I'm proud of this one.

I wrote a piece for my job this week about how the White House has started to intensify its propaganda campaign about Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and I think it’s in the top 10 best blog posts I’ve written at EFF. It even got republished in TechDirt, which is a first for me!

Thought about writing somethin’ else for my weekly personal blog post, including some reflections I had about an interview I did with a libertarian trade policy analyst about trade policy, or how much I enjoy the annual Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt that I just did for the third time over the weekend. But I’m just going to re-post the piece I did for EFF cause I just don’t have much writing juice flowing through my brain and fingers atm. Here it is below!

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The White House Has Gone Full Doublespeak on Fast Track and the TPP

Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch are now in a stand-off over a bill that would put secretive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement on the Fast Track to passage through Congress. The White House meanwhile, has intensified their propaganda campaign, going so far as to mislead the public about how trade deals—like the TPP and its counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—will effect the Internet and users’ rights. They are creating videos, writing several blog posts, and then this week, even sent out a letter from an “online small business owner” to everyone on the White House’s massive email list, to further misinform the public about Fast Track.

In a blog post published this week, the White House flat out uses doublespeak to tout the benefits of the TPP, even going so far as to claim that without these new trade agreements, “there would be no rules protecting American invention, artistic creativity, and research”. That is pure bogus, much like the other lies the White House has been recently saying about its trade policies. Let’s look at the four main myths they have been saying to sell lawmakers and the public on Fast Track for the TPP.

Myth #1: TPP Is Good for the Internet

First, there are the claims that this agreement will create “stronger protections of a free and open Internet”. As we know from previous leaks of the TPP’s Intellectual Property chapter, the complete opposite is true. Most of all, the TPP’s ISP liability provisions could create greater incentives for Internet and content providers to block and filter content, or even monitor their users in the name of copyright enforcement. What they believe are efforts toward protecting the future of the Internet are provisions they’re advocating for in this and other secret agreements on the “free flow of information”. In short, these are policies aimed at subverting data localization laws.

Such an obligation could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what kind of impact it could have on national censorship, or consumer protections for personal data. It’s a complicated issue without an easy solution—which is exactly why this should not be decided through secretive trade negotiations. These “free flow of information” rules have likely been lobbied for by major tech companies, which do not want laws to restrict them on how they deal with users’ data. It is dishonest to say that what these tech companies can do with people’s data is good for all users and the Internet at large.

Myth #2: Fast Track Would Strengthen Congressional Oversight

The second, oft-repeated claim is that Fast Track would strengthen congressional oversight—which is again not true. The U.S. Trade Representative has made this claim throughout the past couple months, including at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in January when he said:

TPA puts Congress in the driver’s seat to define our negotiating objectives and strengthens Congressional oversight by requiring consultations and transparency throughout the negotiating process.

Maybe we could believe this if the White House had fought for Fast Track before delegates began negotiating the TPP and TTIP. Maybe it could also have been true if that bill had ensured that Congress members had easy access to the text and kept a close leash on the White House throughout the process to ensure that the negotiating objectives they outlined were in fact being met in the deal. However, we know from the past several years of TPP negotiations, that Congress has largely been shut out of the process. Many members of Congress have spoken out about the White House’s strict rules that have made it exceedingly difficult to influence or even see the terms of these trade deals.

The only way Fast Track could really put “Congress in the driver’s seat” over trade policy would be if it fully addressed the lack of congressional oversight over the TPP and TTIP thus far. Lawmakers should be able to hold unlimited debate over the policies being proposed in these deals, and if it comes to it, to amend their provisions. It would be meaningless if the new Fast Track bill enabled more congressional oversight, but if it did not apply to agreements that are ongoing or almost completed.

Myth #3: Small Online Businesses Would Benefit from Fast Track

Then the third misleading claim is that Fast Track would help small businesses. Their repetition of this has become louder amid increasing public awareness that the TPP has primarily been driven by major corporations. What may be good for established multinational companies could also benefit certain small online businesses as well. The White House says that tariffs are hindering small online businesses from selling their products abroad, but research has shown that the kinds of traditional trade barriers, like tariffs, that past trade agreements were negotiated to address are already close to non-existent. Therefore it is unclear what other kind of benefits online businesses would see from the TPP.

