So, I see things have changed a little bit since last year. Since I was last out and about in the world.
First off, I’ve “spoken” – actually I’ve had two statements read at this event in the past (2015) (2016), and that’s a little different — I’m actually here.
I want to talk a little bit about where we are today. What we’re looking at and what we’re dealing with.
Because I’ve been out and about for a few months, I’ve obviously seen the sights and I see what’s going on. There’s a lot that’s changed. There’s Nazis and KKK running around. :-( (I don’t remember that being a big deal, whenever I was out.)
So, I think it’s really important to remember – especially at a time like this – that institutions – the institutions we depend on. Institutions that matter to us. Institutions that make decisions over us. Whether it’s a large corporation or a criminal justice system or media entities or whatever, like these large institutions can and they regularly do fail, and I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes institutions don’t work. And when they don’t work, you can’t ask them to work again. You know? You just can’t.
So, what we’re seeing today, I think, is more institutions that are depending on secrecy. More institutions that are depending on cracking down on any forms of dissent or disagreement or even just a hint of potential threat to them. And all of this is surrounded by this notion of power. Institutions have power. They have the ability to make decisions over our lives, and they’ve kind of rigged the systems.
The ways in which we engage in public. The ways in which we engage with our institutions – they are usually very administrative. Like you go to your ballot box and you have an election, or you have a procedure, or an administrative complaint, or a redress request, or something like that. And also, there’s a lot of compromise that happens between institutions and us. And a lot of us end up asking the question “well, you know, this really sucks” you know, “this isn’t working. Maybe somebody should do something about this?”
And I think that’s a really important moment that happens in each and every one of us. Is that moment where it’s like “this isn’t working, but what can I do?” I get asked a lot: “What can I do?” And, I think it’s really important to remember that whenever systems fail, and whenever institutions don’t work, you do have agency. You do have power. And every single person who’s spoken today introduces us to different ways in which we can engage with power and which we can actually have a forceable impact to have the political agency beyond what we see. Beyond the ballot box. There’s more to politics than just elections or court orders or requests or lawsuits. There’s so much more.
I look at the various forms of direct action as an answer to that process. Whether it’s…I engage in a form of direction but it’s different than another form. We all have different ways in which we can engage in political agency, and together as a collective group of people. We have power and we have the ability to make decisions, and we have the ability to make that be known, even whenever institutions ask us not to. Or tell us not to, forcefully.
I look at how each and every one of us has power. Once of the most inspiring moments I’ve seen since I’ve been out is when I watched as a group of people taking down a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina, and I found that inspiring. I found that powerful. I relate to that. I feel like that’s very similar. It feels empowering.
We don’t have to engage in direct action. We don’t all have to do these things. We can also support each other and we can support people who do the right thing or make a decision and end up in trouble or whether its facing getting fired or getting prosecuted or going to prison. We can provide support for people. You don’t have to engage in direct action to support those who do.
Prisoner support works. I was a prisoner for seven years. Lisa, she supported me when I was in prison. Lisa Rein. I’ve had many many many hours on the phone with Lisa, and she helped me in times when I was troubled. When I was alone. Whenever I was doubting myself. Whenever I felt I wasn’t being heard or whenever I felt I was being forgotten. And she was there. And she would sometimes pick up the phone in the supermarket. Or pick up the phone, ya know, while running. Or like, as she’s doing live things. So, she was there for me, and that support really mattered.
We can write letters. We can give inmates money for commissary or for legal defense. We can show our solidarity. We can show up to court hearings. We can write petitions. We can actively do things to help people that do place themselves at risk against their institutions. And it’s really important remind people that have been in positions like we have that we’re not forgotten cause it’s really easy to feel like we’re forgotten sometimes.
On a more positive note for the future though. I think it’s really important to remember that we live in a time where we don’t need leaders to tell us what to do, or to guide us in a time like this. I think we need each other. I lean upon people that are closest to me. I learned this in prison that the people closest to you are the people that matter the most. I looked to them when the prison staff was treating me awfully. Or, just as much as I could reach out to Lisa, I had my prison friends across the table from me. Or down the hall. Or in the cell two doors down that I could reach out to. We worked together. We can depend on each other. We needed each other.
That works out here as well. We need each other. We know what our communities need. Each one of us knows what our community needs. Someone that’s way up upon high that makes decisions doesn’t know what our community needs.
