Ed Snowden On How Privacy Rights Work: You Don’t Have To Justify Why You Need Them

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ed Snowden's Telerobot
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ed Snowden’s Telerobot

“You don’t have to justify why you need your rights. That’s not how they work. Any intrusion into your rights has to be justified by the government, rather than by you. You don’t have to say why I need this right. They have to say why is absolutely vital to society to take that right away.” – Edward Snowden.

This is from Season 6, Episode 36 of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s awesome Star Talk program. (At 39:57)

NT: Welcome back to StarTalk radio. This is a special edition of StarTalk. We chose to break from our usual format, in favor of a little one on one time.

Edward Snowden, former CIA and NSA officer, now a whistleblower, international fugitive in exile, wheeled into my office via remote controlled robot.

Through this virtual medium, Ed and I were able to speak at length about his scientific pursuits, the technology of encryption and encoding, and why he believes The Constitution trumps all other law.

Because it’s possible to think of him as just somebody who has no clue about due process, legal matters, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and it’s easy, at first glance, to just think of him as just some kind of ignorant renegade who has no sensitivity or understanding to American laws, but I learned that that clearly was not the case.

In this final segment, we’re going to listen to part of my exclusive interview with Ed Snowden, and get his take on 4th Amendment protection, and why he feels that having nothing to hide is never a justification for rights violations.

ES: When you’re talking about invading everybody’s private communications. Their associations. The network of who they call on the phone. You’re getting their political affiliation. You’re getting the people who matter the most to them, based on the frequency of the communications. You get indications of their travel. You get the books that they read. You get the things that they buy. You get the people that they love. And you can even  get indications not only of who they are today, but who they want to be. For example, maybe they are looking at applying to a certain college program or method of study or a fellowship. Or they’re looking to get a job at a certain kind of company. These are all intensely private things that have always traditionally been up to the individual to disclose and share with people they trust.

But if the government knows all of that, about all of us, regardless of whether we’ve done anything wrong, it invests them with an extraordinary and unprecedented measure of power. Not only to know about us, but to act upon this information and particularly when these programs are regulated by secret policy rather than public law. What that means is they can disempower the public. The citizens, ya know, in their country, around the world, at the flip of a switch, and that’s something that we’ve never trusted government with before, and there’s no prevailing reason why we should today.

NT: So, you raised a very good point. Now I’ll feel more comfortable about going through airport security because, even though they’ve got my ticket, and they know, and I’ve checked in, and they saw my passport and everything. When you’re going through the detectors, they’re not asking you your name. Your name isn’t attached with that moment. They just want to see if you’re carrying anything. Plus I can choose to drive. I can leave the airport and choose to drive. So that’s a different fact. At least traveling domestically. Right?

ES: There’s a distinction between the voluntary disclosure of information, where you have a choice, whether to engage in it or not, and the involuntary subversion of your intent. Particularly, unlike airports, where everybody knows this is the law. We can vote for officials who would repeal it and whatnot, and secret programs where they impose this sort of surveillance on us without our awareness, without our intent, without our approval, or even without the approval of many members of Congress.

In May, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in New York, found that the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs, one of which I revealed in June of 2013, was illegal. It had not been authorized by any law, and for the entire period of its operation, ya know, this was not only contrary to law but it was in violation of it. And as a result, this program needs to be changed or ended. Now this happened without the majority of congress knowing that it was occurring at all.

For example, when we talk about the oversight of intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency or the Central Intelligence Agency, we have 535 members of congress, all of whom represent a proportional amount of Americans, who are supposed to represent us at the table of government. But rather than having them all understand and be able to influence the direction of these programs. For what are called “covert action programs,” only 8 members of congress, out of 535, are told the truth of what’s going on. This is called the “Gang of 8.” And I think what the court held in May was that you cannot substitute the judgement of 8 individuals, particularly given that these 8 individuals receive more donations from intelligence contracting companies and defense contractors, sort of the military-industrial complex, than any other senators or representatives in the congress, for the judgement of the congress as a whole and the public.

NT: So suppose. This is a very supposey thing. Suppose the public says, “I really care about my security, and I want the government to spy on everybody, so that I can be safe,” and they then turn that law into something legal. You’d have no problem with that, because there was disclosure on it, I presume. Is that correct? In a democracy we would vote for it, possibly.

