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

Robert Guerra rguerra at
Thu Dec 29 14:55:52 PST 2011

As Milton is not on this list, I took the initiative of letting him know
that his posts are being actively discussed on this list. He asked that I
forward his response to the list... See below



Sent from a mobile device.  Apologies for typos or brevity.

Begin forwarded message:

*From:* Milton L Mueller <mueller at>
*Date:* 29 December, 2011 5:43:25 PM EST
*To:* Robert Guerra <rguerra at>
*Subject:* *FW: IGP Blog :: Technology as symbol: Is resistance to
surveillance technology being misdirected?*

  Hey, Robert,

Can you forward it to the list...

It's good that your community is having a discussion of this; on the whole
I think it's best that it go on without me directly joining the list and
getting into it.

But I do want to make a few points on my own; would appreciate it if you
could forward my message below.

First, I am not trying to take cheap shots at the activists. This was a
baffling charge to me because if one ever takes cheap shots, one does so at
people with whom one is fundamentally opposed and wants to discredit. I
take cheap shots at nationalism, religion, Republican evangelicals,
trademark lawyers & copyright maximalists, the CIA and beltway bandits
around DHS, and, if I'm in a bad mood, ditsy OWS protesters. My motive was
actually the opposite. I thought that some of the exaggerated and
thoughtless claims being aired in the media were in fact making it easy for
the activists to discredit themselves. I am on the whole a big fan of EFF,
work with them in OECD and other contexts, deeply respect what they have
done and am really, really glad that they are out there to take up the
cudgel on issues like ISP liability, censorship, SOPA, etc.

Second, I am surprised and a bit amused by how many people think they can
dismiss a person or an argument by calling it "cyberlibertarian," out of
the 1990s, etc. OK, yes, there are people out there (both Left and Right)
who mindlessly repeat formulaic mantras that conform to a doctrine, and
perhaps they can be dismissed. The IGP blog however tries to combine an
'ideological' commitment to freedom with a very keen appreciation of the
concrete facts about technology and institutions that affect the governance
and operations of the internet. More importantly, ideology at its best is
simply an attempt to be logical and principled, and to tie political
positions to core values. People who dismiss one ideology are usually just
slaves of some other ideology, whose assumptions their group takes for
granted, so you may as well 'fess up and deal with it.

A significant part of the debate over how to approach export controls is
rooted in differences over how one perceives the role of state in the
protection of human rights globally (as you'll see below when I address a
point Collin makes). That is a deep and important debate; ignore its full
ramifications at your own peril.

Third, the impetus for my intervention came primarily from the newspaper
reporters. It began with the highly questionable piece on Iran written by
Rhoads of the WSJ back in 2009, which was full of technical errors and
seemed to have a hidden agenda, and continued through two interviews with
the Bloomberg reporters, who seemed to be genuinely interested in learning
more about the tech and its use, but the reports always seemed to take a
simplistic line that did not reflect those discussions. So this has been
building for some time.

Now let me address a few points Collin A. makes:

>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 self-serving.

This is doubly false. 1) The article does not assume anything about how
much "introspection" there is or isn’t, it's unreasonable to expect public
commentary to read others' minds. The article is directed to the general
public and puts forward concerns that need to  be aired but were not being
aired properly. 2) While Collin is correct that there has been a
longstanding debate about the efficacy of export controls and on attempts
to control the 'proliferation' of technology/ies, the dialogue around
surveillance tech reflected none of its nuances or history prior to my
intervention. E.g., when I tried to bring up militarization of encryption
the Bloomberg reporter was both ignorant of it and uninterested. The strong
reaction to the piece is proof that that debate is still vibrant and far
from settled. The fact that the article generated so much reaction on this
list is proof that those points needed to be discussed more.

> 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.

Yikes. Here we get to the real, most substantive point where our views may
diverge and where ideology - i.e. basic views about political philosophy,
the nature of the state, etc. - is unavoidable.  Yes,
I am deeply suspicious of this belief that the powers of the 21st century
nation-state can be harnessed to serve human rights ends. This is not a
"let the market decide" argument it is a "you'd better be pretty fucking
careful with states" argument.

A globally dominant hegemon's arming of other countries can become a "point
of leverage" indeed. But leverage for what? Collin's words are carefully
chosen: "leverage for inducing foreign regimes to behave in a certain way."
Yes. Leverage for individual rights and freedom? I don't think so. A
national government will pursue its national interest, and enter into
bargains with other states regarding their national interests. Liberals and
progressives are always suckers for the idea that if "good people" are in
power, the state as an institution can and will do all kinds of good
things. But the interests of a global hegemon are primarily in protecting
its power and position, maintaining stability, preserving key economic
interests. Doesn't matter whether it’s a Dem or a Repub holding the reins.
We should know from our own domestic experience with surveillance, SOPA,
etc., that the interests of the American state, qua state, rarely align
with the interests of the ordinary person in autonomy and prosperity - not
at home and certainly not overseas. One does not have to be a raging
anarcho-whatever to notice that the USG's Internet freedom initiatives
align very closely with its strategic and geopolitical concerns with
particular governments - Iran, China - and seem to ignore others - Saudi,
etc. While I am not completely opposed to the State Department's IF program
or initiatives such as GOFA, I think the advocates of a more extensive
global regime of surveillance and controls on ICT technologies are not
fully coming to grips with its political and institutional implications, or
its potential unintended effects.

We are not going to resolve this question here, but one MUST recognize that
the idea of "regulating dual use technology" is itself a highly ideological
position, one that rests on a specific philosophy of government (one that I
think ignores the practical realities of international relations). So
Collin's admonition that we need to avoid philosophy is off target.

However, one obvious limitation of my critique is that I am not offering a
full-blown alternative, just criticizing what I saw as veering off the in
the wrong direction. I remain open to good, practical ideas for ways to
prevent dictatorships from abusing networking technologies, but let's not
lose sight of the fact that it's the dictatorships themselves that are the
source of the problem.

Milton L. Mueller

Professor, Syracuse University School of Information Studies

Internet Governance Project
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