I also think it’s important to remember – especially because I’m told a lot: “You really give me hope.”
I don’t give anybody hope. Hope is not something that anyone can give to you. Nobody can give you hope. Hope is something that you already have. You just have to find it, and we have to help each other find it. Nobody gave me hope when I was in prison. I had to find it. I found it and it got me through. And the support helped me find it.
It’s really important to remember that we do have this. “We got this” – that’s a hashtag that I use very frequently on my Twitter, and it actually comes from a phrase that I said many many times to Lisa, whenever we were having troubled moments over the phone. Whenever she was helping me. Even whenever it looked like… Cause ya know, I didn’t think this would happen. I didn’t think I’d be standing here today. I really didn’t. We had moments when neither of us did. But, she worked so hard.
And and one of the things that we used to say was “We got this. We got this.” Even whenever it didn’t look like we did. And I think it’s real important to remember that sometimes, even whenever it looks like you don’t have it, you really do. And so we got this. Thank you Lisa. Thank you everyone. It’s very powerful for me to be here tonight.
These posts are going to take you through the events panels and speakers, and the topics they cover, one by one, and…. bit by bit.
I just had to take a couple days and figure out a way to present this stuff in an organized fashion – I’ve started an INDEX HERE.
The idea is not only to have clear indexes everywhere, so you can’t possibly miss anything. But also to have all the content properly tagged and described so you can just skip over the parts you don’t need right now (but may need later)!
OR – and here’s the thing: more importantly, if you are running a company or organization, you can get the information you need to the right person – quickly, by simply sharing on of these lovely URLs that will contain 1) link to video clip 2) full or partial transcription 3) updates on the project and anything else that’s important to know (since the hackathon happened on November 4-5, 2017).
This year’s program turned out to be so amazing! People flew in from all over the world. I felt a strong wave of cautious optimism that we may have finally taken the first positive step towards “fixing stuff.”
Everybody that participated really gave their all and polished their projects down to the last detail.
Alas, the webcast could have been better and I’m really sorry for that. It was a combination of factors and I’m actually going to write about it because I think what I learned might help other beginners. But the most important thing is that I will make up for it by making all the clips available – on both the Internet Archive and YouTube.
There are so many clips and we are just generating them and uploading them as fast as we can. Sorry for the hold up :) !
1 – 2 pm EFF/Let’s Encrypt Lead Developer Jacob Hoffman-Andrews w audience Q and A
2 – 3 pm Pursuance Advanced Tech (w Q and A) – Steve Phillips and Barrett Brown
Sunday Nov 5:
3:10 pm: Matteo Borri – RobotsEverywhere.com – Beyond 3d printing: how desktop manufacturing continues to evolve
Matteo has been a friend and contributor to many of my projects since 2008. He’s been telling me a lot about his latest projects: building a chlorophyll detector for a future NASA Mars Rover, and refining his 3-D printing skills to the point where he is creating his own stronger filaments by adding graphite to common printing material. He’s been teaching robotics and 3-D printing to all the kids in his neighborhood, and he makes complex scientific concepts fun and easy to understand. He readily shares all of his knowledge and open sources all of his designs, and I’ve been wanting to introduce him to this community for quite some time. Don’t miss this talk. :-)
3:30 pm: Lisa Rein and Austin Hartzheim – Twitter verified follower scraper
Until I finally launched the website for Chelsea’s commutation campaign, Twitter was all Chelsea and I had to get her messages out to the world. I worked with Austin to develop a tool that used the Twitter API to download all of a persons followers, filter out the verifieds, and throw it in a spreadsheet, that I could then sort by follower count, to see what news agencies and famous people were following us, so I could reach out to them. We hit a few limitations with Twitter’s API that we created workarounds for . We are making the code available today for anyone to use.
Welcome to the Fifth Annual Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon Weekend. This year you get to see the whole thing LIVE!
(TICKETS are still available for the live event! Several promo codes available.)
We have set up some video channels to allow remote folks to
participate in hacking in our groups.
On Sunday, we’ll have a webcams on (and only pointed in a very specific direction – so those of you that don’t want to be on camera will not be, ever!).
These channels will provide instruction in the beginning – at the beginning (as instruction / background is given, on Sunday morning).
Not even all of the folks giving lightning talks will be on camera! That’s fine, as it’s completely up to you, how much of your identity and your personal information you wish to volunteer. You don’t have to tell us your life story to log in and start hacking on our projects. We just want to work with you.
