Rebecca MacKinnon: Consent of the Networked

Consent of the NetworkedDon’t miss the two-week discussion with Rebecca MacKinnon, author of Consent of the Networked, about global online civil liberties, led by EFF-Austin’s Jon Lebkowsky, currently in progress on the WELL.

Now, I assume everybody here is familiar with the recent fight to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), where we saw a joining of forces between American Internet companies and activists against the entertainment industry and other American companies that fall under the category of “the copyright lobby.” It is unfortunate that some American businesses want to corrode people’s freedom to connect in order to protect their outmoded business models, and fortunate that other American businesses are putting some serious cash and lobbying muscle into countering them. But congress wouldn’t have halted its trajectory if it hadn’t been for the grassroots activists like Fightforthefuture.org and many others, as well as nonprofits like Wikipedia who brought a moral force to the argument that tipped the scales and mobilized voters to call their representatives.

When it comes to legislation like the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which passed the House and is on its way to the Senate, the role of American Internet companies is a lot more troubling. Despite concerns that this legislation lacks safeguards that would protect Americans from unaccountable spying by the NSA and others, many American businesses continue to support it because they are concerned about the security of their networks and want something to be done. They have yet to be convinced that they should only support legislation that contains adequate civil liberties protections. Which brings me back to the original point- achieving freedom to connect is much easier than achieving freedom from illegitimate, unaccountable surveillance.

Finally, there is the issue of what I call the power exercised by Internet companies over people’s identities and their privacy. This has more to do with freedom from fear than freedom to connect. To make a long story short, American companies like Google and Facebook do a much better job at freedom to connect than they do at freedom from fear. For a taste of what my book says about the lands of Facebookistan and Googledom, see this adapted excerpt in Slate:
http://tinyurl.com/6ujz9yp

As for activists in the USA, people are doing a tremendous amount of good work fighting to keep our own Internet open and free, despite a lot of political and commercial forces pushing in the opposite direction. American activists working for Internet freedom elsewhere around are most effective, in my view, when they start from the premise that Internet freedom faces threats absolutely everywhere, and that the United States is a far cry from a perfect model particularly on issues of surveillance. Showing up with an attitude that basically says “Hi, I’m a white night from the land of the free riding in to save you” doesn’t tend to go down well. A more effective attitude is “Hi, I’m here in solidarity to support you in your part of the global struggle. How can I be most helpful?” A number of times I’ve seen people from Egypt, Syria and China get asked that question. Often the answer is: “sort out your own country’s contradictions so that our governments can have better models to follow.”

Next Meetup: Sandy Stone on “Online identity and the fight for cyberfreedom”

Anonymous, ZModem, and Whiskey
Anonymous, ZModem, and Whiskey
Image Credit: Jacob Dexe - "Hacktivismen som demokrativerktyg"

“How in Hell Did We Get Here?: Online identity and the fight for cyberfreedom in the age of the Military-Industropolitical Complex”
by Allucquére Rosanne (Sandy) Stone

A fast-forward, semifictional history of online identity, with particular attention to the present collisions of massive political power and individual and collective agency, including how the speaker was transformed into a cat and survived the Great Hurricane of ’39 to become complicit in a Mexican Revolutionary Movement; with Graphical Illustrations, Extremely Bright Lights, and the Sound of Explosions. Maybe.

DATE: Thursday October 6th 7-9pm
NEW LOCATION: B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub and Restaurant [ @BDRileysAustin ], 204 E. 6th Street, Austin, Texas 78701; between Brazos and San Jacinto. We’ll be meeting in a dedicated space towards the back.
RSVP: Plancast
HASHTAG: #EFFatx

Allucquére Rosanne (Sandy) Stone [ website, wikipedia, cyborg anthropology entry ] is an academic theorist, media theorist, author, performance artist, and general troublemaker. She is Professor Emerita in the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory (ACTLab) in the department of Radio, Television and Film. Concurrently she is Wolfgang Kohler Professor of Media and Performance at the European Graduate School (EGS) and Founding Director of the radical new Experimental Media program ACTLab@EGS, senior artist at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and Humanities Research Institute Fellow at the University of California, Irvine. Stone has worked in and written about film, music, experimental neurology, writing, engineering, and computer programming. She is transgender and is considered a founder of the academic discipline of transgender studies, is the author of numerous books, novels, and essays, has been profiled in ArtForum, Wired, Mondo 2000, and many other publications, and Jon Lebkowsky has referred to her as “a force of nature.” She loves chocolate, cats and, apparently, getting herself into hair-raisingly scary situations from which escape is nearly impossible. Nevertheless she finds time to be a loving wife, boon companion, caring mother, and exemplary grandmother, while still running the hell all over the world to perform at conferences in too many disciplines to mention.