ES: On the point of disclosure I would argue “yes, that’s much better than what we have today.” But on the point of rightfulness and morality, I could still contest it. And I think the argument there, that anybody who works in sort of the civil liberties space who believes in robust rights. Who believes in The Constitution, would argue that congress actually cannot pass such a law that allows the monitoring of people that allows the sort of the unreasonable search and seizure of individuals in advance of criminal activity because The Constitution forbids it in the 4th Amendment. If they want to do that they would have to amend The Constitution.

But even if they chose to, there’s fundamentally a deeper, I think, moral point here, which is the majority cannot vote away the rights of the minority. You cannot simply say well, “because I feel this way and because I have, ya know, 6 out of my 10 friends who agree with me, I’m going to reduce the circumstances of everybody else in those 4 out of 10. When we talk about the basis of actual human rights. You know, you can change standards. You can change regulations. But when we think about fundamental rights, and these are rights that the U.S. Government itself has actively and aggressively advocated in the past.

For example, the right to privacy is guaranteed not only in the 4th Amendment of our Constitution, or in the associational rights of sort of The First Amendment, but through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the United States and most other countries in the world have agreed to, or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which again, the U.S. itself, promoted. So, we have treaty obligations which, in the American system, are counted as the supreme law of the land, similar to The Constitution, and then we have mere statutes that are passed in congress. Can a statute  passed in a time of sort of political passions overrule basic fundamental rights that are guaranteed not only in our founding documents, but in our treaties and our obligations that we’ve said are timeless, and even if they were would that be a good thing. I think that’s very much an argument to be had.

And sort of the corollary argument that we hear against this to try to get us to accept invasive surveillance or violations of our rights. Is that “well if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear. What are you worried about?”

But that argument is premised on a fundamental misunderstanding of rights. For one, you don’t have to justify why you need your rights. That’s not how they work. Any intrusion into your rights has to be justified by the government, rather than by you. You don’t have to say why I need this right. They have to say why is absolutely vital to society to take that right away. But beyond that, when we think about what people are really saying when they say “oh, I don’t really care about that. I really don’t care about privacy. I’ve got nothing to hide.” Is they’re saying they don’t care about that right.

Saying that “I don’t care about privacy because I’ve got nothing to hide,” is no different than “I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say.” You’re asking for a less liberal, more constrained society, simply because that right is not valuable to you in that moment when you’re thinking about it today. But rights don’t have to be used by you individually to be valuable to a society. You can’t have a free press, without freedom of speech, and you can’t have a free society without the right to privacy.


Friends of Aaron Video From Aaron Swartz Day 2015 – Video and Full Transcription

Complete Transcription of the Friends of Aaron movie, including: Cory Doctorow, Brewster Kahle, Cindy Cohn and Virgil Griffith.

From the November 7, 2015 evening event at the Internet Archive, in San Francisco, before the speakers.

“Hi, I’m Cory Doctorow. Welcome to the third annual Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon.”

Now a Few Words from a Few Friends of Aaron’s

Cory Doctorow
Blogger, BoingBoing, Science Fiction Author,                                              Little Brother/Homeland
Special Advisor, Electronic Frontier Foundation

You know. I knew Aaron for a really long time. And when we first met, people who cared about the Internet were a bit weird. It was as though we were really interested in something trivial and futuristic and speculative, while all around us raged really important battles about more significant issues. Issues about climate change. Issues about financial fairness. Issues about privacy. Issues about race and gender.

And what we’ve found in the years since then is that those other issues have gotten even more urgent, but more and more people have come to realize that the Internet is the fight that will determine how all those other fights go on. Because the Internet is the battlefield on which all those fights will be fought.

And so it’s really crucial that we win the Internet. Not because the Internet is more important than everything else, but because it’s the most foundational thing.

I hope you have a great day at the International Hackathon.

Brewster Kahle
Founder and Digital Librarian
Internet Archive

Aaron Swartz lives in many many ways. Aaron Swartz’ ideas have been carried forward by many others, and in fact, tragically, by his persecution, prosecution, and death, has come to be widely known to others.

The idea of public access to the public domain. That we can live open source lives freely, and that it’s desirable, and you meet new and interesting people.

And the lesson of Aaron Swartz has not been forgotten by the institutions that participated in having him crushed, and has led to reforms, top and bottom, of those organizations, to not have that ever happen again. So, public access, public domain, living open source lives, should be encouraged for the next generation, and made safe by the institutions that are too slowly learning their lessons.

