Search Mailing List Archives


Limit search to: Subject & Body Subject Author
Sort by: Reverse Sort
Limit to: All This Week Last Week This Month Last Month
Select Date Range     through    

[liberationtech] Not another Haystack right?

Evgeny Morozov evgeny.morozov at gmail.com
Tue Nov 29 19:42:14 PST 2011


I was intrigued by two issues on this thread:

1) Brian Conley's question about why BBG's support to Tor does not seem to
undermine Tor.

2) Jillian York's statement that the Berkman Center has only received
funding for research, which, pushed one step further, means that research
of circumvention tools is somehow inconsequential to the broader debate
about USG's support of such tools.

To Brian's question: I'm also very intrigued by this. The common
explanation that I heard many times is that Tor was conceived as a tool for
protecting one's online anonymity , not for circumventing government
censorship; the latter was something that users discovered and embraced on
their own. While I found this explanation plausible in the past, I'm no
longer sure I can buy it without some further evidence. Were Tor's
developers really that narrow-minded as not to understand that the tool can
also be used for circumventing censorship? We are talking some of the
smartest guys out there - and they couldn't anticipate it? Something here
doesn't compute. Or was the anonymity talk just a strategic rhetorical
device to deflect attention from the intended use? I haven't read all
the relevant mailing lists and am just articulating common wisdom so it
would be good if some people who have been involved with Tor for a long
time would comment.

Secondly, there is another common explanation for Tor's resilience: the
fact that instead of going after a particular country, they try to be
comprehensive and guard against any threats to users' online anonymity
regardless of their location (this is obviously my understanding - please
correct if I don't get it right). By this logic, tools that take USG
funding and go after a particular country (as, say, Haystack did) make
themselves vulnerable to certain conspiracy theories. But this argument,
too, doesn't convince me anymore now that Iran has been going after Tor
quite systematically and the Tor team have been modifying their product to
ensure it works there. My question is: for how long can Tor continue being
seen as neutral and not targeting country X if so much of their resources
is spent on making sure their tool works in country X?

As for Jillian's assertion that research of circumvention tools is somehow
conceptually and ethically different from tool-building or training, well,
allow me to disagree. One doesn't need to get in bed with Foucault to grasp
that a detailed study of circumvention tools - e.g. ranking of their
security features and their choice of tools that they won't study or
speculate upon (hello, Haystack!) - is not only performative but is also
intricately implicated in the *production *of those very tools (and I'm
using the word production here rather loosely).

Are we really naive enough to believe that a "Tool X, as certified by
Harvard University" is the same as a "Tool X, as certified by The State
University of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan"? I'd venture that, all things
being equal, a tool that is funded by USG and endorsed by Harvard is likely
to be less suspicious (to local users) than a tool that is funded by USG
and not endorsed by anyone. (There are, exceptions, of course). So I'd
rather not spare the well-meaning researchers the scrutiny deserve

Please note that this is not some meta-point about the ethics of taking
(and offering) USG money to activists and NGOs; my views on this quite
complex. It's simply an expression of my continued besument at some folks
at the Berkman Center who keep pretending that none of this matters and
that "they are only here to help".

Evgeny

On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 5:05 PM, Brian Conley <brianc at smallworldnews.tv>wrote:

