Susie writes, “FCC chair Tom Wheeler came to Oakland last night and got surprisingly fired up about exorbitant and predatory prison phone fees. Otherwise he was pretty even-keeled and avoided making a lot of specific statements of political support — at least compared to the “WiFi = cancer” white people who wouldn’t stop yelling.”
Her original post is here.
I just posted a video to my music blog I shot during a recent music safari to Brazil. Youtube’s automatic pattern matcher flagged the song my friends were playing as potentially copyrighted material. Fortunately, when I clicked through to find out more, I found a “Dispute” button. I know a little bit about fair use and my rights on line, so I clicked and disputed. The “offending” video is here. My write-up of this incident, including my grounds for fair use, is here.
This letter went out to several lists on January 10, 2014. I’m publishing it here (a) in case there are still three or four people on the Internet who have not seen it yet, and (b) to provide a linkable version and an archive.
Friends, Colleagues, People of the Internet,
F2C: Freedom to Connect won’t happen in 2014.
Why? Short answer: if I can’t say, “This will be excellent!”
then I don’t want to do it.
I produced F2C in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and
2013. Each of these conferences featured great speakers and
timely ideas to further the Internet, democracy and humanity.
Looking back, there were stand-out speeches by Aaron Swartz,
Glenn Greenwald, Yochai Benkler, Vint Cerf, Susan Crawford,
Terry Huval, James Salter, Donna Edwards, Eben Moglen, Larry
Lessig and many others. After each annual edition of F2C I
was not only proud of producing the event, I was also glad I
went to it.
But despite my efforts, most of the right people –
Washington DC’s movers and shakers — were not there. I took
F2C’s mission seriously, to bring underrepresented Internet
issues into the Washington DC policy discussion.
Dissappointly, very few FCC, NTIA or Congressional staffers,
and even fewer appointed and elected officials, appeared.
Invited VIPs usually came, spoke, split. The actual F2C
attendees turned out to be the same underrepresented people I
wanted the DC policy establishment to hear. As Professor
Moglen observed in 2012, “I see it’s ‘us’ here.”
As we’re seeing today (the Snowden documents are but one
example), you can make information available by the petabyte,
you can distill it until the conclusions are obvious, but it
takes decades and billions, not data-driven analysis, to
deflect Washington DC’s policy machine. Our democracy is
under attack. Life on Earth is in peril. F2C wouldn’t make a
damn bit of difference in Washington DC right now.
Another factor: many of my A-List speakers weren’t available
this year. Heart-breakingly, Aaron Swartz couldn’t be there.
Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jake Applebaum and Edward
Snowden wouldn’t come. Jeremy Hammond, Kim Dotcom and
Svartholm “Anakata” Warg can’t. Others, giants like Yochai
Benkler and Bruce Schneier, are too busy doing time-critical,
essential work to let F2C interrupt their schedule. The
“A-list” for F2C 2014 was looking thin — see “excellent”
I briefly explored passing the F2C torch to the people most
likely to build the future of the Internet, a younger cadre
of coders, hackers, makers and doers. Quickly I realized that
this community is not my community, and it is perfectly
capable of doing its own amazingly awesome conferences.
Also, there are many, many, many, many compelling convenings
around F2C’s issues. For on-line rights, the Chaos
Communications Conference (#30C3) last month was amazing;
make sure to watch the videos! Do not miss RightsCon in March
in San Francisco, or Personal Democracy Forum in June in NYC;
I am going to both. Keep an eye out for Computers, Freedom
and Privacy and the National Conference on Media Reform; both
are excellent. For more official telecom policy events,
there’s “State of the Net” in January and TPRC in September.
For municipal networking, Scott DeGarmo’s Broadband
Communities Conferences are superb. NATOA also provides
essential municipal network leadership events. For
understanding tech ecosystems, nothing beats an O’Reilly
conference (and there are many). For hands-on action there’s
MozillaFest, the various Maker Faires and thousands of Bar
Camps. Finally, SXSW in March in Austin TX is in a class by
itself. With all these great events (and many more of their
calibre), F2C’s unique value in 2014 was not obvious to me.
The sponsors of F2C — the Media Democracy Fund, the Open
Technology Institute, Google, Thoughtworks, ISOC, Ting, The
Sunlight Foundation and probably others — were all willing
to support F2C in 2014. I am humbled by their material vote
of confidence in F2C. I am sorry I won’t be able to use their
generous support. I hope they’ll be receptive if/when I sense
that the time for F2C has come again.
The Internet provides an unprecedented platform, if we can
keep it. Those who treat it as a communications network are
missing its point. Its four decades have been an embodiment
of human freedom, even as it has enabled the surveillance
state. Despite the depredations of the greedy and powerful,
despite their attacks on our humanity — or maybe even
because of them — the Internet’s essence remains worthy of
our all; I will continue to give mine.
Tomorrow, January 11, is the first anniversary of Aaron
Swartz’s death. My blog, at http://isen.com/blog has been
silent for almost a year. Tomorrow it will resume.
Thank you for your continued interest in F2C: Freedom to
Connect. For now, see you on line!
