I will be speaking again at this year’s LibrePlanet on March 20th, which will be online. This year, I’ll be talking about challenges with adopting free software ideals and the impact that it can have not only on individuals, but also on our community as a whole. This talk will be personal, drawing upon my evolution over the past fifteen or so years.
To anyone who’s looked at the number of posts I’ve made in the past few years on this blog, it may surprise you to learn that I do a lot of writing. It’s just that the majority if it is never read by anyone other than myself. When I write—as I am now—I certainly intend for others to read it. But that’s not usually what happens.
Writing articles is a means to an end. But the end isn’t always the written word. Writing is a journey, and sometimes it leads far from where one may expect.
Most of my posts here relate somehow to software freedom, user privacy, or some other issue driven by technology. As an activist for user freedom, my goal is usually to figure out ways in which to empower people using technology—to put them on equal footing with those that are in a position to exhert control. To make the vulnerable less vulnerable.
But all of that is a focused fight as part of broader goal for social freedom and equality. If we take a moment to look up from out focus on technology to see the bigger picture, we can see that our activism and advocacy follow a moral framework that necessitates certain responsibility during this outbreak of COVID-19 caused by the novel coronavirus.
Late last November, Ian Levy and Crispin Robinson of the GHCQ (the British intelligence agency) published a proposal for intercepting end-to-end encrypted communications, entitled “Principles for a More Informed Exceptional Access Debate”. Since then, there have been a series of notable rebuttals to this proposal arguing why this system would fail in practice and why it should be rejected. Completely absent from these responses, however, is any mention of existing practices that would prohibit this attack outright—the combination of free/libre software, reproducible builds, and decentralized or distributed services.
Tor is a privacy and anonymity tool that helps users to defend themselves against traffic analysis online. Some people, like me, use it as an important tool to help defend against various online threats to privacy. Others use it to avoid censorship, perhaps by the country in which they live. Others use it because their lives depend on it—they may live under an oppressive regime that forbids access to certain information or means of communication.
Unfortunately, some people also hide behind Tor to do bad things, like attack websites or commit fraud. Because of this, many website owners and network administrators see Tor as a security threat, and choose to block Tor users from accessing their website.
It’s difficult to have useful conversations about mobile tracking when someone says “your phone / mobile device tracks you”; such statements don’t often lead to constructive conversation because they are too vague and therefore easily dismissed as sensationalism or paranoia. And they are all too often without substance because, while users do have legitimate concerns, they aren’t necessarily aware of the specific problems contributing to those concerns.