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[liberationtech] IGP Blog :: Technology as symbol: Is resistance to surveillance technology being misdirected?

Collin Anderson collin at
Tue Dec 27 10:32:48 PST 2011


The article should not generate much reaction because many of the
conversations on this list and in the community already negate or move past
his points. He assumes, or exploits the reader's ignorance, that there is
no introspection among those activists he appears to criticize as naive or

It is unfortunate that the second article was not written before the first,
as it gets to the thrust of his argument much more efficiently and clearly
than the first. In attempting to make a rudimentary Political Science
argument on institutions, then moving into a cyberlibertarian point on
control and markets, the article comes off as more ideological than I
believe him to be. I would briefly point to a number of comments in his
original piece to reinforce this point, forgive me if they are somewhat
pedantic and unconnected.


| You cannot isolate "bad" information technology in order to control bad

Yes, the specific question of 'dual use' and generalizable equipment is not
a new matter, and his raising of it is neither the first nor the
most eloquent attempt. Same applies to the possibility of non-Western
manufacturers such as Huawei filling the role.

| But I cannot be the first to notice that 4 out of the 6 countries
routinely targeted by this publicity on surveillance technology have either
fallen already (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) or are at risk of falling (Syria)?

While I cannot definitively measure which countries are those 'routinely
targeted,' I would argue that only three on his list have actually
been criticized before this year (Tunisia, Iran, China). I would possibly
add Russia. I don't believe Libya or Egypt were measurably targeted by
activists before this year, and it's quite clear that very few were poking
around Syria until April.

This search would be the best point of reference:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp

| The irony seems lost on them:

There is no legal irony here, just a bland philosophical point. If Prof.
Mueller cannot differentiate between political arrangements of countries
with some semblances of a rule of law and patrimonial states ('...should be
pressing for free trade...', '... irony ...'), his arguments exist in a
staid of philosophy that is not actionable. To me, the disconnect of such
an argument is reinforced in his breathless sentimental metaphor of trade
joining together Israel and Iran.

| But what about the bullets and guns themselves? Or the airplanes and
tanks? Why is the information technology being singled out?

Information technology has never been singled out. At the same time that
critics where inveighing the evils of West countries selling the
surveillance systems, they were admonishing that the American flag was on
the tear gas canisters. Looking at Mr. Appelbaum's Twitter feed is the only
evidence one needs. Additionally, there are international legal regimes on
weapons such as the United Nations Small Arms Treaty (which Obama's
support, of course, caused this:

| But do we have any control over how that technology will be used?

Actually somewhat yes, the American government's arming of other countries
is an excellent point of leverage for inducing foreign regimes to behave in
a certain way. Materiel is not a completely durable good, requiring
servicing and upgrades. It was this dependency that was probably the origin
of the Egyptian military's fracture with the Mubarak regime. There are
countless instances where servicing aircraft and other weapons was a way
for the US to pressure a point with another country.


There have been articles written on the evils of technology reinforcing
authoritarianism, namely HP/Syria, which were cheap and not germane to the
problem at hand. Prof. Mueller's rebuttal on Allot is an excellent
clarification to an article that deeply annoyed me. However, whether or not
the nature of technology was mundane, it is still the mandate of the state
to ensure that the law, including sanctions against trading against
enemies, is upheld. That there is an international black market for
bypassing embargoes is certainly not new, but it is of interest to the
public. This applies to Blue Coat, HP, and everyone whose equipment ended
up in Syria.

The regulation of dual use equipment is not a new field nor
an unprecedented venture for activists. Everyone would do well to stop
treating it as ahistorical, even if the argument is to give up and let the
market reign. One of the things I appreciated most about the last draft of
GOFA that I read was it giving non-Americans standing in US courts to over
foreign corrupt practices, providing at least for discovery if not remedy.
People's time would be better spent on discussions regarding matters like
these than overbroad philosophies.


Collin Anderson

*Collin David Anderson* | @cda | Washington, D.C.

On Mon, Dec 26, 2011 at 3:25 PM, Katrin Verclas <katrin at>wrote:

> Oh, no, no axe at all - genuinely curious for different arguments.
> Also have heard (unlike Jillian, apparently) in private conversation with
> some vendor reps a strong desire for regulation as that levels (at least
> for Western companies) the playing field, as far as they are concerned.
> Again, not making a value judgment here, just reporting what I've heard.
> Incidentally, some of these very vendors in Europe are organizing
> privately to develop internal guidelines for the sale of equipment to
> certain countries, I hear.
> Katrin
> ------Original Message------
> From: Alec Muffett
> To: Katrin Verclas
> Cc: Evgeny Morozov
> Cc: liberationtech-bounces at
> Cc: Stanford tech list List
> Subject: Re: [liberationtech] IGP Blog :: Technology as symbol: Is
> resistance to surveillance technology being misdirected?
> Sent: Dec 26, 2011 1:28 PM
> On 26 December 2011 14:55, Katrin Verclas <katrin at> wrote:
> > So you tweeted you disagree with him - in part. Discuss. The curious
> want to know!
> Katrin,
> Is there a particular axe that you want to grind, here?
> I've read both posts now, and at the risk of being branded (in Andre's
> terms) a "199x cyber-libertarian" my impression is that Mueller is all
> of practical, pragmatic and correct.
> I'd discuss my position but unless there's a specific issue at stake I
> feel Mueller has done a better job in two postings than I could
> summarise in a few paragraphs - and I wouldn't want to write reams
> only to lose focus and invite divergence into irrelevance...
> -a
> Sent via mobile. Hence, short.
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