On Sunday, some lightning talks will be broadcast, although some will just have slides and audio, for speaker privacy. Some folks will want to go up on stage to give their lightning talk, while others may want to be off camera and/or presenting from where they are seated. Again, we are trying to accommodate everyone. A lot of people appreciate getting the hackathon feeds, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to put their own face out to the whole friggin world, and so we just wanted to make it clear that we are NOT asking you to do anything like that. This is so you can collaborate with those that want to, privately.
TICKETSstill available for evening event – or just RSVP to the San Francisco hackathon. (There are also several discount codes floating about…)
From the article:
Who was Aaron Swartz? Well, the Aaron Swartz that I knew really well was just a 15 year old kid that helped me do my job better at Creative Commons, when I was its Technical Architect, working with Lawrence Lessig, in 2001-2002. We were using RSS news feeds to describe copyright licenses.
Each of this year’s evening event speakers was asked to attend for a very specific reason.
Some speakers knew Aaron and worked with him directly, others were inspired by him, or were working on projects inspired by him (such as Barrett Brown’s Pursuance Project). Barrett Brown is fresh out of prison and ready to stir up more folks to become aware of their surroundings.
Other speakers, such as Chelsea Manning, we know Aaron “gushed about” and thought was “so cool.”
Jason Leopold is going to teach us about FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and about the FOIA requests that Aaron submitted…
The Pursuance Project is more than software. The project proposes a much needed new way of organizing and sharing information. A new way of drilling down to get to the truth as a team of people. It can be a team of people in the same building, or scattered all around the world. All that matters is that a group of people who really care about a topic are joining together to do something about it.
Perhaps Pursuance could be one of the missing pieces we need to organize ourselves towards a better democracy.
It’s not just about the software, it’s about thinking about new ways to organize and create positive change. Of course, this is not a concept that Aaron invented, but it is one that he lived.
I spoke to Barrett and Steve to find out how they met and how they pulled all this off in less than a year.
LR: What does Pursuance actually do?
BB: The pursuance system is a framework for process democracy. That is, it allows individuals with no prior relationship to self-organize into robust, agile entities governed via a “proceduralism of agreement.” These entities, called pursuances, in turn engage and collaborate among themselves to whatever extent they choose.
SP: Fundamentally, the Pursuance System software enables you to create a pursuance (which is a sort of organization), invite people to that pursuance (with the level of permissions and privileges that you choose), assign those people tasks (manually, or automatically based on their skill set!), brainstorm and discuss what should be done, rapidly record exciting ideas or strategies in an actionable format (namely as tasks), share files and documents, be notified when relevant events occur (e.g., when you are assigned a task or mentioned), and effectively get help from others.
LR: But is it simply end to end encrypted project management software? It seems like there is something larger going on here?
BB: A variety of existing tools for crowd-sourced research and secure communication will be implemented into the system. The ecosystem will be seeded with about 200 individuals and groups with a track record of advancing individual rights, state accountability, and robust journalism and information dissemination; each of these initial users will have the right to bring others into the system, and so on. This is not a content neutral medium; although any political ideology or combination of views is permitted in theory, everyone who joins does so under the condition that they oppose the drug war, police state, and national security state (although participants are free to interpret these issues broadly, and need not agree entirely on definitions or solutions).
This is a server-based ecosystem of collaboration and self-governance in which all participants will have equal opportunity to create and join pursuances: structured entities best thought of as evolvable organizational charts, with a wide range of customization available, as well as the ability for individual pursuances to link up in various ways; indeed, the ultimate goal of this process, which will provide a superior means by which to organize collaborative activism, is to eventually give rise to a sort of technocratic super-organism capable of confronting criminalized institutions and ultimately rolling them back.
SP: Aside from the specific software features, we are quite excited about having an ecosystem of like-minded individuals with shared goals and interests. The world needs an energetic network of activists effectively collaborating to achieve such things as prison reform, an end to the drug war, an end to mass, suspicionless surveillance, and various other issues. We need many researchers to assist journalists in finding the facts and getting stories right. And we need a great number of people to assist non-profits and political action groups in achieving their political ends. Pursuance amplifies these efforts.