Even if there were some benefits, there are many more ways that the TPP could harm small Internet-based companies. The TPP’s copyright provisions could lead to policies where ISPs would be forced to implement costly systems to oversee all users’ activities and process each takedown notice they receive. They could also discourage investment in new innovative start-ups, even those that plan to “play by the rules”, due to the risk that companies would have to sink significant resources into legal defenses against copyright holders, or face heavy deterrent penalties for infringement established by the TPP.

Myth #4: TPP and Other Secret Trade Deals Are a National Security Issue

The last, and most confounding of the White House’s assertions is that the TPP and TTIP are an “integral part” of the United States’ national security strategy, because its “global strategic interests are intimately linked with [its] broader economic interests.” As we have seen with the U.S. government’s expansive surveillance regime, “national security” is often invoked for policies even if they directly undermine our civil liberties. It is hard to argue with the administration whether the TPP and TTIP are in fact in the United States’ economic or strategic interests, since only they are allowed to see the entire contents of these agreements. Either way, it seems like a huge stretch to say that we can trust the White House and major corporate representatives to determine, in secret, what is in fact good digital policy for the country and the world. We may be hearing this line more and more in the coming weeks as the White House becomes more desperate to legitimize the need for Fast Track to pass the TPP and TTIP.

Conclusion

The fact that the White House has resorted to distorting the truth about its trade policies is enough to demonstrate how little the administration values honesty and transparency in policy making, and how much the public stands to lose from these agreements negotiated in secret. The more they try and espouse the potential gains from Fast Track—while the trade agreements this legislation would advance remain secret—the more reason we ought to be skeptical. If the TPP is so great and if Fast Track would in fact enable more democratic oversight, why are the contents of either of them still not public?

Citizenfour and the Power of Narratives

I saw Citizenfour this week, the new Laura Poitras documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA revelations. It’s a momentous, chilling piece of film making that shines a glaring light on the disturbing folly that’s become of the US in the post-9/11 world. The hours of raw footage that Laura filmed throughout the week she and Glenn Greenwald first met Ed are intimate in a way that makes you, as a viewer, feel like you are part of the history that unfolds on the screen.

And that’s what struck me most about Citizenfour. The historical relevance of the Snowden revelations not only lies with the truth that he chose expose about the government, but also in the way he did it. It was the way he partnered with Glenn and Laura to curate the release of state secrets, and to do it in a way that they could maximize the impact of the truth and trustworthiness of his actions.

But as anyone who follows the work of Glenn and Laura knows, they aren’t ordinary journalists. They are part of a new crop that reject the ideal of objectivity in journalism—a farce, I believe, that only works to hide the inevitable subjectivity, the motives of the presenters and the producer of the news story. And they are overt about their motive: to shed light on the truth and to expose the dangers of unchecked state power in an effort to inspire change.

To Glenn and Laura, it may have first been surprising, but also strategic to help Ed show his face to the world. In the film, they make it seem as though their main motivation for doing this was for his safety. Making him known to the public makes it much more difficult for any powerful entity that felt threatened by him to snuff him out. He was a guy who did this for the sake of the greater good, not out of some egotistical need, some narcissistic urge. By presenting him as the heroic individual that he is, they were able to ensure that the public would stand by him and his action. What they don’t say is that his publicity would, and likely already has, inspire others to follow his lead as a government whistleblower.

The thing about fighting power is that the powerful do an excellent job of hiding their motivations from the public. In the cases where the policies themselves are carried out in secret, talking about the secrecy itself is enough to rile the public and undermine their faith in their government. Secrecy is a major way they’re able to get away with these policies, but it’s also their greatest weakness. When their actions, and especially their objectives, are revealed to the public, their legitimacy shrivels up along with the faith and trust people had in them.

For activists, our strongest ally is the truth. But sadly the truth alone isn’t sexy enough. The truth can be dry, non-compelling, or confusing. Governments, corporations, and other entities of concentrated power invest a huge amount of their energy in the optics of their actions. When it’s a matter of public opinion, they’re adept at hiding even their most heinous acts by using lofty justifications or simply relying on the fact that the mainstream media won’t report it. Too often it’s because these stories are just too tedious to unpack for the viewers. As John Oliver said to describe the net neutrality fight, whether on purpose or by function, those in power have figured that “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.”

