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[liberationtech] On the politics of the circumvention debate

Katrin Verclas katrin at
Tue Sep 21 07:56:24 PDT 2010

Evgeny -

What do you see as the major areas of discussion and policy focus (and  
funding) beyond circumvention? Some are touched upon in Ethan's piece  
that you reference below, but I am curious but your priority list  
would be?


On Sep 17, 2010, at 4:54 PM, Evgeny Morozov wrote:

> At the risk of steering this debate away from Haystack, I'd like to  
> reflect on something that Mehdi ementioned in one of his recent  
> emails to the list - namely his suggestion that my questioning of  
> the US government's involvement with Haystack may somehow shift  
> policy debate around circumvention tools in Washington and might  
> thus damage the prospects of obtaining more government funding for  
> such tools.
> I think Mehdi's are valid concerns but I don't think that a shift in  
> the policy debate around circumvention is necessarily a bad thing.  
> Those who have not been following the field very closely may benefit  
> from knowing that there are a lot of people - me included - who have  
> been asking for precisely this kind of policy debate to occur for a  
> very long time. (For a good summary of recent arguments on this  
> issue see Ethan Zuckerman's essay Beyond Circumvention.)
> Another person who has consistently spoken out about the need to go  
> beyond circumvention is Rebecca MacKinnon and I hope she can chime  
> in here as well. I also know that there are plenty of people who  
> take the exact opposite side in this debate. I wish I could say that  
> this is an issue on which there is consensus within the community -  
> but I can't.
> I certainly understand Mehdi's interest in ensuring that the web- 
> sites that he runs - as well as many other Internet resources - are  
> accessible to users in Iran. But I don't think that this alone  
> justifies not taking a broader view of the field and trying to  
> figure out whether there has been too much focus - including on the  
> funding front - on supporting circumvention tools at the expense of  
> not funding/discussing/designing appropriate responses to other,  
> more "liquid" types of Internet control like the intimidation of  
> bloggers or DDoS attacks.
> I do understand the concerns of Iranian and Chinese Internet users  
> over their firewalls - but we should also remember that there are  
> plenty of users in a country like Russia, who are still suffering  
> from Internet control - just of a different kind (see the recent  
> Microsoft story in NYT as an example). Just because so much of  
> Washington's focus is on circumvention, Russians do not really get  
> as much help in their own struggles. Thus, as far as I am concerned,  
> if the Haystack controversy could help to finally start that debate  
> in Washington, this would be great news.  There is no way to get it  
> right without having a proper debate on these issues as well as  
> understanding the regional differences in how governments choose to  
> exercise control over the Internet.
> So I'd like to dispute Mehdi's claim that somehow I am not aware of  
> the potential consequences of my criticism; I am. In almost every  
> post that I published about Haystack, I made it pretty clear that  
> I'm not interested in their code as much as I'm interested in the  
> broader environment in which this unfortunate project got started/ 
> survived for so long. And while I wouldn't want to see major funding  
> cuts to important and effective circumvention tools, I do think that  
> we need a much better/holistic understanding of the objectives/ 
> priorities facing the field.
> I'm clearly in favor of continuing this debate - and certainly in  
> favor of extending it to Washington, where the lobbyists working for  
> organizations behind some of these tools - especially the folks from  
> the Global Internet Freedom Consortium - have done their best to  
> suppress it.
> Evgeny
> P.S. full disclosure: I sit on the sub-board of the Information  
> Program at the Open Society Institute and we have funded work in the  
> circumvention space in the past.
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Katrin Verclas
katrin at

skype/twitter: katrinskaya
(347) 281-7191

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