LR: Other articles referenced its potential as a tool for democracy, could you elaborate? :-)
BB: As opposed to institutional democracy, whereby some artificial structure is generally implemented from above, Pursuance allows everyone the equal opportunity to define the exact terms of their associations with others, either by creating a Pursuance or by joining one that provides what they consider to be sufficient agency. Pursuances themselves may or may not involve voting; they can certainly be structured so that some, most, or all decisions, major or minor, requires majority votes by all participants, but others are driven more by free association, depending upon the ability of individuals to quickly and easily form new Pursuances with particular requirements so as to create a polity that’s sufficiently in agreement that participants are comfortable giving most responsibilities to a few people.
Importantly, the ease of creating, applying to join, and leaving pursuances will encourage experimentation and evolution, such that differing models of participation can be used and improved upon. One pursuance may be doing the exact same sort of work as another, but simply with a more regimented system whereby everyone is taking orders from above, with one person initially delegating power to others along a structure whereby no voting is done at all; another may involve each participant having the exact same degree of control, with decisions subject to majority votes or even requiring unanimous ones. By allowing every participant to employ free association, and by providing a structure that makes it easy to try different approaches to governance, we’re providing a highly customizable framework for collaboration that’s universal enough to be used for everything from running a bike drive to governing a political party.
LR: How did you two connect? Did Steve write to you when you were in prison?
BB: Steve saw the Wired article on my release, which went into the broad aspects of the project, and tracked me down to D Magazine, where he called me. We spoke and then he flew down to Dallas for a meeting. Over that three or four hours, we came up with many of the major additions to the basic idea that will ultimately be used; he happened to be perfect for this, both as programmer and project manager as well as a broad thinker with a great deal of knowledge relevant to this undertaking.
SP: Backstory: in 2015 I gave a DEF CON talk regarding my project CrypTag, which makes encrypted data partially searchable and stores it in any folder or file-syncing service. I started a non-profit around CrypTag with the slogan, “Secure mobile and desktop apps for activists, journalists, and you,” and with the 10-year goal of providing “data privacy for every Internet user”. I launched a graphical, user-friendly encrypted wiki/note-taking app — CrypTag Notes — solicited and got some great user feedback, and had some people using it.
But there were a couple problems.
First, I hadn’t found a significant number of people who thought they needed their privacy protected. Secondly, I didn’t have a means through which I could reach such people, and I wasn’t networked with that many activists other than a few I’d met at Occupy. Thirdly, since I have extremely broad interests and, thanks to the Internet, am aware of many problems in the world that I would like to see solved (if not help solve), I was concerned that even in the best-case scenario, if I could help fundamentally solve the problem of human privacy, that this wouldn’t be nearly enough in light of all that we face — global warming and environmental destruction, superhuman AI, Neoliberalism, racial unjustice, political bribery, technological employment and the apparent need for a basic income, and more.
But in the last week of March I was reading a Wired article, “Anonymous’
[Barrett] intends to build a piece of software called Pursuan[ce], designed to serve as a platform for coordinating activists, journalists, and troublemakers of all stripes. Pursuan[ce], as Brown describes it, would be an open-source, end-to-end-encrypted collaboration platform anyone could host on their own server. Users will be able to create a “pursuance,” an installation of the software focused on a group’s particular cause or target for investigation. The software would offer those groups the same real-time collaboration features as Slack or Hipchat, but also include a kind of org-chart function to define different users’ roles, the ability to host and search large collections of documents, and a Wiki feature that would allow collaborators to share and edit their findings from those documents.
Brown has yet to recruit a team of coders or volunteers to launch Pursuan[ce]. … But Brown has never had trouble finding followers …
I quickly realized that not only did Barrett have the public platform that I lacked, he also attracts and excites thousands of activists who *know* they need privacy protections because they are opposing the corrupt and powerful elements of the status quo.
It was also immediately clear that I had exactly what Barrett needed — experience building secure, user-friendly software; open source development; managing small teams of developers; and recruiting other technical people, as I was hosting weekly privacy hackathons at Noisebridge (which continue to this day), and I had recently moved to San Francisco.
I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with someone like a Barrett Brown, or a John Kiriakou, or an Edward Snowden, or a Glenn Greenwald, or a Laura Poitras, and that I must take massive action to turn into reality this amazing possibility to work with with Barrett Brown to amplify the efforts of activists and journalists in order to help them solve as many of the world’s problems as possible.
