[Freedombox-discuss] Raining on the parade

Stephen Michael Kellat skellat at fastmail.net
Mon Jun 25 04:41:10 UTC 2012

On 06/24/2012 11:07 PM, Sandy Harris wrote:
> Granted the basic notion of the Box is excellent, I'd say it would
> be useful to ask ourselves some hard questions, especially in
> relation to possible use in oppressive regimes.
> Evgeny Morozov has written a critique of the whole
> notion of using the net as a way to liberate the world.
> His book definitely has limitations; for one thing, he
> looks at the problem mainly from the point of view
> of US foreign policy. However, I'd say it is still
> worth reading: http://www.evgenymorozov.com/
> Stated goals, from https://freedomboxfoundation.org/learn/
>      Email and telecommunications that protects privacy and resists eavesdropping
>      A publishing platform that resists oppression and censorship.
>      An organizing tool for democratic activists in hostile regimes.
>      An emergency communication network in times of crisis.
> Those are all extremely worthy goals, but are they achievable?
> The stated goals for WikiLeaks include this text:
> (http://librarian.lishost.org/?p=1407)
> " Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in
> " Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the
> " Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to
> " people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical
> " behavior in their governments and corporations.
> They have exposed some things in those areas, such as
> extrajudicial killings by the Kenyan government and some
> of the Syrian dictator's email. However, far their best
> publicised and controversial work has involved not the
> claimed "primary" targets, but misbehaviour by the
> US government.
> Are we in danger of something similar, building a toy
> for Western hackers rather than a system that
> oppressed people can use?
> Can a computer actually function as "An organizing
> tool for democratic activists in hostile regimes"?
> Such regimes routinely imprison dissidents without
> much in the way of legal safeguards. Does anyone
> imagine they would not stomp rather firmly on
> anyone they caught with a Box?
> A reference on laws about crypto around the world:
> http://rechten.uvt.nl/koops/cryptolaw/
> In many of the countries where one might hope
> to see Boxes used to resist oppression, they
> would be illegal under existing law. In China, for
> example, you need a license to use crypto at
> all, with an exception for things built into other
> products such as SSL/TLS in a browser or the
> file encryption in MS-Word.
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I'll throw in a few points.

1.  Physical media carriers like USB keys and CD-ROMs aren't dead yet.  
Smuggling such helped fuel the communications of al-Qaeda for Osama bin 
Laden.  We need to keep such a communications method viable.  A station 
wagon full of USB keys likely has far higher bandwidth and far higher 
latency than any mesh network.

2.  Communications tools are a means, not an end.  Creation of a 
community is needed once some deliverable finally materializes. I'll 
echo Ted Smith that the creation of a basic metapackage to at least draw 
in tools to a user's install base will be needed.  I have a sort of 
example metapackage here that I can use with ubuntu-defaults-image to 
build custom re-spins: https://launchpad.net/~skellat/+archive/elptools

Beyond that, though, the teaching of communications discipline will be 
essential.  In a non-western regime, this is not a plug and pray 
platform that requires no training.

3.  Not every revolution is the same.  In some cases electronic 
communications will be essential.  In others, it may be even more 
essential to be able to produce propaganda to distribute.  Who was it 
that said we always plan to fight the previous war and are usually 
surprised by divergent circumstances once they arrive?

Stephen Michael Kellat, MSLS

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