May 14th Meetup – The Tyranny Of Contract

Our speaker this month will be Christopher Brown. Christopher Brown is an Austin-based science fiction writer and technology lawyer. He is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of Tropic of Kansas, a novel published by Harper Voyager in 2017 that Cory Doctorow called “spookily prescient…timely, dark and ultimately hopeful,” NPR described as “a modern dystopian buffet…the nightly news with the volume turned up to 11,” and Booklist said reads like “Cormac McCarthy meets Philip K. Dick.” His novel Rule of Capture, the beginning of a series of speculative legal thrillers about a criminal defense lawyer in an authoritarian USA, is forthcoming from Harper in 2019. He has taken two tech companies public as general counsel, including Austin fintech company NetSpend, led the corporate practice in the Austin office of Baker Botts, and served as a staff lawyer to the Senate Judiciary Committee, experiences he now brings to bear as a solo practitioner focused on the representation of mission-oriented start-ups.

Website: or

Twitter: @NB_Chris

Christopher is going to be speaking to us about the tyranny of contract, about how click-wrap agreements and NDAs have subverted the emancipatory potential of the Internet, indentured its creators, and enabled our current dystopias—and how new technologies may help us build a new paradigm. In the words of Prof. Joshua Fairfield: “If courts won’t protect consumers, robots will.”


Join us for the discussion from 7:00PM-9:00PM, followed by drinks and camaraderie from 9:00PM-10:00PM at Firehouse Lounge (605 Brazos St).

Capital Factory is located at 701 Brazos Street, on the 16th floor of the Omni Hotel. Once on the 16th floor, there should be a sign at the front desk directing you to our meetup. If there is no sign, and no one is on duty at the desk, we are usually in the room to the left of the front desk.

Talk will be livestreamed at

Parking for the Omni Garage can be validated at the Capital Factory front desk, reducing the cost from $16 to $5. Details:


The Tyranny Of Contract

Monday, May 14, 2018, 7:00 PM

Capital Factory
701 Brazos Street, Suite 1601 Austin, TX

21 Activists Went

Our speaker this month will be Christopher Brown. Christopher Brown is an Austin-based science fiction writer and technology lawyer. He is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of Tropic of Kansas, a novel published by Harper Voyager in 2017 that Cory Doctorow called “spookily prescient…timely, dark and ultimately hopeful,” NPR described as “a m…

Check out this Meetup →


cropped-EFFAustin-site-logo.png CapitalFactoryLogoBlack-300x262

EFF Stands With Dreamhost–And With You.

If you have visited, there’s something you should know. The Department of Justice has a warrant out for your name, IP address, home address, email address, and telephone number.

Not only that–the DOJ wants to know what software you have on your computer. They want to know which pages you visited on the site, and how long you stayed. If you left a message on the website, the DOJ wants to know the contents. If you emailed anyone through the website, the DOJ wants to read it. If the website ended up with your photograph, the DOJ wants to use it to match a face to your name. If you have a business, the DOJ wants to know all about it. If you have a credit card, the DOJ wants the number.

Why are you a person of interest? Because you visited a website. No more. No less.

Do you think this warrant couldn’t possibly be real?

You’re wrong.

The DOJ served the web host provider Dreamhost with the warrant in July. Guess what organization is working with Dreamhost to resist the DOJ’s unlawful warrant?

If you guessed the EFF, you are correct:

“[W]e’ve been helping DreamHost since they received this search warrant. The general counsel of DreamHost was, frankly, shocked at the overbreadth of this search warrant and called us right away and said, you know, ‘Is there a way for us to fight it?’ And we said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ DreamHost got paid outside counsel, so they didn’t—they didn’t need us, because, as a nonprofit, we work pro bono, and we generally don’t represent companies who can afford outside counsel. DreamHost got great outside counsel, filed a motion in D.C. to set aside the search warrant. And it’s my understanding, at least, that there will be a hearing today on the case…