Which gets me back to Citizenfour and its potential to add a new wave of energy towards significantly reforming mass surveillance. What the global fight for digital privacy, and really any issue in social justice issue needs, is better storytelling. Stories are what inspire people. Stories are what frame big, complicated, boring issues in a way that humanizes them and makes them tangible for people. No matter how much something warrants newsworthiness because of its impact and relevance for people’s lives, it won’t resonate with them, and they won’t care about it unless they can see the narrative and place themselves within it.

We especially need stories at a time when things are seriously broken. Democracy is a joke. Corporations make and break the rules they want. And meanwhile the government is doing more and more to persecute and silence journalists and individuals who are fighting to fix the system. What Laura does with Citizenfour is tell Ed’s story, to show why a modest, every-day person would put their life on the line for the public-interest, and how they can, alone, put a giant wrench in a powerful, corrupt, and seemingly unstoppable system.

Trade policy is so f*cked.

I posted the entirety of Joe Biden’s op-ed in the Financial Times on my tumblr. This violates FT’s copyrights but I honestly couldn’t care less. The VP’s pandering to the global business community needs be in the public domain. Also if they send a take down, that would be hilarious. Anyway, here were my thoughts after reading that op-ed.

The actual topic of this piece (which is alluded to but isn’t uttered once) is the issue that BRICs countries—particularly China—will start laying down the rules for the global economy and become ever more geopolitically influential. It’s too complicated to say whether that’s a good or a bad thing here. What I know for sure is that that is a despicable justification for the US to rush into setting new international regulatory standards that they think will benefit the economy. Sadly, our public representatives seem to believe that means expanding the rights and profits of corporations.

There’s no doubt there are those in office who do this for the explicit benefit of the “1%”, because they identify as such or are being influenced by them to do their bidding. But I think it also stems from a fear and an overall sense of uncertainty about how to create stability. It’s convenient to point to reports about jobs, markets, and GDP, and associate these cold measurements to economic security, then go on to make the assumption that whatever entities must be fueling these growth factors is what should be protected. It’s much harder to get popular support for policies that may in fact give people more economic independence and more autonomy over their livelihood.

As I already said, there are clearly people in public office who are extending corporate interests in trade and domestic policies because they’re actually that depraved…I think for the others, it just seems safer to prop up and give in to the demands of the industries that already exist, that already employ 10,000’s of people, and already have factories and infrastructure built up—whether or not those companies truly care or pay enough to its employees to live off of doesn’t seem to be part of the equation. Maybe Obama, Biden, members of the Office of the US Trade Representative, and everyone else who unequivocally support these secret trade agreements are just corporate cronies. It could also be that some of them only know how to recognize stability by certain measures and aren’t able to look beyond them to see other policies that ensure more widespread and equalized opportunities. I’m willing to give some benefit of the doubt.

Anyway. It just comes down to the fact that these policies need to be made out in the open so the public can have these discussions about what policies are beneficial or harmful to us. Based upon previous policies and what we’ve already seen from these existing deals, we have no reason to trust the administration’s claims that these trade agreements are going to benefit our shared common interests.


That was me when I had the patience on Thursday to be more thoughtful. I have one more late night nugget of rage:

In the op-ed, Biden says, “We have an opportunity to shape the path of global commerce to spread our values and benefit our people, and we should seize it.”

What values is he referring to here exactly? Does he mean democracy, transparency, and the adherence to a system of government where the people have the right to know and influence our state’s policies? That’s funny…cuz the very opportunity we apparently need to “seize” is one major example of how the U.S. is taking a steaming hot shit on those values. He must be fucking kidding us. Do they honestly think that passing secret policies to criminalize culture, hack away at users’ rights, empower corporations to sue countries, make lifesaving drugs too expensive for millions in poverty, is a means to “spread our values and benefit our people”?

This other article in the Financial Times this week is even more drenched in neoliberal crazysauce. In a nutshell, the FT’s World Trade Editor is arguing that Paul Krugman’s article questioning the overall premise of recent not-actually-about-trade trade agreements, is missing the point…because it’s actually about NATIONAL SECURITY. Securing our trading relationships with these countries, apparently, is one way to make sure we don’t go to eventually invade them…………………or as this guy flippantly says, to make sure we export cars, not tanks. Get it? Cuz they’re both vehicles but they represent different kinds of foreign policy. Gawd so clever…!!!

Seriously though there’s so much wrong with this premise I don’t even know where to start and it’s too late for me to even try. But this makes me hope even more for a similar kind of rule, like Godwin’s Law, that for any given state policy that does not fulfill an actual need or productive purpose other than to empower corporations or the state, the probability that its supporters will invoke “national security” grows ever more likely as they work to legitimize it.