We’ve known all along that the Clear Skies Act, the Healthy Forests Initiative and the Open Internet Order would lead to more air pollution, more pillage of national forests and a pwned, corporatized, monetized Internet. After all, the FCC’s Open Internet Order was born of a compromise between Google and Verizon; elephants danced and the grass roots got trampled.
In 2009 and 2010 — as FCC Chairman Genachowski deked and ducked and tried not to offend anybody powerful — it was clear to all, especially to the biggest telcos and cablecos, that if the FCC were to classify Internet access as a Title 2 telecommunications service, this would (a) solve the big problems that the phrase “Network Neutrality” was invented to describe, would (b) provide strong legal grounds against challenges, and would (c) be consistent with 500 years of common law and a deep corpus of case law. Nope, we could not have that. It was better to have a weak compromise, full of exceptions, that was bound to be overturned in court. Here’s my own bitter prognostication from December 2010.
Now that the DC Appeals Court has struck down the FCC’s 2010 order [court decision here], now is the time to demand that the FCC do what it should have done in the first place. It should classify Internet access as a Title 2 Telecommunications Service. The precedents for doing this are strong. The bigcos will be unanimous in their hatred for it; we should welcome their hatred.
The Internet should be for everybody. It should not be narrowly monetized, productized and marketed to benefit the already-rich and the already-powerful. Reclassification of Internet access to be a Title 2 Telecommunications Service could do this.
Chairman Wheeler. Special Counsel for External Affairs Sohn. Are you listening?
I am torn about whether to post this or not. On the one hand, there is a huge corpus of facts that indicate that the open Internet as we have known it is no more. Or soon will be gone. If we conclude this, it is soul crushing.
We could deny the openly available evidence and the conclusions it leads us to. We could fiddle away happily blogging and tweeting thinking we were saving the Internet as *IT* inexorably surrounds and digests *US*.
Because I have the moral upbringing and training of a scientist, eyes-wide-open wins. I am reminded of the joke about the engineer under the stuck guillotine.
Cory Doctorow posted his own line of evidence last Friday leading him to say,
“We are Huxleying ourselves into the full Orwell. I’m not kidding about any of this. I can’t sleep anymore. I think it may be game over.”
Cory misses a few important chunks. There’s the radical consolidation of Internet access, an old news story, but a huge factor in the decline of the freedom of the Internet. And the radical consolidation of applications; e.g., maintaining an email account that’s independent of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and the like is getting harder and harder. Then there’s the fact that the USA, by its ham-fisted wholesale surveillance shenanigans, has abdicated any pretense of moral leadership towards a decentralized but loosely unified multi-stakeholder Internet.
Like I say, I’m torn. On the one hand, I could contract and selfishly enjoy the comforts that have fallen my way for the 20 or so years (actuarially) remaining for me. On the other hand, I could get really angry.
tl; dr: My congressman voted the wrong way on CISPA and Amash. I’ve been corresponding with him about that, and he is, at least, paying attention.
In 2004 I started going down to the local Greenwich CT Democratic Headquarters on election day to make get-out-the-vote calls. I didn’t consider myself a Democrat. Rather this was my way of protesting Bush Administration torture, illegal warfare, corruption and disregard for the Constitution. There I met Jim Himes, the young, cool-headed town Democratic chairman who seemed to be running the show. Over the next months, I saw him several times around town on his bicycle, at the store, at the train station, at our voting place. I liked him.
When Jim Himes announced he was running for Congress, I got in touch and asked what I could do. His campaign organization got me to write down my ideas on Internet and telecom policy. A few of my words got into his campaign Web site. I felt like I was helping. On election night 2008 we had defeated Chris Shays, one of the last Republicans in New England. A couple of months later I visited Congressman Himes in his Washington DC office and shed tears when Jim walked into the room. Eight long, awful years of Bush were over, and a friend and neighbor was representing me in Washington DC.
I had hoped that Jim would be a progressive. The fact that he had hired a couple of progressive bloggers for his first campaign let me to believe he’d be in touch with the so-called Net Roots. Mostly, he voted like a good Democrat. When he voted to keep the Bush tax cuts for the rich in place, I forgave him. After all, he represented the gold coast of Connecticut, aka Hedgefundistan. Then, more disappointingly, he voted for CISPA, which would allow expanded Internet snooping in the name of stopping terrorism and protecting copyright holders. Jim was really wrong on this, but fortunately, CISPA died in the Senate and I never confronted him on it.
Along the way, Jim helped me out of a bad personal situation with the U.S. border control authorities. Somehow I had gotten on a secret list that subjected me to secondary screening every time I entered the USA from abroad for about 8 years. His staff guy in Stamford CT made some calls, I filed some papers, and somehow or other somebody or other took me off the list. But now for me “secret law” was personal. It creeped me out that I had to get my Congressman to intervene in an otherwise completely opaque process. Along the way, I’d hoped that Jim would see my little situation as a symptom of a much larger problem that included the Obama Administration’s continuation of most of Bush’s “if the president does it, it’s legal” practices.