Cindy Cohn
Executive Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Aaron has left us all such a legacy of caring about the politics around technology and not just caring, but getting involved. And whether you’re getting involved as a technologist or an activist you can have no better loadstar than Aaron. I have watched as he’s inspired people all over the world.

We haven’t had success in building things in DC, to help fix things. Aaron’s law has gotten stalled. However, we’ve been able to stop the bad. There have been several attempts, and there’s one right now, in the Cybersecurity to continue on the horrible pathway of making the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act worse and worse and worse. And, we stopped it cold, shortly after Aaron died. We’ve gotten it dramatically changed this time, and I think we’re gonna stop it cold again. So, while we haven’t yet been able to make good out of what happened to Aaron, we’ve been able to stop some bad. I’m not done yet. It’s still early days. But, I still run into people all the time who tell me that learning about Aaron was the moment. Their “wake up” moment. When they decided, “I care about technology too, and I want to get involved.” And that’s awesome!

Virgil Griffith
Technologist d’Avant-Garde
Tor2Web, WikiScanner

So after Aaron Swartz’ death, there was a rash of suicides at Cal Tech, where I was at school. (Unrelated!) And they had a little suicide thing. And I gave a little talk there, and I’ve been thinking about it recently. And I remember what I told them. I said “even when you feel like crap. You’re like ‘I can’t do anything.’ ‘I’m no good.’ ‘I spend like four days out of the week sleeping.’ ‘I’m only productive one day a week, tops.’ I would say, “even that one day a week, is more valuable than you would ever realize.”

I used Aaron as an explicit example. Even though Aaron was not even near (pauses). He was definitely not thriving. He was in surviving, not thriving mode. But still, even him in surviving mode was like amazing. You know. But I think he just couldn’t see it.

And I feel like Aaron was making this mistake as well. Okay so, Aaron would kind of flip between being egotistical and being very self deprecating. So, internally, he though of himself very highly, but outwardly he’d be very self deprecating. I felt like just in general, he did not appreciate, like, his own importance and the things he could do. Even if Aaron was active one day a week. Well that’s awesome. A one day a week Aaron, I’ll take it. I’ll totally take it. Ya know. And I think he would have really had difficulty, seeing that, as useful to the world. He’d be like “oh I’m so unproductive. I’m so ungood. Blah blah blah blah. No no no. One day a week’s great.

Brewster Kahle (ending comments):

Aaron Swartz has inspired hackathons, yearly gatherings of people remembering and moving forward some of the ideas of SecureDrop, of going and building public access to journal literature, to basically building a public sphere that may not be tied to institutions, certainly not tied to business plans, but tied to an inspiring vision, of information access and living open source lives. Aaron Swartz lives on in many many ways.

NSA To Shut Down Bulk Phone Surveillance Program By Sunday

NSA to shut down bulk phone surveillance program by Sunday

By Dustin Volz for Reuters

From the article:
The U.S. National Security Agency will end its daily vacuuming of millions of Americans’ phone records by Sunday and replace the practice with more tightly targeted surveillance methods, the Obama administration said on Friday.

As required by law, the NSA will end its wide-ranging surveillance program by 11:59 p.m. EST Saturday (4:59 a.m. GMT Sunday) and expects to have the new, scaled-back system in place by then, the White House said.

The transition is a long-awaited victory for privacy advocates and tech companies wary of broad government surveillance at a time when national security concerns are heightened in the wake of the Paris attacks earlier this month.

It comes two and a half years after the controversial program was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The move, mandated by a law passed six months ago, represents the greatest reduction of U.S. spying capabilities since they expanded dramatically after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Under the Freedom Act, the NSA and law enforcement agencies can no longer collect telephone calling records in bulk in an effort to sniff out suspicious activity. Such records, known as “metadata,” reveal which numbers Americans are calling and what time they place those calls, but not the content of the conversations.

Instead analysts must now get a court order to ask telecommunications companies like Verizon Communications to enable monitoring of call records of specific people or groups for up to six months.

Newsweek Covers the Aaron Swartz Day Hackathon

Newsweek’s Seung Lee came by the hackathon on Saturday. He’s written a nice piece that I’d missed last week :-)

Inside the Aaron Swartz Day Hackathon
By Seung Lee for Newsweek

Side view of Saturday’s hackathon on November 7, 2015.

