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[liberationtech] Resignation

Jim Youll jyoull at alum.mit.edu
Tue Sep 14 09:22:02 PDT 2010


Daniel, considering all that has happened, including piling-on when enough had been said, this is quite a significant move on your part. Thanks for writing such a detailed and sincere story.

Expect a s***storm in the press now. They will pile on (particularly when there's been such a build-up, also via the media). Technical people at least know when to stop because once the discussion's been had, it's no longer interesting. For your part, this document helps at least assure that your role and motives/actions are nailed down in "fact" as much as they can be. What this means for Austin remains to be seen. I wish things had not gone this way because every discrediting event makes the overall environment more difficult for people working on even modest, useful projects.

Technical people: It's about damn time that a conversation went this far, all the way to a credible, open-eyed, researched conclusion that was not shot down by "why do you have to be so negative?" and "... but it's to help people, so give it a chance" wishful thinking.

Can we now, finally, extract the general lessons about study, accountability, disclosure, and valid lines of questioning that have emerged from this exercise... so that next time all the full-time techie worriers (myself included) are not starting again from a position of having to defend our arrogance in asking potentially-embarrassing questions? Anyone working on that? I'll help if you want me.

- jim


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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