This article from Umair Haque made me feel a lot better this weekend. I am totally bought into the idea that our generation is gonna be the ones to start fixing this goddamn mess of a world so reading it felt affirming.

Oyasumi.

Wikileaked TPP: Some Thoughts on What Happened and What's Next

Something HUGE happened last week: Wikileaks published the full chapter on “intellectual property” issues from the secret text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. We didn’t have a current text of the agreement since February 2011, so we’ve only been able to guess based on sporadic, confidential intel about how those negotiations were going. Nothing we could’ve heard would’ve ever beat having the draft in front of us for us to analyze and figure out its impacts. The newly leaked chapter is from August 2013, so while it’s even a little bit out of date, almost everyone had already confirmed that they’ve made little progress on the text since then.

How it Happened

Civil society groups and public interest advocates from all over the world have known about this agreement for several years. We’ve been doing all we can to call attention to it. Policy experts have been meeting with negotiators on the sidelines to try to impact how the delegates set down their proposals in the backroom meetings. There were leaks here and there, but mostly it’s been a slow and frustrating. I say it’s like trench-warfare. We knew this thing would impact hundred of millions of lives, but it was all being done in secret, and it was all completely motivated and driven by what corporations wanted. TPP government reps started claiming that this was the end of the line and that it’d be completed and signed by the end of 2013.

Then seemingly out of the blue, the New York Times’ Editorial Board endorsed it. Well, they didn’t outright endorse it, but they sure as hell supported it, and did so in a disturbingly aloof way. First off, they didn’t mention any of the gaping problems with the secretive process. Nor did they truly engage with any of the actual substantive issues that they dismissively mention throughout the piece. The timing of it was completely strange too. As Parker said, if this piece came out at the beginning of the negotiations, praising the TPP’s noble, grand goals, then it probably wouldn’t have read as an endorsement. But it’s provisions (whether or not agreed upon) are on the table, and it’s been up for negotiations for over 2 years. No one would’ve read this piece and come away thinking that the Times was against it. The point of this piece was likely to appease some special interests and influence people who were completely ignorant of the issue to think this agreement is completely innocuous.

I’d imagine the point wasn’t to anger public interest advocates and thousands of Internet users from around the world, but it did a perfect job of it. This blog post about the endorsement went a bit viral on Reddit and Hacker News, and the story got picked up by the Washington Post. Rightly so. Everyone wanted to know why the Times was endorsing a policy instrument that was being kept from the public.

I wish I knew if this is what triggered it, but it was a day or two after that when Wikileaks began to tweet about the TPP incessantly. Others started asking me questions and saying things to me that, in retrospect, all would’ve been some slap-in-the-face hints that it was coming…but I was still completely oblivious. I guess I was sort of in denial that the thing I’ve wanted most to happen in my work would suddenly come to be.

So it was published on the Wikileaks site on Wednesday morning. Julian Assange was on a live video feed that morning, saying that they were up for several nights to make it publishable. Likely, they had to be extremely careful about hiding traces of the content that could reveal the individual who handed the draft over to them. We at least know that all of the copies of the text have had a kind of watermark/DRM on them to make it harder to share, in addition to a required signature to a NDA that could punish them for doing so.

It was an exciting day to say the least.

Leaks Don’t Make Up for Lack of Transparency

…In fact, they only help to emphasize the utter ridiculousness of hiding the proceedings from the public in the first place.

It goes without saying that this leaked chapter is going to be an immense help in helping us understand the dynamics of the talks between countries and allow us to have a more accurate analyses of the current text on the negotiating table. The other amazing thing about it comes from the very fact that Wikileaks published it. As a whistle-blowing organization, their work to publish this text has helped to brand TPP as the perversely undemocratic thing that it is. If we’d gotten the text by some other means, I don’t think it would’ve created nearly a quarter of the same public attention it got by virtue of Wikileaks releasing it.

I’m deeply grateful to them, and also proud for doing it in the way that they did. They partnered with some of the most respected trade and copyright+patent policy analysts out there, including Public Citizen and KEI, and were able to present it in a very eloquent way. They’ve been a bit quiet for a little while now and this was a perfect way for them to have hoisted themselves back into the limelight.

So What Next?