“The D.C. Superior Court judge who signed off on the search warrant is not young. And it’s my speculation, my uninformed speculation here, that the judge who signed the search warrant didn’t understand what he was signing off on. The search warrant itself puts all the juicy bits that the government is seeking in an attachment at the end. And in the places-to-be-searched and things-to-be-seized section of the search warrant, it just says, ‘records identified with’ If I’m a judge who doesn’t know an IP log from a Yule log, you know, I’m not going to understand the implications of what’s actually being sought here. The government, of course, in its order to show cause against DreamHost for refusing to turn over—for, thankfully, refusing to turn over all of this data, the government says, ‘You know, this is standard. We do this all the time.’ That may be what they told the judge, even though it’s patently false.”

EFF-Austin is deeply proud to stand with our parent organization and Dreamhost.

The Dreamhost warrant appears to have been part of a rash of similar warrants indiscriminately served to internet companies in response to the 2017 Inauguration Day protests. More is known about this particular warrant because Dreamhost has publicly and heroically refused to comply.

1.3 million people have individually visited the Disrupt J20 website. Every single one of them will have a DOJ dossier if Dreamhost complies. For visiting a website.

What justification could the DOJ possibly cite as justification for this overreach? Glad you asked!

To quote Attachment B, section II of the warrant, they claim the identifying information “constitutes fruits, evidence and instrumentalities … involving the individuals who participated, planed [sic], organized, or incited the January 20 riot.”

I’m not sure how you plane a riot, but there you have it.

So, to recap, if you visited this website, the DOJ thinks you might have been part of a riot, which can result in a felony conviction. Since 1.3 million individual people visited the website, you have a lot of potential co-conspirators who are facing the same potential consequences.

Did the Disrupt J20 website coordinate a riot? All signs point to no. What the DisruptJ20 site did do is help protesters participate in nonviolent direct actions.

On January 20, 2017, several thousand people gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump, and the vast majority of protesters were peaceful. Approximately 2,400 of these peaceful protesters engaged in nonviolent direct actions organized through the group Disrupt J20. The nonviolent actions included protestors standing and sitting at security checkpoints to impede the ability of others to attend the inauguration. These direct actions were not rioting.

Rioting is getting a group together to hurt people and break stuff, preferably at a high volume. The vast majority of protesters, including those who visited the Disrupt J20 site, did not riot.

Some people did engage in vandalism on Inauguration Day. You can argue that this is technically rioting because a large group of people broke things at high volume. In an interview on this story, EFF’s own senior staff attorney Nate Cardozo says, “You know, there was some petty vandalism or whatever.”

The content of this warrant is damning all by itself. But we need to look at the bigger picture to get a clear sense of governmental response to the Inauguration Day protests. And to do that, we need to look at what happened to at least some of the people who did engage in vandalism on that day. And we need to look at what happened to the people standing next to the vandals.

What happened to the vandals breaking stuff and yelling? They got tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and subjected to a concussive device. Then the cops clashed with them and arrested every last one of them. What happened to the people standing next to the people breaking stuff and yelling? They also got tear gassed, pepper sprayed, subjected to a concussive device, and arrested.

And when the dust cleared, there were roughly 230 people in custody.

Some of these 230 people were vandals. Some were medics. Some were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nine of them were journalists.

You aren’t supposed to arrest journalists. Journalists have to get close to the action to report on it. This is their job. You shouldn’t arrest people for doing their jobs. If you do arrest people for doing their job, it means you don’t want them to do their job and you’re willing to break the law to stop them.

All of the arrested protesters, including journalists, were charged with felony rioting. This is Washington, D.C.’s most serious rioting charge. It carries a sentence of up to ten years in prison for doing it once.

Seven of the journalists have since been released. Two have not. Their names are Aaron Cantu and Alexei Wood.

Aaron Cantu is an editor at The New Inquiry, writes for the Santa Fe Reporter, and has contributed pieces for Vice, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, and other publications. Alexei Wood, an independent photojournalist based in San Antonio, livestreamed the entire day of protests to Facebook. The livestream footage does not show Alexei Wood engaging in any illegal activities. The footage also shows him cooperating with police officers during his arrest.

