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[liberationtech] The first rule about censorship is we don't talk about censorship

Shava Nerad shava23 at
Wed Apr 18 16:17:33 PDT 2012

On Wed, Apr 18, 2012 at 6:30 PM, James Losey <jameswlosey at> wrote:

> Hi All,
> James Ball wrote an article for the Guardian<>
>  about and noticed a curious thing: the Facebook share button
> does not allow you to share the link to Facebook because it includes the
> words "" Although I was able to post the link itself to Face
> but took a screenshot of the message saying that the article contains
> language that is "spammy or unsafe."
> Does anyone else have more examples of this?

There were a couple redirectors that managed to fool FB for a while on this
but I think they got defeated.

There are some very large general cases this brings to mind, but I'm not
sure that's what you are looking for.

When I was executive director of Tor, we would often run into situations
where in order for organizations to discuss Tor for purposes of
circumvention, they would have to go through convulsions and convolutions
with firewalls, policies, conflicts and sheer reluctance with various other
parts of the organization whose decision makers or whose purchases had
issues with Tor.

This often consisted of a firewall product which had blacklisted Tor as
"hacker software" or something along those lines, without explanation,
causing the IT department to balk when, say, an international nonprofit or
a news gathering group would want to use Tor for their field staff to
connect home.

The tech staff, too often (not a majority of instances, but then -- when do
we get asked to intervene? :), was uninterested in learning about what Tor
did, why it might have been labeled as such or blacklisted, and was less
interested in protecting their field staff -- who were possibly in danger
of real harm -- than their networks and jobs, by doing a little homework in
some cases.

It made me blink.  To some extent I finally decided there was a huge
undercurrent of groupthink in a certain sort of basic IT security that
relies entirely on herd immunity (and of course, is therefore doomed).  I
think I like that I was working in machine rooms in the 70s and 80s
instead. ;)

But the other aspect of this, of course, is related to security by
obscurity in a more blunt sort of recursive, obscurantist way that well
predates the net, and is a lesson folks like Evgeny love to accentuate.

In my opinion, the classic example of this by analogy, going back far into
pre-Internet history, is that you can't talk about women's health because
you can't talk about delicate bits of female anatomy in the presence of
ladies, or bare their bits in the presence of male-dominated medical staff
-- thereby guaranteeing women might die by the thousands and millions over
the centuries.

If you can't talk about talking about censorship; if you can't talk about
talking about how to create a bomb; if you can't talk about talking about
how to terminate a pregnancy safely, or how to prevent one; if you can't
talk about how to teach your children or yourself the equivalent or better
education to the public schools outside of the system,...

All of these things have been illegal fairly recently in the US (the
"speaking about censorship" being in relationship to US DHS NSLs) and I
suspect all of them are currently legal elsewhere, probably many

The web makes that complicated for general cases, and jurisdictionally
complicated for specific cases (What if I report a NSL anonymously from,
say, a Dutch ISP's open forum web site, where several persons could have
known of the NSL?  Who would be prosecuted, I wonder?)

The complicated involvement of the outdated restraints on government
entities (DHS can't correlate certain types of records on citizens) vs
nearly nonexistent restraints on non-carrier corporations (to some extent
non-telephony bits of AT&T, and even more Google or Facebook can
agglomerate anything, and DHS could buy those records and is not restrained
from using them once bought, and we saw from the recent ACLU/AT&T case,
it's not selling your private records if you charge a fee to law
enforcement to retrieve a report even without a warrant presented, and so
not in violation of the privacy agreement you were shown according to AT&T).

So yes, all these influences run against the interest of the user, and this
is why we work to advocate for, and create tools and awareness for the
interests of freedom and liberation technologies.

But essentially this is a struggle between obscurantism and
anti-obscurantism that has been with us for centuries, given a shot of
adrenals by revolutions in communications that makes it volatile and
powerful and dangerous to us all as societies and as individuals, because
the struggle is so much more exposed and has so many more resources

Of course, these days, I get to do very little but be a voyeur and comment.


Shava Nerad
shava23 at
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