From the article:

Programmers, journalists and whistleblowers flocked to San Francisco to speak during the conference. Representatives from the Tor Project, which advocates for online anonymity, and Glenn Greenwald’s project The Intercept were in attendance. In addition, Chelsea Manning, the Army lieutenant who leaked sensitive documents to Wikileaks in 2010, wrote a letter of support to the conference from her prison cell in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The day was more than just a parade of experts talking and guests listening. “Aaron would not have wanted people to mope around about him,” says Rein. “He would have wanted us to build new things.”

More than 30 computer programmers huddled together around foldable tables in the foyer and typed away at assigned projects. One of these projects was Privacy Badger, a third-party tracker-blocking application built by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights advocacy group. While Privacy Badger helped stop hidden trackers from following one’s digital footrpints, the application sometimes disabled images and videos from being displayed, and thus needed some outside help…

“Aaron led an open source life and took the open source movement to another level,” says Kahle. “Programming for the social good is still very much alive. But we, the general public, all screwed up by taking the life of a promising young man.”

In the evening, the Internet Archives hosted a dinner banquet during which several speakers, including Kahle and those from the afternoon conference, took turns saying a few words about Swartz. At the close, Manning’s letter was read aloud by Rein.

Manning spoke about the “paradox” of technology leaving society more connected and open and yet more paranoid and insecure. She asked the guests to use their technologies for a better, freer and more private Internet, as Swartz would have wanted.

“I now believe that today’s coders and engineers have an extra ‘hat’ that we have to wear on top of the colorful spectrum of hats we already have—namely, the technology ethicist and moralist hat,” reads Manning’s letter. “Technology is only a toolbox. It’s what we create our software for, what we intend to use it for, and who we allow to use it, and how much, that really count.”

Interview with Alison Macrina, Founder of the Library Freedom Project

lison Macrina, Founder, Library Freedom Project
Alison Macrina, Founder, Library Freedom Project

About the Library Freedom Project, the ACLU, and Tor

The Library Freedom Project (LFP), along with its partners the ACLU and the Tor Project, provides trainings for library communities, teaching people their rights under the law, and how to find and use free and open source, privacy protective technologies.

Alison spoke at this year’s Aaron Swartz Day event (video, transcript).

LFP had a bit of excitement last summer, when it and the Tor Project worked with the Kilton Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, to set up a Tor relay. Those who run Tor relays are providing a public service, as Tor is a free, open network that helps people defend against mass surveillance by providing them anonymity online. Tor depends on thousands of volunteers who run “relays” (computer servers that support the Tor network).

Libraries are ideal locations to host Tor relays, because they are staunch supporters of intellectual freedom and privacy, and because they provide access to other essential internet services. This was the spirit behind the Kilton Library seeking to become one of the many nodes in Tor’s worldwide internet freedom system.

Tor is used by human rights activists, diplomats, journalists, government officials, and anyone else who values privacy. For instance, Journalists in repressive countries use it to publish their work without fear of government surveillance, censorship or prosecution. Domestic violence survivors use it, so that they cannot be tracked by former partners. People in African countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa use it to report poaching of endangered animals without fear of retribution.

Human Rights Watch recommends Tor for human rights advocates in their report about censorship in China. Reporters without borders suggests that journalists and bloggers all over the world should use Tor to keep themselves and their sources safe.

Tor was originally developed by the US Navy, and still gets funding from the State Department, as it is used by many high officials in the US Government.

When LFP announced the Tor relay project at the Kilton Library, that project received popular media attention and overwhelming community support. Then, in mid-August (2015), the Boston office of the Department of Homeland Security contacted the Portsmouth and Lebanon Police Departments, to warn them, falsely, that Tor’s primary use is to aid and abet criminal activity. In the face of this Federal Law Enforcement pressure, the Kilton Library shut down the project.

The kind of pre-emptory thought crime was disturbing to say the least. LFP compared the move to shutting down public parks for fear that crimes might be committed there in the future. This Kilton Letter, published by LFP, on September 2, provides a more thorough explanation of what took place and why. The letter was signed by members of the ACLU, The Tor Project, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Luckily, the Lebanon Board of Trustees had a change of heart, as explained in the Valley News article, Despite Law Enforcement Concerns, Lebanon Board Will Reactivate Privacy Network Tor at Kilton Library:

The Lebanon Library Board of Trustees let stand its unanimous June decision to devote some of the library’s excess bandwidth to a node, or “relay,” for Tor, after a full room of about 50 residents and other interested members of the public expressed their support for Lebanon’s participation in the system at a meeting Tuesday night.

