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[liberationtech] Activists aim to punch holes in online shields of authoritarian regimes (Jim Youll)

Jim Youll jyoull at alum.mit.edu
Fri Feb 26 18:21:01 PST 2010


Gabe, thank you. I will do the homework as you suggest so that i don't make ill-informed assertions in the future.

I don't want to annoy the list but feel i should respond to two of your points.

first : information need only be stored long enough to detect and tag a miscreant. 5 years is a long time in an Internet-speed world... longer than is needed to stop a revolution; much longer than needed to scratch a mere protest... Peter Gabriel sang,  "... you can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire..."  It's the candles they want to stop. The Chinese government is very good at this.

In any case, the logging of everything 'interesting' by a government for indefinite periods, perhaps even a lifetime "in case it's useful later," is well within the (recent) capability of present technologies and ordinary budgets. There are apparently-credible suggestions that this is happening, and why wouldn't it? The inability to walk away from one's past does alter fundamentals about our day-to-day lives.

and : though I haven't done the homework yet, and though archival materials have survived, I have to guess that those tickets were not reported to authorities in real-time; that journals hidden under floorboards were almost perfectly secret compared to blog posts - and unlike blog entries could be destroyed in an acute crisis; that most messages were contributed to archives by correspondents, not spies who routinely intercepted them without detection; and that letters are cumbersome and expensive to open, examine, and track without a trace, whereas e-mail is the opposite. 

I agree this this and other histories of successful movements can teach us about social issues, motivations, and strategies. So can Sun Tzu. But I do not believe that we can learn to make blog posts "safe" by studying journal-writing, for example. Technology has not merely replaced one thing with another similar thing that happens on a screen. 

I can't fathom mapping the security/privacy/search/archival capabilities (in terms of capacity, latency, scope, or cross-referential abilities) of either world to the other. It is exactly and because of changes to those "features" of our world that software on networked computers creates vulnerabilities that did not exist in the pre-digital world where pens wrote on paper and "data" as a mass-processable artifact did not exist. The East German government did a great job with analog systems, but only by creating a full-time security state with half the citizenry reporting on the other half - an exceptional, ultimately unsustainable condition. It'd be a much more efficient operation today, but the lesson is again about people, not tech.

Finally, it should be noted that the more that "unpopular" activities depend on technology, the more vulnerable they are to that technology being switched off - for a while or forever. Iran smacked down all information flows during the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution earlier this month. Cryptome.org went offline for a few days this week because of a grouchy DMCA letter from Microsoft to Network Solutions - not directly government-related, but illustrative of the ease with which the Internet candle/fire can be dimmed or flicked off by central command. In many cases, the very tech that freedom-seekers could become dependent on exists only through of the consent of the same governments they are fighting against.


Timely:
One aspect of the Civil Rights movement that has been largely unknown by many is the role of Mississippi's Sovereignty Commission, a state funded commission designed to uphold segregation in the state. The operation, which launched in 1956, was led by the governor, and was staffed by a network of informants — some of whom were white and some black. As part of our series of Black History Month conversations, host Michel Martin speaks with Rick Bowers, author of Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy of the Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement.

	http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123811970


friday. 6pm. time to ponder these dilemmas over cold beers rather than warm laptops. 
next round's on me.
regards,
- jim

On Feb 26, 2010, at 4:59 PM, Gabe Gossett wrote:

> >Messages, purchases, travels, and communication habits were not logged and stored forever.
>  
> I encourage you to visit your local archives. All of the above still exist in archives around the world.  They exist as ticket stubs, journals, letters, etc.

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