I think the first thing to remember is that the TPP is far from a one-off thing. They’ve enacted a lot of the same provisions in other bilateral agreements, tried to pull the same thing with ACTA, and are going to continue to do so with the EU-US trade agreement. The corporations are out there influencing policymakers, and they want our laws to be designed to benefit their profits at any cost.

This agreement is just one of many ugly symptoms of a system that justifies public policies on purely economic grounds. Besides all the cronyism that truly does exist, it’s only logical that policymakers are going to listen to corporations and their promise to create jobs. Why? Because these private institutions seem to be the most stable investment. You can calculate how much these companies are worth, how much capital they have. You have hard numbers about the numbers of people they employ. I think these industries have sway over lawmakers in selling them the hope of stability they seem to hold in their sheer size. This is one big part of the equation that needs to change.

I see TPP as being just one of the many battles we’re going to have to win to take back our autonomy from private corporate interests, and reassert our goal of enacting law for the benefit of our various communities. As a user, I’m appalled that Hollywood can get away with regulating my technology and culture. As a patient, I’m horrified that companies want to have a right to sequester medical discoveries so they can make a bigger profit off of human lives. And as a person who believes in law for the common good, I’m not going to stand for policies that elevate corporate rights at the expense of everyone else’s well-being.

If we win this one, we’ll use it to build up the triumph of democracy.

a warm, inspirational evening

Last night was EFF’s 2013 Pioneer Award ceremony, attended by many of the most accomplished members of the digital rights/hacker/infoactivism communities. We honored Jamie Love, Aaron Swartz, Glenn Greenwald, and Laura Poitras, all of whom have demonstrated a deep commitment to fighting toxic corporate and state policies that strip users’ freedoms and rights over our technology.

The ceremony itself was a roller coaster of emotion and inspiring speeches. It was held at the Lodge at the Regency Center—a large, red-carpeted room with vaulted ceilings and wood-paneled walls. Being there last night, you could feel this intense warmth in the room, this mutual love between everyone there who supports and defends the values these winners exemplify through their work. It sort of felt like being part of a big massive hug.

I presented Jamie with his award, but first gave a short speech describing why it is so well-deserved. Here it is below.

~

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us gathered here tonight agree that our copyright and patent laws have some… flaws. They’re creating unnecessary barriers between users and their access to culture and knowledge. The content industry, including movie studios, record labels, and publishers, have shamelessly lobbied for “IP” enforcement laws worldwide. Their influence has resulted in legal regimes that impede and even criminalize users for creating, sharing, and interacting with digital content. And that in the U.S., these laws are increasingly thwarting their supposed purpose as enshrined in our Constitution “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

For over two decades, Jamie has been a leader in the fight to restore sanity to our IP regimes. He has been the director of Knowledge Ecology International, previously known as the Consumer Project on Technology, for close to 25 years. He’s an adviser to a number of UN agencies, national governments, and international and regional intergovernmental organizations. In all of these roles, he’s been an uncompromising champion for the rights of users and consumers around the world. As an advocate for the access to medicines movement, he has fought pharmaceutical monopolies’ control over treatments and medical discoveries to protect and improve the lives of millions worldwide.

But of course, we’re here today to celebrate and honor Jamie for his incredible work defending your digital rights.

Jamie was a central player in blocking the passage of the broadcasting treaty at the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (or as we IP nerds call it, WIPO), back in 2007. The WIPO treaty would’ve established an additional layer of copyright-like protections on so-called “broadcasted” content, making digital copyright enforcement even more chaotic.

His blog at KEI is a valuable resource for solid policy analysis, providing clearheaded reports from meetings with various copyright industry apologists. He gives the rest of us advocates a crucial insight into the politics and (oftentimes ridiculous) rhetoric around these policies.

Jamie’s most recent significant success was the completion of the Treaty for the Visual Impaired at WIPO. This Treaty addresses the appalling fact that less than 2% of published literature is available to those with visual or reading disabilities. It obliges signatory countries to adopt permanent exceptions to their copyright law to allow people to convert works into accessible formats.

This is the FIRST treaty of its kind to establish definitive rights for users, and enshrines an essential concept into international law: that copyright designed to protect “authors, inventors, and owners,” must also respect our collective right to access knowledge and culture. Unfortunately, it faced massive opposition from legacy content industries.

Like any significant achievement, this Treaty’s success depended on a collaborative effort from dedicated advocates worldwide. Including, I am proud to say, EFF. But it’s all too likely that our hard work would not have succeeded without Jamie’s committed leadership throughout the movement. Despite seemingly insurmountable opposition from publishers, his “uncompromising” style proved more than the content industry could handle.

