Monthly Archives: September 2011

Barefoot into Cyberspace vs The Revolution will be Digitised

Last weekend, the Independent on Sunday reviewed my book Barefoot into Cyberspace, alongside Heather Brooke’s latest book The Revolution will be Digitised. The review was written by Twitter friend and fellow book-hacker Lisa Gee. Here’s a taster:

Heather Brooke and Becky Hogge are (or in Hogge’s case, were) freedom of information activists.

Brooke is, famously, the investigative journalist whose determined ferreting triggered the MPs’ expenses scandal.

She was also a key player in mainstream press coverage of the WikiLeaked US diplomatic cables. Hogge led the Open Rights Group for two years, withdrawing disillusioned with the UK and European political process, which she compares to a “group of people trying to decide how to direct rush hour traffic by playing an arcane version of cricket”.

Both balance excitement about the internet’s potential to make our world a better, fairer place against concerns for loss of privacy and, most acutely, the personal safety of activists challenging powers-that-be. Brooke is more upbeat, techno-Utopian even, proposing that “instead of re-engineering the internet to fit around unpopular laws and unpopular leaders, we could re-engineer our political structures to mirror the internet … We can create the first global democracy. Hundreds of millions of people are climbing out of poverty … They can join a worldwide conversation and come together in infinite permutations to check power anywhere it concentrates.”

Except, according to Hogge, most people don’t. She quotes the US “hackademic” Ethan Zuckerberg on how “the web is ploughing us deeper into our cultural furrows” with users experiencing “a kind of imaginary cosmopolitanism” instead of genuine, cross-cultural connection. More sinisterly, as Brooke explains, our use of digital technology creates “a handy one-stop shop for the nosy official”. US and European laws require all mobile communications networks to “include an interception capability”: this made it simple for Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian intelligence services to locate and arrest many pro-democracy protestors earlier this year.

Both authors look to hacker communities for the skills and determination to crack such oppression. As a rule, hackers act. If they don’t like something, they try to build something better, be it hardware, software or society. They don’t do red tape. Their collective attitude is one of empowerment cut with mischief – an enticing contrast to Hogge’s wading-through-treacle Westminster-and-Brussels experience.

You can read the rest of the review here.

For me, reading Heather’s book was a bit like the feeling you might get when visiting the house you grew up in once another family had moved all their stuff in: objectively, you can see how what the new people have done makes sense, but you can’t overcome the feeling that everything is in the wrong place. Heather’s book and mine deal with a lot of the same material – sometimes eerily so – but we often approach that material very differently. I think Lisa captures it well when she says that my “questioning, uncertain approach” is “the perfect complement to Brooke’s surefooted, campaigning rhetoric”.

So tonight’s Little Atoms should be an interesting listen, because Neil and I will be speaking with Heather Brooke about The Revolution will be Digitised. Tune in at 7pm to 104.4FM if you’re within the London orbital, listen live at http://resonancefm.com/, or subscribe to the podcast.

Too much information: week ending 2 September 2011

Fake web certificate could have been used to attack Iranian dissidents
The Guardian reports on concerns that a fake web certificate – which could have been used to intercept traffic to Google’s servers that users thought was secure – has been discovered by users in Iran. The certificate was issued by DigiNotar, one of over 650 Certificate Authorities which underpin secure (HTTPS) web-browsing. The ability of Certificate Authorities to secure the web is increasingly coming into question.

New internet blocking order handed down by Tunisian court
 The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report on the decision of a Tunisian court to order the blocking of all pornographic websites, following a petition brought by lawyers. The Tunisian Internet Agency is appealing the decision at the country’s highest court.

Brazil: campaigns against “menacing” internet law gain 350,000 supporters
Consumers International reports on a proposed “cybercrime” law in Brazil that would limit online freedom and privacy, and the mounting popular sentiment opposing it. The Brazilian Institute of Consumers (IDEC), together with Avaaz and the Mega Não (Mega No) movement, have gathered the signatures of 350,000 Brazilian citizens who oppose the bill. Similar proposals were fought off in 2008 following popular protest.

Momentum on copyright term extension in Europe picks up
The Open Rights Group (ORG) reports on plans at the EU to finalise a law extending the length of time sound recordings attract a copyright. The law is the result of intense lobbying by record labels, and has been condemned by legal and economic experts.

Network security in the medium term: 2061-2561
Science Fiction author Charlie Stross guesses at the sorts of problems network security experts might face in the next 500 years, in this entertaining and informed keynote delivered at the 20th USENIX security symposium.

“Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist”
A provocative editorial from Guardian columnist George Monbiot on the state of academic publishing: “This is a tax on education, a stifling of the public mind”.

The Wrong War: models of cyber threats
This analysis from the Brookings Institute argues that maritime governance in the mid-19th century is a better model for understanding cyber threats than the Cold War: “While would-be cyber Cold Warriors stare at the sky and wait for it to fall, they’re getting their wallets stolen and their offices robbed”.

Are social networks a distraction for revolutionaries?
The New York Times reports on a new paper by a political science graduate that claims that switching off the internet during civil unrest may not be a wise move because “full connectivity in a social network sometimes can hinder collective action”.

Interview with Maria Otero about the open government partnership
The Forbes Magazine blog presents the full transcript of their interview with Maria Otero, the US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, about the Open Government Partnership, a new international initiative to “harness new technologies to make government more open, effective, and accountable”.

Video: Ruth Okediji at IFLA
Copyright scholar Ruth Okediji gives an overview of legal and policy challenges for libraries in the age of digital books to the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).