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[liberationtech] Blackhighlighter: Protected Public Discussions (tool for equalizing communications)

Brian Dickens hostilefork at
Mon Mar 9 06:19:11 PDT 2015

Hello LiberationTech!

This list was suggested to me as a place that might be receptive to
new ideas which would empower scenarios in open governance.  I have an
idea--as well as an implementation--of something I'd really like your
feedback about.

My project is whimsically called "Black Highlighter" based on an Onion
article ("CIA Realizes it's been using black highlighters all these
years)--but I'm actually quite serious about it:

It's a web widget that allows you to mark out sensitive portions of a
message at the time of composition, and cryptographically signs the
"holes".  This makes it possible to verify the missing portions later,
and the redactions can be revealed on a case-by-case basis by anyone
with certificates containing that redaction.  All this is done in the
browser without needing to send the sensitive bits to a server (unless
you are revealing them).

The applications might not seem immediately obvious.  But it was
initially conceived for helping government organizations comply with
transparency regulations, by being able to publish their daily notes
in a timely fashion...and to fairly engage FOIA requests.

There are many other usages which I've thought of since, with themes
of "taking the guesswork out of forwarding" and "making information
that would have been completely private become partially public".  In
general it's about raising the accountability of a recipient in a
correspondence that has an imbalance of power.  ("flipping the inbox")
 This could be applied to everything from job applications to personal

But communications to (and from) the elected government are still my
main focus.  I've made a video which summarizes the workings and some
of the points--which you'll also find on the project page.  It puts
the demo up front, so you can see that and stop listening to me ramble
on if you get bored. :-)

While not a "product" in its current form, the system is quite real.
It's also built with technologies that people are using today (HTML5,
Node.JS, MongoDB), and the techniques work across browsers.  (A
mobile/touch story would be nice to have...if anyone is good with that
kind of thing and wants to chip in?)

What I'm hoping is to be able to get this in front of somebody who
might be interested in being involved in using it or adapting it.  So
even if you don't have a specific use yourself, it would be very
helpful if you could take a moment to think if you know someone who
would "be into this kind of thing" and forward it to them.

Thanks for your time...!


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