> Also, GV is avowedly opposed to taking USG funding, as it's been related
> to me recently by Ivan Sigal, their Executive Director. I believe they have
> always been opposed to it, including funding via a pass through or as a
> subcontractor or subgrant receiver. My understanding is that this is
> primarily due to the attitude about USG funding in the Middle East, whereas
> GV *does* receive funding from other organizations connected to governments
> other than the United States.
>
> Brian
>
>
> On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 3:58 PM, Jillian C. York <jilliancyork at gmail.com>wrote:
>
>> Katrin,
>>
>> First off, while this debate may not be pertinent *to this thread*(admittedly, I only brought it up because I misunderstood Brian's
>> comments), I do think it's a useful discussion to have, as many tool
>> developers don't seem to think about the impact of their funding on users.
>>
>> Now, facts: I've been publicly critical of USG (and specifically,
>> State/DRL) funding since I worked at Berkman, so I'm not sure what kind of
>> "gotcha" you're trying to pull here.  Berkman incubated Global Voices (but
>> did not receive USG funding for it, nor has GV ever received USG money to
>> my knowledge), and Berkman received USG funding for *research*.  I don't
>> see what either of those facts have to do with USG funding of *tools* *or
>> trainings*, both of which have direct impact on individuals (whereas
>> research does not, though of course impact may be indirect).
>>
>> To be clear, I'm not wholly opposed to USG funding.  There are obvious
>> pluses and minuses, but speaking narrowly, if we take circumvention as a
>> singular example, it's extremely clear that USG has in the past and perhaps
>> continues to fund tools that are not vetted, not secure, and not safe.  Add
>> to that the fact that some folks in MENA, and likely elsewhere, don't trust
>> the USG, tool developers would be well-advised to tread with caution.
>>
>> You may think this debate is off the mark, and again, it is clearly not
>> relevant to the original thread (and for that I apologize).  But given that
>> it's at the top of the list for discussion at *every single Arab
>> blogging-type event I've ever been to*, I don't think you're in a place
>> to call it irrelevant.
>>
>> Best,
>> Jillian
>>
>>
>> On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 3:02 PM, Katrin Verclas <katrin at mobileactive.org>wrote:
>>
>>> Eh, Jillian - it's not that your former employer, the Berkman Center,
>>> ever received USG funding or supported a bloggers network...oh wait...
>>>
>>> I think this debate is really off the mark, unhelpful and needlessly
>>> ideologically narrow as well as playing into all sorts of conspiracy
>>> theories.  In the end, the ethics, quality of the work and the transparent
>>> conduct and legitimacy of the organization and any local partners speaks
>>> far louder than where the funding comes from.  And yes, speaking as a USG
>>> grantee who treads very carefully to make sure that our work and conduct
>>> speaks for itself in the end.
>>>
>>> Now, go ahead and beat on me as y'all are want to do ... :)
>>>
>>> Katrin
>>>
>>> On Nov 29, 2011, at 2:16 PM, Jillian C. York wrote:
>>>
>>> > I'm desperately curious as to why anyone thinks that USG funding makes
>>> something somehow more valid in the eyes of the tool's recipients/users.
>>>  "Viability" perhaps, but validity?  Surely you don't believe that.
>>> >
>>> > On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 10:53 AM, Michael Rogers <m-- at gmx.com> wrote:
>>> > Hi Brian,
>>> >
>>> > Thanks for the questions - answers below.
>>> >
>>> > On 29/11/11 18:22, Brian Conley wrote:
>>> > > 1. what are some use-cases you see for Briar? That is not clear from
>>> > > your site, other than "Briar is a secure news and discussion
>>> > > system designed to be used by journalists, activists and civil
>>> society
>>> > > groups in authoritarian countries. "
>>> > >
>>> > > How would they use it? What would they do with it? What are their
>>> goals,
>>> > > and for what reasons would they choose Briar over, say, secret
>>> Facebook
>>> > > groups run over TOR and HTTPS (there may be lots of problems with
>>> that
>>> > > example, its just an example that I think activists are likely to
>>> > > utilize, and I know of at least one case where a "secret facebook
>>> group"
>>> > > has been used to coordinate actions in an Arab country, though I
>>> doubt
>>> > > they were using any additional security in most cases)
>>> >
>>> > I hope people will use Briar for anything they currently use blogs,
>>> > mailing lists, Facebook groups and private emails for. But since it's
>>> > inconvenient to adopt new tools, I'd imagine its main appeal will be to
>>> > users who feel they're at risk of surveillance or censorship.
>>> >
>>> > When compared to Facebook, the advantages of Briar would include:
>>> > * Messages can be posted anonymously or pseudonymously
>>> > * Facebook and its partners don't have access to private messages
>>> > * Users in the same country don't need to "climb the wall" to
>>> > communicate with each other
>>> >
>>> > Of course, there are disadvantages too - not least of which is that
>>> > Facebook can be accessed from any computer with a browser.
>>> >
>>> > > With regard to its use by journalists especially, how will sources be
>>> > > able to be identified? Although you may not want people to know that
>>> > > Brian Joel Conley who lives in Portland OR, etc said X, Y, and Z, a