Despite their credentials and the evidence available, Alexei Wood and Aaron Cantu are still being prosecuted.

And they are not alone. 215 other people are also still being prosecuted on counts of felony rioting, destruction of property, and conspiracy to riot. Every defendant risks facing the next 75 years behind bars if convicted.

How much of this seems lawful to you?

Contrast the treatment of the DC protestors with the government and law enforcement reaction when white supremacists marched around physically attacking and killing people in Charlottesville. That is to say, they rioted. Did the police deploy tear gas, pepper spray, and a concussive device before clashing with and arresting every last one of them? No.

Somehow I remember the neo-Nazi riot. But I don’t remember the police deploying any tear gas, pepper spray, or concussive devices. I don’t remember the police clashing with rioters. I don’t remember any mass arrests.

There were arrests in Charlottesville, mind you. Eight people have been arrested.


Also: remember when our president made not one but two impassioned, improvised defenses of the Inauguration Day rioters? Remember when he said there were a lot of good people wearing black bandannas on that day? Remember when he remarked to staffers after that he felt liberated by expressing himself thusly?

Yeah, I don’t remember that either. I remember a few other things though.

I do remember the president defending neo-Nazis this week.

I do remember the president inciting audiences to violence at his rallies.

I do remember the president urging police to use unnecessary violence in performing arrests.

I do remember the president telling us almost every day that the news is fake. That it cannot be trusted. That only he can be trusted. And that he is wonderful.

What does any of this have to do with the Dreamhost warrant?

Let’s recap.

Our new president likes himself. He likes neo-Nazis. He likes it when his audiences hurt people in his name. He likes police brutality. He hates journalists.

On the day our new president was inaugurated, several thousand people protested in Washington, D.C. A smaller group of those people engaged in petty vandalism. The police immediately and brutally subdued and arrested 230 people in the area, a number that included bystanders and nine journalists. 215 of those people are awaiting trial and face 75 years in prison per person. Two of those people are journalists.

This is not how you respect freedom of assembly. This is not how you respect freedom of speech. This is not how you respect freedom of the press. This is not how you respect the concept that people are innocent until proven guilty. This is not how you respect the concept of appropriate punishment.

2,400 different people were with an organization called Disrupt J20. Those 2,400 people protested peacefully. They sat, they stood, they walked, they tabled. That’s it. Those things aren’t felonies.

If you were a prosecutor, would you find this interesting?

The Department of Justice does. They want all identifying information, not just for the 2,400 peaceful and law-abiding protesters, but for the 1.3 million people who visited their website. They say all 1.3 million visitors conspired to riot.

Do you think all 1.3 million visitors conspired to riot? More than that: do you think any of them did?

What do you think the Department of Justice is going to do with your information? Do you think the DOJ deserves to have your information?

EFF doesn’t, either. That’s why EFF is working hard to assist Dreamhost’s urgent, lawful, and ethical resistance to the warrant. To protect our nation and to protect you.

It can be easy to forget why digital liberties are important. This is why. As we conduct more and more of our lives online, digital liberties become civil liberties. And this is why EFF is important. Because digital liberties issues are not just digital liberties issues. They are civil liberties, too.

What do you do when the FCC doesn’t care about you?

During last week’s day of action for net neutrality, I called, petitioned, and emailed my representatives. Then I switched my profile picture to a ninja cat on a unicorn with lasers for eyes.

The picture above is terribly cliched. But that could be a good thing, in context. It could even be meaningful.

No corporate interests drove the cultural triumph of pixelated rainbows or feline ronin. But these memes are rooted in our psyches to an almost oppressive degree nonetheless. That we can look at the above image and think “well, duh, that’s the internet for you, gee whillikers” and yawn to ourselves or roll our eyes says something powerful.

That something is the glorious and surprising online hegemony of participatory culture.