“With any freedom there is risk,” library board Chairman Francis Oscadal said. “It came to me that I could vote in favor of the good … or I could vote against the bad. “I’d rather vote for the good because there is value to this.”

Interview with Alison Macrina

Lisa:  So the good guys won in Kilton! Is the Tor relay still up and going strong?

Alison: Quick note: we won in Lebanon, New Hampshire. The name of the library is Kilton Library, of the Lebanon Libraries. And yes, the board and community decided unanimously to keep the relay online. Chuck McAndrew, the IT librarian, recently turned it from a non-exit into an exit, so we’re going to write a blog post soon detailing the success of the pilot and encouraging other libraries to get on board.

Lisa: Can other libraries contact you about setting up their own Tor relay?

Alison: Yes, they can contact us at exits@libraryfreedomproject.org for all the information and supporting materials they might need. We have a questionnaire for them to fill out regarding their network details. And then we can schedule a time for us to do a site visit.

Lisa: What is your advice to Librarians who are thinking about setting up a Tor relay, that might be getting pressured by their local law enforcement to not do so?

Alison: We can’t guarantee that law enforcement won’t try to halt other libraries from participating in this project, but we can use Kilton Library’s example in case such a thing happens again. If law enforcement pressures another library, we will do what we did in Lebanon — rally a network of global support to stand behind the library and urge them to continue their participation in the project. We think that our overwhelming victory at Kilton shows us that we’ll be victorious at other libraries, should it come to that.

Lisa: So there’s nothing inherently criminal about using Tor any more than there is something inherently criminal about using the Internet?

Alison: Not at all! Privacy-enhancing technologies like Tor are
perfectly legal. Tools like Tor are also the best ways to protect
ourselves against government and corporate surveillance. By using and promoting Tor Browser and running Tor relays, libraries can help
ordinary people protect their privacy and other basic civil rights.

Alison Macrina, Founder of the Library Freedom Project, spoke at this year’s Celebration of Hackers and Whistleblowers, on November 7th, and also gave a two-hour tutorial on Sunday morning, at the Privacy-enabling Mini-Conference, on November 8th.


Great Round Up of Journalist Encryption Tools From Aaron Swartz Day

Jenny Manrique has written a wonderful round up of five tools you can start using today to keep your sources’ data (or clients’ data,  no matter what field you are in) safe and secure:

Five tools for journalists’ online safety, privacy

by Jenny Manrique for the International Journalists’ Network.

From the article:

These are some tools featured over the weekend:

Onion Share

Developed by Lee, Onion Share lets anybody securely share any size file…”It is like Dropbox, but encrypted and reliable. As soon as the person downloads the file, it can be erased from the server and it’s no longer accessible to anyone,” explains Micah Lee… (Freelancers can find this tool useful for communicating with whistleblowers.)…

Tor Messenger

If you are familiar with the TOR Project, currently the best way to navigate online without leaving trace, you will be glad to learn that it recently launched TOR Messenger. The cross-platform tool facilitates encrypted chats on a variety of networks like Facebook and Gchat…


Keybase is an open directory of public keys that you can verify through social media accounts… the Keybase directory can tell you who’s that key, according to his or her profiles on Twitter, Reddit, Github, Bitcoin and domain names…

Signal (TextSecure on Android)

Don’t confuse it with the Facebook or Linkedin Signal apps. This tool, developed by Open Whisper Systems, allows you to make encrypted voice calls, as well as send encrypted text messages, with your existing number and the contacts that also download the app.


OpenArchive is a mobile application that seeks to preserve audiovisual civic media in a secure way…The app, currently in beta for Android, uses mobile TOR technology to allow people on the ground to send sensitive images without fear of being tracked…

Video and Transcripts From Aaron Swartz Day 2015

Please donate to my Kickstarter for “From DeadDrop to SecureDrop” – Thanks!!