If it isn’t already obvious, Jamie is a bit of a hero of mine. I’m still relatively new to these battles, and I’m still wrapping my head around all the shenanigans that make up the international copyright system. But Jamie’s an expert in this mess! He knows how to make sense of the madness. He knows how to use pragmatic, public-interest driven arguments to fight the copyright maximalists, hold policymakers accountable, and protect not just your digital rights, but your human rights.

In all of these ways, Jamie is an effective and relentless digital rights advocate, committed to restore democracy in the digital world. So needless to say, I’m absolutely thrilled and honored to present him with a Pioneer Award…!

Copyright expansionists are digging their own grave.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

― Buckminster Fuller

~

This quote has been bouncing around my head for the past week since I saw it in Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for RevolutionI know I’ve heard it before, but I guess it struck me differently this time given my current headspace.

The Internet is still very young in a lot of ways, but [obvious statement alert] it’s the new model of sharing that makes the pre-existing model of creative content distribution obsolete. Which is why copyright enforcement provisions have become so absurd. They’re *meant* to break the Internet. Those who profit off the existing system want to crush this new realm that allows us to have direct relationships with creators and artists, where we don’t have to rely on middlemen to decide for us what is “good” and what should be distributed to people because we now have a way of finding and experiencing the content that we want.

Part of the major problem with this whole mess is that the very companies that are pushing for more restrictive content restrictions aren’t able to make quality services that reflect how real users expect to be able to view, purchase, and interact with content. Why? I think it’s the same reasons why they’re doing everything in their power to expand copyright protections at the expense of all else: They don’t understand how the Internet works and they don’t really care. I can’t imagine that they could create a remotely popular content viewing or playing platform given their complete disregard for how users just do things online.

Music labels, movie studios, and other publishers are so worried about losing money, they continue to try and resist the new reality. Rather than get creative about their business and even try to adapt, they’re digging their own grave as they shove obscene amounts of resources into lobbying for policies meant to sabotage the new model.

Which is why I love the idea behind Flattr so much. It’s a microdonation service that gives users the autonomy to pay for things that they appreciate on various sites (such as Likes, favorites, etc.), and for creators to get direct financial support for work that others find valuable. These transactions need to become as easy as possible. While there’s still a long way to go, Flattr seems to be the closest thing to achieve that seamlessness in paying for content. This is what record labels and movie studios SHOULD be focused on if they really cared about getting artists compensated.

The copyright industries don’t get that the more they try to harm the Internet, the worse they look and the less sympathetic people will be to their cries against “online piracy.” The policies they’re pushing for demonstrate so clearly their relentless contempt for the Internet and its driving force of user generated content.

A friend on twitter said with dismay today that those private, pro-copyright interests are winning. But I’m happy to disagree. The new model is the Internet and it’s already here. As long as pro-copyright groups go on trying to mess with it, the further they will go on alienating themselves as being regressive and anti-progress.

Picking up where he left off

I’d only met Aaron Swartz once on the couches of the EFF office during the 2nd week of my new job. I had no idea who he was during that very brief exchange, but I went to my browser afterward and looked up his name. When I read about his work and the roles that he had played in freeing information and knowledge, I felt like an idiot for not having heard of him before. I was in awe of his dedication and inspired by the courageousness of his acts. I really looked forward to when I could get another chance talk to him again.

There are so many things wonderful about the hacking community…the celebration of curiosity, the open-mindedness to acknowledge the interconnectedness of things, but most of all, the ethic of seeing a problem and doing what you can to fix it. Learning about his life and reading about the kind of person that he was, it seems Aaron embodied so fully what I find so beautiful about the hacker spirit. His craft was coding, but his intellect was the fuel for his art: creating tools, building campaigns, and demonstrating acts of civil disobedience that were meant to expose deep societal, political flaws. To me, he represented the quintessential 21st century activist.

The more I delve into the world of intellectual property, the more I learn about its intricate failures and abuses. The amount of distrust, insecurity, and greed that is continually involved in the creative-industrial complex, and worse, the fact that they claim to do it in the name of furthering progress, is horribly nauseating.

Despite all of this, I know that the movement to free culture and information will win, not just because the old edifices of creative production and academic publishing are already crumbling. But more importantly, the movement is full of brilliant, committed people who are fighting for justice and the liberty of culture.

