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[liberationtech] philosophy

Jane Fountain fountain at
Tue Sep 14 09:58:01 PDT 2010

This is very helpful contribution, Jerry.  I've also been a reader rather
than a contributor and am moved by the recent postings and their
significance.  I would add to Jerry's principle that it is very difficult -
sometimes impossible - for the same person or group (or lab, govt agency or
firm) to be able to think through let alone imagine the "incompetent misuse"
and "malevolent abuse" categories.  It is particularly difficult for those
who develop a technology for good to envision the latter two categories.

Jane Fountain

On Tue, Sep 14, 2010 at 12:10 PM, Jerome Ravetz
<jerome-ravetz at>wrote:

> Up to now I've just been skimming.  But there is much material for
> reflection here, including the honesty of the participants.
> As my offering, here is a useful principle.  Every new device has:
> Intended use
> Creative new use
> Incompetent misuse
> Malevolent abuse.
> If we always run through that checklist every time we are considering an
> innovation, we might have some protection.  It does represent a big shift,
> since for a very long time it was assumed that innovation is essentially
> benign, and 'unexpected consequences' could be managed as they occurred.  In
> some IT development it seems to have become recognised; but it's still a
> long way from being universal.
> All best wishes -
> Jerry Ravetz
> On 14 Sep 2010, at 16:46, Katrin Verclas wrote:
> 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  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:
> (don't ask what's up with
> the URL) and a sentence from the San Diego City Beat (
> - 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
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> (347) 281-7191
> A global network of people using mobile technology for social impact
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> Jerome Ravetz
> 111 Victoria Road
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> Website:
> Associate Fellow, the  Institute for Science, Innovation and Society,
> Said Business School, Oxford University.
> Files (pdf) of my recent papers on a variety of themes can be found on
> my personal website.  Those relating more to NUSAP and Post-Normal Science
> can be found on the website; on the Home Page see Tutorials
> - Post-Normal Science and NUSAP, and Sections - Reports, papers.
> Ongoing discussions of Post-Normal Science can be found on the blog:
> My book A No-Nonsense Guide to Science has been published
> by New Internationalist.
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Professor of Political Science and Public Policy
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