Index of Speakers and Direct Links to Video and Transcriptions

Giovanni Damiola (Open Library Project)
YouTubeVideo – Transcript

Garrett Robinson (Lead Programmer, SecureDrop)

Alison Macrina (Founder and Director, Library Freedom Project)

Brewster Kahle (Digital Librarian, Internet Archive)

Cindy Cohn (Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Jacob Appelbaum (Security Expert seen in Citizen Four, Wikileaks volunteer) (Appearing remotely via Jitsi)
YouTubeVideoTranscript Internet Archive Video & Download

Roger Dingledine (Interim Executive Director, Tor Project)

Micah Lee (Co-founder, Freedom of the Press Foundation and Technologist at “The Intercept”)
YouTubeVideo – Transcript Internet Archive Video & Download

A Special Statement from Chelsea Manning: “The Human Element”
(Read by Lisa Rein)
YouTubeVideoTranscript – Link to Chelsea’s Statement


Wired: SecureDrop Leak Tool Produces a Massive Trove of Prison Docs

SecureDrop Leak Tool Produces a Massive Trove of Prison Docs

by Andy Greenberg for Wired, November 11, 2015

This is really exciting, and what great timing!

The whole purpose of last weekend’s event was to get the word out about SecureDrop‘s usefulness to the common man, and yet I couldn’t point directly to an example of it in action.

Then, low and behold, when I woke up yesterday afternoon (heh, been a long week), I could not believe my eyes! A real world, shining example of SecureDrop in action. A hacker obtained over 70 million phone records that exposed some first class corruption: exploiting  those who are already underprivileged and underserved in the community. In this case, prisoners and their families, which often barely have enough money for the essentials.

I’ll be posting a summary of The Intercept article that fully explains what the hack, and subsequent anonymous upload, exposed, shortly. It’s a little complicated, and therefore took me a minute to be able to summarize it – but it will be up soon… :-)

From the article:

“It’s been more than two years since the debut of SecureDrop, a piece of software designed to help whistleblowers easily and anonymously leak secrets to media outlets over the Tor anonymity network. Now, that system is finally bearing fruit, in the form of a massive dump of files from one of the country’s largest prison phone companies…”

“Just as significant as those revelations, perhaps, is how the Intercept obtained the documents that enabled them: The news site has confirmed that it first made contact with the anonymous source who provided the Securus files through the Intercept’s SecureDrop platform, starting with an initial sample of the Securus database uploaded around the beginning of 2015.

That Tor-enabled leak marks a landmark for a still-evolving form of journalism that takes a page out of the playbook invented by WikiLeaks: Like Julian Assange’s secret-spilling organization, SecureDrop allows anyone to run a cryptographically anonymous submission system for leaks and tips. Because that upload site runs as a Tor “hidden service,” anyone who visits has to run Tor too, making it very difficult for anyone to trace his or her location or identity—even the news outlet on the receiving end.

The Intercept’s lead security technologist—and a co-author of the Securus story—Micah Lee says SecureDrop’s benefit isn’t just anonymity, it’s ease of use. Instead of carefully using Tor to create an anonymous email address and figuring out how to encrypt email so that service can’t read their leaked secrets, sources can upload their leak or message using SecureDrop in seconds.

Lee says that this is far from the first time the Intercept has received useful leaks through the SecureDrop system. But the Securus revelations represent the first story of national significance where a news outlet has publicly revealed that the story’s source used SecureDrop anonymous submissions.

“We use SecureDrop on a regular basis, but this story is a little exceptional because we decided it was safe for us to mention that it came from SecureDrop,” Lee says. “This is exactly why we decided to run SecureDrop: to get juicy stories like this and do it in a way where we protect our sources.”

Chelsea Manning’s Statement for Aaron Swartz Day 2015

Donate to Chelsea’s legal defense fund to help with her appeal.

Download Chelsea Manning’s Statements as a PDF file.

Chelsea E. Manning 89289                                                                                   1300 North Warehouse Road                                                                             Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304


Statement for Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon-2015

The Human Element – International Aaron Swartz Day Hackathon

Hello Everyone,

First, I’d like to apologize for the awkwardness of this written medium. I would love to speak in person – as well as attend and contribute to – events like these, but certain circumstances are complicating my ability to travel and communicate in any fashion recognizable to most of us in the 21st century.