>>> > > journalist will need to know that X, Y, and Z were all said by the
>>> same
>>> > > source, among other needs.
>>> >
>>> > If someone needs to prove that two or more messages come from the same
>>> > source, she can sign those messages with a pseudonym. The pseudonym
>>> > doesn't need to be connected to her real identity in any way, and she
>>> > can use multiple pseudonyms without anyone, including her trusted
>>> > contacts, being certain that those pseudonyms belong to her.
>>> >
>>> > If someone needs to confirm that a pseudonym belongs to a specific
>>> > individual, she has to meet that individual face-to-face. Briar has
>>> > nothing equivalent to PGP's web of trust that could be used to attest
>>> > that "key X belongs to person Y according to person Z".
>>> >
>>> > > 2. who is funding your project? Are you being public about this? If
>>> not,
>>> > > it raises some concerns for the validity and viability of the
>>> project,
>>> > > though it may also be understandable given the subject matter. If
>>> it's
>>> > > not being funded by the Broadcast Board of Governors already, and
>>> you're
>>> > > willing to consider USG funding, let me know and I'm happy to put
>>> you in
>>> > > touch with some folks who may be able to assist.
>>> >
>>> > Thanks, that would be fantastic! The project has previously been funded
>>> > by the Small Media Initiative but isn't currently receiving any
>>> funding.
>>> > If we do, we'll be transparent about it.
>>> >
>>> > Cheers,
>>> > Michael
>>> > _______________________________________________
>>> > liberationtech mailing list
>>> > liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu
>>> >
>>> > Should you need to change your subscription options, please go to:
>>> >
>>> > https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/liberationtech
>>> >
>>> > If you would like to receive a daily digest, click "yes" (once you
>>> click above) next to "would you like to receive list mail batched in a
>>> daily digest?"
>>> >
>>> > You will need the user name and password you receive from the list
>>> moderator in monthly reminders.
>>> >
>>> > Should you need immediate assistance, please contact the list
>>> moderator.
>>> >
>>> > Please don't forget to follow us on
>>> http://twitter.com/#!/Liberationtech
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > --
>>> > jilliancyork.com | @jilliancyork | tel: +1-857-891-4244 | google
>>> voice: +1-415-562-JILL
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > _______________________________________________
>>> > liberationtech mailing list
>>> > liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu
>>> >
>>> > Should you need to change your subscription options, please go to:
>>> >
>>> > https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/liberationtech
>>> >
>>> > If you would like to receive a daily digest, click "yes" (once you
>>> click above) next to "would you like to receive list mail batched in a
>>> daily digest?"
>>> >
>>> > You will need the user name and password you receive from the list
>>> moderator in monthly reminders.
>>> >
>>> > Should you need immediate assistance, please contact the list
>>> moderator.
>>> >
>>> > Please don't forget to follow us on
>>> http://twitter.com/#!/Liberationtech
>>>
>>>
>>> Katrin Verclas
>>> MobileActive.org
>>> katrin at mobileactive.org
>>>
>>> skype/twitter: katrinskaya
>>> (347) 281-7191
>>>
>>> Check out the new Mobile Media Toolkit at
>>> http://mobilemediatoolkit.org. To "Making Media Mobile!"
>>>
>>> A global network of people using mobile technology for social impact
>>> http://mobileactive.org
>>>
>>>
>>
>>
>> --
>> jilliancyork.com | @jilliancyork | tel: +1-857-891-4244 | google voice:
>> +1-415-562-JILL
>>
>>
>>
>>
>> _______________________________________________
>> liberationtech mailing list
>> liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu
>>
>> Should you need to change your subscription options, please go to:
>>
>> https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/liberationtech
>>
>> If you would like to receive a daily digest, click "yes" (once you click
>> above) next to "would you like to receive list mail batched in a daily
>> digest?"
>>
>> You will need the user name and password you receive from the list
>> moderator in monthly reminders.
>>
>> Should you need immediate assistance, please contact the list moderator.
>>
>> Please don't forget to follow us on http://twitter.com/#!/Liberationtech
>>
>
>
>
> --
>
>
>
> Brian Conley
>
> Director, Small World News
>
> http://smallworldnews.tv
>
> m: 646.285.2046
>
> Skype: brianjoelconley
>
>
> _______________________________________________
> liberationtech mailing list
> liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu
>
> Should you need to change your subscription options, please go to:
>
> https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/liberationtech
>
> If you would like to receive a daily digest, click "yes" (once you click
> above) next to "would you like to receive list mail batched in a daily
> digest?"
>
> You will need the user name and password you receive from the list
> moderator in monthly reminders.
>
> Should you need immediate assistance, please contact the list moderator.
>
> Please don't forget to follow us on http://twitter.com/#!/Liberationtech
>
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://mailman.stanford.edu/pipermail/liberationtech/attachments/20111129/4d02c508/attachment.html>


More information about the liberationtech mailing list