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[liberationtech] Resignation

Katrin Verclas katrin at mobileactive.org
Tue Sep 14 08:46:50 PDT 2010


Sorry this has been such a mess, Daniel.  You probably did the right  
thing, though I have yet to hear Austin say a word about this affair.   
Seems like he did not learn much, judging by the deafening silence.

On another note, we had a few similar mea culpas in our (mobile)  
community that I witnessed as part of MobileActive.org  that were less  
sensitive and with fewer unintended consequence, but unfortunately,  
some similar lessons apply - good intentions gone wrong for some of  
the same reasons. Lack of domain expertise, hubris, and yes,  
immaturity were some of the similarities.  I said elsewhere that my  
ass will be on fire on a new project we are starting, so I was a keen  
student of the implications of this project, including conferring with  
sane technical people who know their stuff (and whose names are more  
public now, for good or bad...)

There are many more dimensions to this - some of which are being  
discussed on others different lists and blogs but worth extrapolating  
here at some point. Evgeny has done a bit of it but this could be a  
dissertation at this point - not including the technical lessons which  
I hardly understand, not being a crypto gal.  A lot hinges on the  
myths and rhetoric around so-called ''liberation tech" and the  
collective (and in many ways uniquely American) techno-fix mythology.   
It's more about us than people and their hopes and fears in Iran, more  
about American values and assumptions, and a lot more about the  
blinders of the players involved, including as Jillian York put it to  
me, desperate tech journalists on the prowl.

I am reminded (by Chris Csikszentmihalyi of the MIT Media Lab) of a  
really illustrative recent story on a completely different tool - the  
Transborder Immigration Tool (our story on it that he nailed me on  
from 2007 is here: http://mobileactive.org/artivists-and-mobile-pho  
(don't ask what's up with the URL) and a sentence from the San Diego  
City Beat (http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/article-8159-after-the-storm.html 
  - a good read) that I quoted to him in an email.  It  may apply  
(without drawing any undue analogies) here as well:

>>> “It was so obvious that reporters wanted to make it a sexy story  
>>> that could be summed up in one line,” Cárdenas says. “People kept  
>>> talking about it like it was an iPhone application—there would be  
>>> stories about it with a picture of an iPhone next to it. It’s not  
>>> an iPhone application…. It was interesting being inside the media  
>>> frenzy. The whole process revealed the myths and lies and rhetoric  
>>> about the border.”
>>>
>>> (Or Iran and wanting to right the wrongs there....)  Or to butcher  
>>> Heidegger (please do not crucify me here - I am NOT a philosopher)  
>>> "The essence of technology is by no means technological."

Something to remember here on the 'liberation technology' list for the  
next 'tech for good' project popping into the world.

Regards,

Katrin

On Sep 14, 2010, at 3:01 AM, Daniel Colascione wrote:

> We met online, after the election. After that otherwise-normal day in
> June 2009, Austin Heap and I went on to found the Censorship Research
> Center. We have traveled, laughed, drank, worked, celebrated, and
> commiserated together. I have been involved in this project longer
> than anyone else; before there was a Censorship Research Center, I
> coined the name "Haystack". I feel as if I know Austin better than
> many people know their own brothers. He is fundamentally a good man.
> That's why this is such a difficult decision, and why I waited so long
> to make it.
>
> It is with trepidation and regret that I say that I cannot, in good
> conscience, continue associating myself with the CRC. Effective
> immediately, I am cutting all ties.
>
> I would like to stress that I am not resigning in shame over the
> much-maligned test program. It is as bad as Appelbaum makes it out to
> be. But I maintain that it was a diagnostic tool never intended for
> dissemination, never mind hype. I did have a solid, reasonable design,
> and described it in our brief overture of transparency. _That_ is what
> Haystack would have been. It would have worked!
>
> What I am resigning over is the inability of my organization to
> operate effectively, maturely, and responsibly. We have been
> disgraced. I am resigning over dismissing pointed criticism as
> nonsense. I am resigning over hype trumping security. I am resigning
> over being misled, and over others being misled in my name.
>
> I am as shocked and as angered as anyone, if not more so: for me, it
> was a matter of trust between friends. I genuinely felt like we were
> changing the world for the better. I still believe that for a while,
> we really were. Austin and I quit full-time jobs in the middle of a
> depression to further develop this dream. We stayed up late hours to
> prepared drafts. We shared full access to the same machines. We had a
> shared purpose. Nobody can argue that we didn't begin with the best of
> intentions. The hype and imprudence squandered that original goodwill.
>
> I announced several days ago that I would resume an active role in the
> CRC. I reconnected with Babak and Austin in the hope that I could put
> the work I had already completed into a finished product, and I hoped
> that I could heal the CRC's image through openness and transparency.
> My colleagues and friends welcomed me with praise, great eagerness and
> open arms. But it just couldn't work.
>
> I finally realize, despite myself, that the damage is irreparable. I
> can't fathom some of what I'm seen and what I've learned. Even if xthe
> organization were to do its best to make amends, I have no confidence
> that the bounty would last.
>
> There was plenty of error on my part too, of course. I should never
> have allowed that damned "test" program to be distributed at all, and
> should never have added diagnostics to it; running it once in a
> controlled environment was a risk --- arguably an acceptable one at
> the time. Multiplying that risk by users and by uses was what made it
> a catastrophe. I should have stuck my head out of the code and more
> strenuously objected to the hype.
>
> I would like to emphasize that my friend and long-time colleague,
> Babak Siavoshy, is utterly blameless. Although he is one of the most
> intelligent and professional men I know, his ignorance of the
> technical details involved made him unable to independently track our
> progress. He truly believed. For my part, although judgment of
> character is not my strongest skill, I should have known better.
>
> I should have resigned immediately when I began to feel a certain
> ineffable wrongness -- that action would have either ended things or
> produced lasting change. Instead, I allowed the situation to fester. I
> should have had the courage to ensure we did things right or not at
> all.
>
> I regret that we exposed anyone to undue risk, and that we deprived
> citizens of the effective anti-censorship tool that might have been. I
> regret standing silently while I listened to empty promises --- and I
> especially regret that this whole ordeal has scarred the
> anti-censorship landscape so badly that it may be years before
> anything grows there again.
>
> I only ask that everyone, please, let bygones be bygones. There will
> be no more Censorship Research Center. No more Haystack. No more hype.
> We're all wiser now in one way or another. Analyze if you must, but
> acknowledge that it's over now. Let's mitigate any remaining damage,
> then, please, move on.
>
> Sadly,
> Daniel Colascione
>
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Katrin Verclas
MobileActive.org
katrin at mobileactive.org

skype/twitter: katrinskaya
(347) 281-7191

A global network of people using mobile technology for social impact
http://mobileactive.org

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