In fact – seeing that this is a technology event – l’d like to talk about the incredible ubiquity and access that society now has to highly connected information technology devices. It seems to me, at least, that as we enter the era of ubiquitous computing, the so called “Internet of Things” – with cell phones hugging against our hips, laptops and tablets in everyone’s bag, and toasters that have the uncanny ability to sort our music libraries in the wrong way and have uncomfortable conversations with our grumpy selves in the morning – we have begun to blur the lines within our Human society in unexpected and even exciting ways.

Looking at the rapid advances in our social and political sphere in the information era – such as the cultural progress queer and trans movements have started to make – the relationships between such things as gender and sexuality, between art and work, between gender and work, and between sexuality and art, have blurred in incredible ways. Now there are elements and ideas which seem to implement the concepts of “transhumanism,” and its becoming normal for more and more people who anticipate – as well as fear – the economic, information, and technological “singularity” at the supposed end of our exponential graphs in our own lifetimes.

But, consider the paradox that technology has provided for us. We seem more diverse and open as a society, but isn’t it also the case that we are more homogenous and insecure than we ever have been in the last century or so? You might try and tell me something like – “Well, today’s tools provide us with the ability to be more independent from the control of our governments and corporations than ever before.” But, I ask, do they really? I don’t think very many people in here are convinced that technology is a purely liberating tool, as we are now seeing that it can also be used to censor, to control, to monitor, to anticipate, to imprison, and sometimes even kill.

I am arguing that we can be independent and liberated as a society even without advanced technology. It seems that some people today even find their independence by embracing the Luddite philosophy – ditching their cell phones for the weekends, or avoiding the Internet at certain times of the day or week. But, I hope you don’t think that you have to run to the hills of Montana and live in a cabin for years on end – that seems a little disproportionate, haha.

Today, as is obvious in some of the headlines that we see online – we are in a constant technological arms race, and I think that it’s important to realize that we are always only a single breakthrough away from making the methods of network obfuscation and encryption pointless or unusable. While I agree that it’s unlikely, it certainly is well within the realm of possibility that we might wake up tomorrow morning – or, if we’re really honest, tomorrow afternoon for some of us – and find out that some truly brilliant or devious mathematician or mathematicians have solved the Riemann Hypothesis, throwing entire regions of our encryption arsenal into turmoil. Or, we might wake up and find out that a six, eight, or even ten qubit quantum computer with near perfect error correction has been built, effectively accomplishing the same thing.

The point I’m trying to make here is that – and it is sometimes hard for those of us in the tech community to accept – that our technology can only take us so far on its own. Rather, it is the Human element that is so important, and unfortunately very easy to forget.

As most of us are acutely aware, our software can be written to accomplish a task that, in the right hands, solves incredible problems, creates miracles, eliminates boundaries, and saves lives. Think about, for instance, the entertainment provided by streaming videos and video games, the real-time artificial intelligence applications that are used in automated cars, manufacturing plants, and medical equipment, or the so called “big data” platforms being applied for Internet search, marketing, political campaigning, and healthcare.

Yet, that very same software with a few minor tweaks can, in the wrong hands, cause immense problems, create nightmares, raise insurmountable boundaries, and destroy and even end lives. Think about how the same technology used in streaming video, video games, real-time command and controls, and artificial intelligence, can also be used in unmanned aircraft armed with missiles to wreak havoc on barely discernible people hundreds or thousands of miles away. Think about the statistical “nudges” in big data algorithms that create gender, racial, ethnic, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious, political and other biases across large swaths of the online population. Also, think about the intensifying polarization and heavy focus on precision targeting on “swing voters” in the political realm. Real people in real places in real time are affected – sometimes on an immense scale.

Software is only a tool. Technology is only a toolbox. It’s what we create our software for, what we intend to use it for, and who we allow to use it, and how much, that really count.

I now believe that today’s coders and engineers have an extra “hat” that we have to wear on top of the colorful spectrum of hats we already have – namely, the technology ethicist and moralist hat. Whether we’re amateurs or professionals, and despite whether we want to or not, it has now become another duty that we have. I only hope that the majority of us can figure out and fully understand what that is going to entail as we approach the edge of our graphs. In fact, Human lives and the future of Humanity may depend on it.

Thank you for your time everyone, and good luck in your endeavors. I would especially like to thank Lisa Rein for her lovely letter last month inviting me to speak before you all. It was an incredibly warm and heartfelt letter that made my day a little brighter.

Good night, everyone.



Chelsea’s statement is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-SA 2.0)