Aaron’s death, one year ago today, transformed the struggle for justice into a more of a life-or-death fight. Glenn Greenwald spoke at F2C: Freedom to Connect on March 5, 2013, immediately after meeting with Laura Poitras in New York City to figure out whether this guy in Hong Kong was for real and if so, how to communicate securely with him. Shortly thereafter, Edward Snowden’s documents were released to the world, confirming our worst fears and much more — that the USA had fallen into the hands of a lawless shadow government.
The debate on whether the US Government should spy on its citizens without specific, direct cause should have been over in 1975 when the Church Committee report made it clear that NSA spying provided, “the capacity … to make tyranny total in America.” It should have been over in 2003 when Congress rejected the “Total Information Awareness” Program.
But the abuses continued, as many people with first hand knowledge, such as Mark Klein, Babak Pasdar, William Binney, Thomas Drake, and, most importantly, Edward Snowden have made clear. In 2013, Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers again introduced an amendment to cut off NSA blanket domestic spying. My friend and neighbor, my Representative in Congress, Jim Himes, could vote to cut off funds for NSA domestic spying. I knew Jim. I could talk to him. I had to talk to him. I wrote,
Today our “democracy” has not only domestic spying but also secret lists — as you know, I was a victim of one of these until you intervened — secret laws, secret courts, secret definitions of common words and concepts that are at odds with common usage, secret non-adversarial “due” process, secret agencies with secret budgets, secret agreements with overseas governments, secret oversight briefings for people who are supposed to be representing us, and an Alice-in-Wonderland “national security exception” that prohibits people who have been wronged from seeking redress. How can we have government, “of, by and for the people.” when the people are so distrusted with our nation’s governance? Have “the people” become the enemy? If not, why keep so many secrets from us, spy so vigorously on us and prosecute so cruelly the heroes who risk everything to reveal to us the emerging dangers?
Jim, I voted for you for times like this. I urge you to act vigorously as my representative to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not just with your vote for the Amash amendment and not just in the matter of the NSA but in everything you do as Congressman. Please use “Preserve Protect and Defend the Constitution,” as the gold standard for all your actions when you represent me in Washington.
Jim wrote back to me expressing doubts about limiting the NSA’s ability to “investigate to whom terrorists are speaking” and also doubts about, “the NSA keeping all metadata on everyone.” The Amash Amendment failed on July 24 in the House of Representatives by 7 votes. Jim Himes voted against it.
I’m not sure Jim’s vote is swingable, but I am going to try. He’s just simply wrong to assume that the NSA has a leg to stand on, and it is very clear that he’s been swayed by NSA propaganda. On the day of the Amash vote, he wrote to me saying that in Maryland v Smith the Supreme Court decided that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in metadata that is shared with third parties. I read up on Smith, and, knowing something about pen registers and the Internet from my years with AT&T I replied,
I think the analogy between Smith v Maryland and recent NSA privacy violations stretches the meaning of pen register data beyond recognition! Justice Blackmun’s Majority Opinion hinges on “a pen register’s limited capabilities.” The metadata collected by the NSA — assuming the NSA is only collecting metadata, an assumption we now know to be false — is much, much richer (e.g. Subject: NSA violations of my privacy) than the pen register data of Smith v Maryland which can’t even determine “whether a communication existed.”
Furthermore, Smith v Maryland errs on the basic concept of “reasonable expectation of privacy.” No matter how one lawyers it, a voluntary revealing act doesn’t repeal your expectation of privacy. When I voluntarily drop my pants so the doctor can examine me, I am not giving the doctor permission to use this visual information for his own (or for government) purposes. Same with the metadata. When I make a phone call or send an email or look at a Web site, the most reasonable expectation is that I am not giving the network operator permission to communicate any aspect of that action with anybody.
On the day that Judge Leon, in the very first District Court ruling about incidental spying on Americans, ruled that the NSA domestic spying was unconstitutional, Jim wrote to me,
I’m sure you’ve seen the federal court decision of today. Though there will be an appeal and lots of other legal wrangling, it validates your thoughtful critique of Smith.
I am impressed that Jim is paying attention. I’d like to think that now it is a matter of getting him the right information. To that end, I’ve asked him to meet with Yochai Benkler and Bruce Schneier. Yochai is to my mind the leading legal scholar on where the Internet meets the Constitution. Bruce is the most articulate independent security analyst I know. I have not yet heard from him on this, but it’d be an honor to set up these meetings.
A friend recently remarked, “Wouldn’t it be great if everybody would engage their Congressman like you have.” Well, yes, actually, it would. Apparently a simple phone call saying, e.g., “I urge Rep. X to vote Y on Z,” carries disproportional weight. It’s probably the highest cost/benefit way for citizens to get outcomes they want from Congress.
So engage. It may not change anything. But what are we going to do, let secrecy, violence and authoritarianism carry the day without a fight?
To those of you who follow isen.blog, my apologies. Aaron’s death temporarily kicked the fight out of me, and I just stopped blogging. It wasn’t planned. I just didn’t have the will to keep on. But this will change. More on January 11 and following.