defensive patents, Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures, “our age’s authentic villainous robber baron”. Forbes profile Myhrvold and his company.
Planet Money podcast | Economist report | Forbes profile

A Vision of post-clicktivist activism
This strongly-worded piece by Adbusters senior editor Micah White calls out the Silicon Valley clicktivist “colonizers” of digital activism, berating their “budgets bloated by philanthropic grants… ‘asks’ watered down… emails written like bus stop marketing… uninspiring, mundane and frankly counter-revolutionary political agendas”.

Internet is easy prey for governments
Douglas Rushkoff underlines the precarity of activists using the internet as a communications medium: “Old media, such as terrestrial radio and television, were as distributed as the thousands of stations and antennae from which broadcast signals emanated, but all internet traffic must pass through government and corporate-owned choke points”.

The future of budget monitoring
David Sasaki surveys different budget monitoring projects across the globe, and makes the case for new “civic hacking” organisations that focus on open data and data visualisation to work in concert with established budget monitoring NGOs.

Report: Online security in the Middle East and North Africa
The Berkman Center for Internet and Society publish the results of a survey carried out in May 2011 of 98 bloggers in the MENA region, which asked them questions about the risks they thought they faced online and the strategies they employed to mitigate those risks.

Book review: How Google dominates us
“The Information” author James Gleick reviews four new books on Google for the New York Review of Books.

Interview: Wikimedian in Residence on Open Science Daniel Mietchen
The Signpost, the in-house newspaper for Wikipedians, interviews Daniel Mietchen about his new position as Wikipedian-in-Residence on Open Science. The position is being supported by a grant from the OSF Information Program, with the Open Knowledge Foundation acting as institutional host.

Assange transcript follow-up

I was generally pleased with the reaction I got last week when I published the full transcript of my interview with Julian Assange at the Chaos Communications Congress in 2009. The first surprise was that Wikileaks let their ~1m Twitter followers know about it, which I decided to interpret as a clue that the views Julian expressed during the interview – on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, for example – might not have changed all that much in the intervening years., The Washington Post and the International Business Times all published stories referencing the transcript, my thanks to Heather Brooke for pointing out the WaPo story, which I’d originally missed, when I saw her at the book’s launch party. Predictably, they all went for the NOTW angle. By contrast Jonathan Kent, a freelance journalist and broadcaster with several years reporting from the Far East under his belt, took objection to the perceived labelling of Raja Petra by Assange as a “real journalist” in this appropriately headstrong post.

I’m grateful to the Anonymous commenter who let me know that the interview was not the first time Assange had made his views on the NOTW hacking scandal clear, pointing to a blog post which pre-dates the interview by nearly 6 months and expresses the same ideas.

So far, I’ve had four requests for the audio, so releasing it is yet to become my top priority. But I probably will eventually. In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate on getting a few edited clips of the Cory Doctorow material that went into writing the book, clips that I prepared with the help of Nightjar studios last year, out in the wild. And I think it might be fun to publish the Daniel Domscheit-Berg interview from 2009, given that I think – as I wrote in the book – it provides an interesting contrast with the Assange material (I basically asked them both the same questions). My interest in releasing this material is two-fold. First, I want to encourage as many people as possible to read the book. But second, and perhaps just as important, I want to see what life this material can have it its own right if I release it in a way that lets others repurpose it.

Barefoot, the first few days

So the book launched last week. And so far, people seem to be liking it.

Dispatches from the tweetstream

On the launch day itself, ZDNet posted an excellent review written by ORG colleague Wendy M. Grossman. It’s great that the first review of the book was written by someone who so obviously got it. Wendy made all the connections I was hoping for, and then some. Here’s a taster:

Her four most important guides through this landscape are: Stewart Brand; Cory Doctorow, the science fiction writer, BoingBoing blogger and copyfighter; Phil Booth, the former executive director of No2ID; and, most of all, Rop Gonggrijp, one of four co-founders of the Dutch ISP XS4ALL.

