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[liberationtech] Boundless Informant: the NSA's secret tool to track global surveillance data

Jacob Appelbaum jacob at
Mon Jun 17 06:25:08 PDT 2013

Rich Kulawiec:
> On Sun, Jun 09, 2013 at 10:11:08AM -0400, Nadim Kobeissi wrote:
>> On 2013-06-09, at 10:08 AM, Rich Kulawiec <rsk at> wrote:
>>> Second: stupidity, in all forms, fully deserves to be slapped down --
>> This is where I stop reading.
> I have to admit, even though I've read this half a dozen times,
> I don't get it.  I tried coffee.  Nope.  I tried scotch.  Nope.
> I tried staring at the clouds.  Nope.
> So let me try explaining my take on it.

Lets reword it - rather than stupidity - lets rephrase it 'illiteracy' -
and rather than slapped down, lets be more direct: we should work
tirelessly to raise consciousness about this illiteracy, to improve
literacy for every person on the planet.

> We're not playing around here.  There are people out there reading
> this list and trying to figure out how to use technology to fight
> human rights abuses, stop wars, reveal corruption, etc.  And they're
> opposed, in many cases, by very smart very nasty very ruthless people
> who will not hesitate to threaten, kidnap, torture and kill anyone
> they perceive as a credible threat.

I met a woman today in Tunis who told me that this is her concern - that
she will be kidnapped and killed as a result of surveillance. She asked
me to evaluate her current work flow and when I did so, I showed her
what I could capture, what others can likely capture and what could be
done with the data. She nearly started to cry while I dryly explained
the vulnerabilities in using a network under heavy surveillance, about
the privacy concerns presented by GSM/UTMS and about the kind of malware
specifically known to be deployed against her friends.

"What do we do?"

People understand the stakes - we can also appraoch this in a way that
is more humble. It is hard at times because many of us, myself included,
simply screw this humility up. We should strive to have humility and to
improve things for those who are open to it.

There is a flip side - there are people, people on this list even, where
they refuse to acknowledge reality. Those people fought obvious
realities about Skype, about Google, about even Twitter - each company
has different issues, obviously. However, none of them are actually
secure in a meaningful sense.

> The advice we hand out here, the technology we create, may be the
> difference in keeping the former group safe from the latter.

I agree. This is not to be taken lightly. At the same time - we must not
be so angry, we must not be so loud and rude, we must try to welcome the
people who are just now realizing many of us were right for a decade.
For a decade and for some, two decades many of us looked like crazy
people. We no longer look like crazy people. Now, we must work very
hard, very smartly to not screw this up - people care and people want to
make changes. Now is our time to shine - now is our time to really help,
to really help bring policy and technology in line - we should not screw
up this opportunity.

> So if one of us makes a mistake, then we all need to know.  If I recommend
> bad crypto because I don't know any better, *someone* had better smack
> the crap out of me as quickly as possible before someone else makes the
> mistake of listening to me.  I'll get over the momentary embarrassment:
> heck, I make enough mistakes in an average day that I've gotten pretty
> used to it.  I won't get over knowing that my error cost someone else dearly.

You will, others won't. This is fragile. I understand that someone
giving bad advice should be clearly and firmly told the facts that are
known, or the risks of being dead wrong. It can be done in a way that
won't drive people away.

> We owe that to all the people who are in the field trying to make this
> world a better place.  We need to be as "right" as we can be, with our
> limited knowledge and human propensity for mistakes.  And we need to not
> worry about *who's* right or *how* they're right, because once we've
> rid the world of poverty and starvation and disease and bigotry and
> prejudice and violence and ignorance and superstition and repression,
> then we'll have plenty of time to sit around and philosophically
> debate the fine points of who should get which credit for what part of
> the glorious and peaceful new reality.
> Also there will be scotch.  Really, really good scotch. ;-)
> So yes, stupidity SHOULD be slapped down.  So should ignorance,
> superstition, prejudice, bigotry, and all of the other negative things
> that -- during all of recorded human history and likely before --
> have been the tools of tyrants and dictators.  Empires come and go,
> political structures become fashionable and then fade away, the names
> and places change constantly...but *these* things are the constant
> enemy.  If we are to overcome them in those we oppose -- we must
> first overcome them in ourselves.

It should be done with kindness and compassion whenever possible. It is
almost always possible, it is however sometimes very difficult.
Understandably but still, we should aim for higher values and higher
quality dialog.

A moment of clarity,

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