B.D. Riley’s on 6th Downtown

Map

Successful inquiry into #OpWardrive

The Joy of Tech #354 - They always dreamed of having a home in the range
The Joy of Tech #354 - They always dreamed of having a home in the range

On Wednesday September 21st, EFF Austin [ @EFFaustin ] was notified about the Austin Police Department’s (APD) Digital Analysis Response Team’s [ DART, @APDDART ] “Operation Wardrive” [ #OpWardrive ] via the KVUE [ @KVUE ] news article that originally appeared at the following URI (it’s relatively common for journalism operations to reuse the same URI to track stories as they develop, sometimes redirecting to new articles):
http://www.kvue.com/news/local/APD-conductiong-Operation-Warfare-to-keep-internet-users-safe-130218768.html

For reference, the text of the original KVUE article is cited in EFF Austin’s response.

Beginning with KVUE’s article, which appears to have been the only source of information and perspective on APD’s intent, a largely uncoordinated but similarly informed collective action took place across multiple points of interface and communication with APD and the Austin City Council [ @AustinTexasGov, #ATXCouncil ]. This seems to have ensured that officials and decision makers in a position to intervene were made aware of public sentiment in a timely manner. Sufficient public concern was observed to motivate officials towards action.

There is uncertainty about whether “Operation Wardrive” has been canceled or postponed, as reflected in this sequence of tweets from KVUE’s account on Thursday morning.

@KVUE (Thu Sep 22 10:23am, 10:20am, 9:30am CST)
@KVUE (Thu Sep 22 10:23am, 10:20am, 9:30am CST)

APD Chief of Police Art Acevedo is more clear in his email response (Thu Sep 22 10:13:55am CST) to Austinite Mark Boyden‘s thoughtful email addressed to all Austin City Council members, several local activists, Acevedo, and APD Public Information Office Manager Anna Sabana.

Thank you for sharing your concerns with me. This WarDrive idea was not approved by APD Executive Staff and in fact has been disapproved. We will be releasing a statement later today. Although the involved unit’s intent was noble (educating the public about the risks to your personal information), a PSA or other educational effort would be much more effective. To place you further at ease, the idea was killed before actual implementation.

The APD Public Information Office did not publish a formal statement on Thursday via APD News Releases nor the City of Austin Communications and Public Information Office.

KVUE’s Shelton Green [ @SheltonG_KVUE, bio, email ] reached out to EFF Austin seeking our perspective for a follow-up story. EFF Austin President Jon Lebkowsky [ @jonl, wikipedia, homepage ] sat for that interview, which was crafted into the following story, which led the news on KVUE last night (Thu Sep 22 10:00pm).

What’s Next?

As Shelton Green mentions at the end of the story, EFF Austin would like to work with the Austin Police Department Digital Analysis Response Team to craft a winning public education campaign on the risks as well as the virtues of operating an open, publicly-accessible wireless access point. We’ve begun to compile information and gather existing recommendations in this space (if you have sources, please add as a comment or mention to @EFFaustin with hashtag #OpWardrive).

EFF Austin has also decided to continue with our Texas Public Information Act Open Records request. We expect to receive an assessment of the viability of each of our 10 specific inquiries along with an estimate of fees we must pay to have the records processed.

Yesterday, some members of the EFF Austin Board of Directors were frankly shocked by the arrival of an unsolicited $10 donation. I had forgotten we even have a Paypal account. But it made us feel good, and reminded us that we are embarking on a path which will have attendant fees and expenses. We would like to help serve the public interest by walking that path, and would therefore like to ask if you can help support our efforts. If you like what we’re doing, please consider donating (we’re a nonprofit) to help us defray approaching expenses. There’s a Paypal donate button at the upper right of this page.

We believe in transparency and sunlight’s powers of disinfection. EFF Austin will provide transparency into our expenses and you can be sure we will sing praises to our supporters for their role in helping us act. Thank you.

If you’d like to get more involved, consider following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, joining our interesting email discussion list, or coming to our next meetup.