These four guides by themselves are a grid of interconnections. Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue is the inspirational ancestor of Doctorow’s BoingBoing. XS4ALL defied Scientology in one of the Net’s first free-speech battles, which defined today’s notice-and-takedown standard. The Open Rights Group (ORG) supported Booth’s opposition to the database state and fights electronic voting. Gonggrijp was one of the people who made the Dutch voting machines play chess. Each has his role in, and view of, the mix of counter-culture and computers that enticed Hogge at the outset, fuelled by the movie Easy Rider and the book Fierce Dancing.

Read the rest here.

The big surprise of the day was Terence Eden, who had converted my free html into an ePub version before lunch on the first day of launch, accompanied by another heart-warming endorsement:

I’ve only just started reading the book, but it’s clear that it’s been written in a very accessible way. You don’t need to be a hard-core techie to understand what’s going on.

Read more and get the ePub version here.

That evening, I headed into London to the Frontline Club for the launch party itself. The room was packed, and lots of fun people showed up. I sold clean out of the first print run, and ended up having to take orders from those disappointed not to get a copy. Bill Thompson, Phil Booth and I did some readings, with Bill doing an admirable impression of Julian Assange for his bit. Paul Clarke took an amazing set of photos, some of which I’ve reproduced below.

Sam Smith

Phil Booth does a reading

Padraig and Neil from Little Atoms

Isabel Hilton and the China Dialogue crowd

Me going nuclear

Cory Doctorow, Heather Brooke, Wendy M. Grossman and friend

Book signing and free hugs

Bill does his impression of Julian Assange

Too much information: week ending 29 July 2011

Malawi cracks down on media covering protests
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports on a media crackdown in Malawi in response to national anti-government protests in which as many as 18 people are reported to have died. Journalists have been arrested, the signals of private radio broadcasters have been switched off, and independent media websites have been experiencing massive sustained DDoS attacks.

Web surveillance sends chill through parts of Chinese economy
The New York Times reports that: “new regulations that require bars, restaurants, hotels and bookstores to install costly web monitoring software are prompting many businesses to cut internet access and sending a chill through the capital’s game-playing, web-grazing literati who have come to expect free wi-fi with their lattes and green tea”.

Italy blocks proxy servers
LINX reports that Italian ISPs have been forced by Italy’s cybercrime police unit to block access to, a legal proxy-server website, after authorities realised it could be used to access websites banned under Italy’s strict copyright enforcement regime.

Special: Online debate and the virtual public sphere
“The age of rage” is an in-depth feature by Tim Adams for the UK’s Observer newspaper which examines the effects anonymity and pack mentality have on online debate. Meanwhile “Tunnel vision”, a short comment piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free, argues that the internet’s fragmentation of the public sphere can nurture and catalyse extremist viewpoints.
Age of rage | Tunnel vision

The politics of surveillance in Latin America
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Katitza Rodriguez details how communication interception is being used as a political tool to identify, control and stifle dissent in Latin America.

(S)low impact research and the importance of open in maximising re-use
Cameron Neylon of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council argues that new approaches to publishing and evaluating scientific research could increase the value of basic and low-impact research.

Marshall McLuhan speaks
This month marks the centenary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan, the media theorist who coined the phrases “the global village” and “the medium is the message”. This website celebrates McLuhan’s work, and includes a 20-minute video narrated by Tom Wolfe.

Tool: public domain calculator
The “public domain calculator” is a joint project of the Europeana Connect project and the Austrian National Library designed to be used to discern whether a particular work is in the public domain in a particular jurisdiction, an ostensibly simple task that turns out to be very complicated in practice thanks to disconnected and complex copyright laws across the world.

Visualisation: privacy maps
Nymity create useful maps detailing privacy laws around the world, and have just launched new maps for Asia Pacific and Latin America.

Video: A year in the life of the New York Times Homepage
This bewitching video plays images of the New York Times homepage as it has changed over the past year. Its creator, Phillip Mendonça-Vieira, writes: “Traditionally, the purpose of a newspaper’s front page was to entice the reader into delving further into the publication. As a consequence, they are roughly equivalent with whatever the editors thought were the most relevant news items of the day.”