Participatory culture is Professor Henry Jenkins’ term of art for grassroots communities that grow, share, and create via technology. Jenkins views participatory culture as primarily something that young people do; for the purposes of this blog, it is age-unrestricted.

The web may be the ur-example of modern participatory culture. The internet is strange because strange people banded together and worked hard to make it strange. Not all of these weirdos have corporate money to throw around. Not all of them have access to avenues for organizing or communicating offline. But they know how to use the internet. And they are worth protecting.

Internet-mediated participatory culture impacts a tremendous and growing swath of modernity. In recent years, the power of the internet to unify and concentrate cultural movements has borne sometimes delightful, sometimes alarming fruit in the form of participatory politics. Participatory politics is also Henry Jenkins’ coinage, and it’s just what it sounds like: using technology on a grassroots level to connect with likeminded individuals and effect political change.

You encountered participatory politics during the 2016 presidential election. You have been living with the fallout ever since.

Participatory politics is like any other tool or process: how it is used depends on the intent of those who use it. Participatory politics has fueled, among other things, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the MP expense account scandal, Gamergate and the alt-right, Bernie bros, ISIS, and the Arab Spring.

Last week, Battle for the Net contributors including the EFF used participatory politics to defend the FCC’s current policy on net neutrality. We did a pretty good job, if you judge such things by engagement numbers and records broken. We sent more than five million emails to Congress and left more than nine million comments to the FCC. On July 12, we actually broke the record for most comments left for the FCC in a single day. The previous record was held by–wait for it–Battle for the Net as well!

So clearly we did a good job, right? I mean, apparently we did an awesome job…so the FCC is going to respond to our concerns any day now, right?

Unfortunately, the current chairman of the FCC appears to be just as committed to open dialogue, bipartisan politics, and responsivity to the needs of the populace as the man who appointed him. Under Ajit Pai’s leadership, the FCC is ignoring not just the record-breaking millions of comments, but also poll results showing strong bipartisan support for current net neutrality regulations among U.S. citizens.

Sounds pretty crazy, right? But it gets crazier.

Because the FCC is ignoring the whole zombie commenter problem. Because zombie commenters are, sigh, a thing now.

A few months ago, a third party (probably working for an ISP) used names from old voter registration sheets to leave fraudulent comments with the FCC. How many fake comments? About 500,000.

Check to see if your name was used here

It gets crazier. Some of these fake comments were signed by dead people. This seems like cause for consternation, right? Especially on the part of the regulatory agency. So the FCC developed a comment screening process and pledged to overhaul problems in its comment collection system. Just kidding!

The FCC publicly declared that the agency would make no attempt to discern between real and fake comments unless the signatories were obviously fake names such as King Kong or Napoleon Bonaparte, a position that categorically excluded the real names of real dead people who didn’t sign up for any of this, because they’re dead. Really.

Now, given the last six months and just, uh, everything, let’s make something clear. Ajit Pai is not suffering from dementia. Mr. Pai is not just an old decrepit husk of a man tottering about the Court of Appeals in a bathrobe with Fox and Friends on blast. His agency’s statements are not the strenuous but doomed attempts of staffers to make sense of Ajit Pai’s word salad. No one at the FCC is sundowning, okay? Pai and pals are more than mentally competent to perform in their appointed positions. They know what they’re doing here. That means they’re doing it on purpose.

So what do we do when our leaders won’t respond to us? Do we just give up? Is there even a point to protest under these conditions?

I think there is. In fact, I think there are several.

Through continuing to advocate for our beliefs and our needs, we let other politicians know the constituent demand for net neutrality. This lays a solid groundwork for policy change under future administrations. We also find our own voices in articulating our thoughts to ourselves and others, which is key for sparking genuine innovations and solutions. And we find our kin, the people with whom we can form deep philosophical communion. We are primates, after all. We need community.

Keep fighting. Keep talking. Keep making noise. When our leaders abandon us, all we have are each other.

You can start here .