On Friday, we lost one of our very best. The amount of public outpouring of grief is a testament to the amount of love everyone had for him and everything that he stood for. And maybe he hadn’t been feeling it, or didn’t know to ask for it, but it’s obvious that it was there all along.

When we’re fighting a system that seems so rigged, so ethically rotten to its core, it’s really hard not to fall into a cycle of despair. With Aaron’s tragic passing and the sudden public revelation of the gross maltreatment of him by the justice system, these horrific events serve as a rallying call for this movement to pick up where he left off. That begins by finding the courage to face up to the powerful, institutionalized system of insecurity and greed, and do so in whatever form that may take. We also need to remember to be fair to ourselves, and knowing our limits so that we don’t burn ourselves out. We need to be able to trust and support each other enough to ask for and give help whenever we can.

Let’s keep working until we recognize a world we, and he, would want to live in.

RIP Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

Returned from New Zealand

I went to New Zealand for the first few weeks of December, and it was a very fun/intense trip.

The first weekend, my colleague Carolina and I put on a digital rights camp for advocates of balanced and/or pragmatic copyright policies that take the reality of the Internet into forefront of their consideration. The following week, we got werd that we “stakeholders” as we’re called, would be banned from the entire venue where the TPP was held (a luxury casino resort in Auckland). Despite that setback, we did what we could to get some influence into the secret trade negotiation meetings.

Auckland was nice. It reminded me a lot of LA where cars seem to dominate the flow and composition of the city. It didn’t make my impressions of the place any better because Internet scarcity was rough; anywhere you went, there were data caps and time limits for any free or paid wifi. But I also had no idea how many Asian people live and work there! I could not walk down a city block without passing 2 Korean BBQ restaurants, 3 cheap sushi shops, and a handful of Chinese fast food joints. It was great.

After that first week of nonstop meetings and hang out seshes with the other awesome digital rights advocates who were there for the camp and the TPP negotiations, I went off for a five day vacation to travel down the North Island to Wellington. Anyway, it’s late and I don’t have time to upload those photos from my play time here tonight, but here are just a few of the photos from the week in Auckland.

I’m uploading all of the best ones to Flickr (yes, that’s right. Fuck Instagram):

http://flic.kr/s/aHsjDgf2P4

 

Goin' to Leesburg

I need to wake up in 5 hours to go to Leesburg, VA for the 14th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) negotiations. These last two weeks have been insanity, as my partner in crime, Carolina Rossini, and I have been crankin out blog posts, press calls, resources, etc. to make sure everything was in line for this weekend. I’m only there Saturday til early Tuesday morning but we’re hoping we’ll make was leeway this time. The “Direct Stakeholder” events are on Sunday, as well as large rallies that are busing folks in from DC.

I did this interview on the Corbett Report. I thought it went well but I have a serious “um” problem throughout the discussion:

http://www.corbettreport.com/eff-vs-tpp-battle-for-the-internet-video

On a different note, apparently my migration to NearlyFreeSpeech is not yet complete, so I’m having issues uploading photos here. I have a bunch of good ones from last/this this week and would like to use a new way of posting them here but alas, they’ll have to wait until the TPP madness is over…

Anyways, wish me luck in Leesburg. I’m sleepy as alllll helllllll.

 

giving birth to an infographic

I’ve been recently consumed by our campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. I could tell you what’s wrong with it here, but I’d much rather spend the rest of my evening running my brain spigot on some other things.

I’ve heard some critique of infographics, including the assertion that they don’t interpret or analyze information in any meaningful way. After having worked on this for a grueling 3 months with lots of starts and stops however, it made me value them in a different way. It’s especially true for EFF, where we value creative disposition pretty highly in relation to legal accuracy, but the process of simplifying and condensing many elaborate compound problems without sacrificing any factual integrity to ambiguity is extremely difficult. But it’s also really really important.

I don’t think most people who create infographics necessarily seek to add new insight (see: data visualization). The point is to just narrow and sculpt the information into a single visual/conceptual frame that allows a broader audience of people to understand the essence of a given issue. If that can be achieved by throwing facts into some fancy typography, mixing in a few illustrations, and composing it together with a color scheme? Then wonderful!

In short, this was one of the most anxiety-inducing, time-consuming things I’ve ever done as an EFFer. On the other hand, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of having worked on.