I could not believe how much overlap there was between what Barrett and I wanted to accomplish, and how much we could complement each other.
So I brainstormed with a friend about the best course of action, which led to my aggressively reaching out to people I knew may be connected to Barrett, attempting to contact him in several different ways all in parallel, and successfully getting through just two days later. He said he was interested to have me involved, so I then flew to Texas, met twice with Barrett, began designing the software, then flew back to California. Two days later, Barrett emailed the others involved and said, “this is Steve Phillips based in San Francisco, and he is in charge of building the Pursuance System” — the very software I had been merely reading about less than two weeks prior.
That was just six months ago, and it’s been a hell of a ride since. (And of course, John Kiriakou and others are on our board of directors.)
My extremely excitement toward what can be accomplished with Pursuance continues to this day.
LR: Steve mentioned that you both were inspired one of Aaron’s posts, entitled When Is Transparency Useful? – could you elaborate on that please? :)
SP: I was talking to a friend about Pursuance, and he pointed me to one of Aaron Swartz’s essays. Part of what blew me away was this line and the argument leading up to it:
Imagine it: an investigative strike team, taking on an issue, uncovering the truth, and pushing for reform. They’d use technology, of course, but also politics and the law.
I found that this complemented Barrett’s thinking very well regarding what can be accomplished with a diverse mix of complementary skill sets, rather than having silos of just journalists working by themselves, and my experience with seeing tech geeks building more tech for geeks rather than solving bigger problems.
I knew that Aaron had co-invented RSS at the age of 14, that he had the foresight to create software that has become SecureDrop, and that he convinced Larry Lessig that getting money out of politics is a fundamental, but this is yet another example of Aaron being ahead of his time.
BB: Transparency is something we generally want to apply to institutions, particularly governments that are funded by its population and have a legal monopoly on violence, and specifically on government entities that have a history of misusing secrecy. On the other hand, the question of transparency becomes vastly more complicated when we’re talking about private entities. Within Pursuance, a given pursuance can be entirely opaque to outsiders, which in some cases will be a necessary defense against states and powerful firms that have a history of retaliating against activists and even journalists. But most of them, I think, will be highly transparent, both as basic policy and as a means of better allowing other pursuances to find areas where they might want to collaborate.
A good part of the concept behind Pursuance is to encourage not just individuals to arrange themselves into efficient entities, but also to encourage pursuances to eventually develop similar connections, sharing information, resources, and talent. This also goes for those existing non-profits and NGOs and the like that we’ll be actively recruiting; with this system, they’ll be able to easily create a pursuance presence by which to organize their supporters as well as finding areas of efficient potential partnerships with both pursuances and other institutions who’ve come on to the system. Those areas are most easily discoverable when everyone concerned can quickly see what other groups are doing and how they’re doing it.
Saturday November 4th 3pm -4:30 pm Barrett Brown and Steve Phillips – Building a Better Opposition: Process Democracy and the Second Wave of Online Resistance w/ Q and A (First live demo of the Pursuance Project!)
Sunday November 5th 2pm – 3 pm Pursuance Advanced Tech (w Q and A) – Steve Phillips and Barrett Brown
Date: November 4, 2017 Time: 10:00 am-6:00 pm Contact: Tarek Nasr – firstname.lastname@example.org
Location: The Planet
9 Gamal Eldin Kholousy
off Shahin, Agouza
ASD: Tell us about “The Planet” hackerspace.
TN: Ok so, within ThePlanet, we have 10 of our core team members. We all met during our #Jan25 revolution in Egypt. We were all active in terms of taking the streets, organizing online, creating digital content around the protests and organizing to get activists out of jail.
For example, we played a big role in the online movement around the #FreeAJStaff campaign, when 3 of their journalists were arrested in Egypt ,that ultimately helped in getting them released.
ASD: How are you able to be activists in Egypt, with so much at stake, should you offend the wrong person?
TN: We have decreased activity significantly. There is no way to do so, to be honest.
ASD:As far as I can tell, you are already taking a risk even existing. Is that correct, to a certain extent? Or would you say that that is an exaggeration?
TN: It is not an exaggeration at all.
ASD: Can you talk about any more specifics with regard to the #FreeAJStaff campaign?
TN: Yes, if you recall, 3 journalists were arrested from AJ in what is referred to locally as the “Marriot Cell.” 2 journalists were foreigners and the 3rd was Egyptian. Local + international media only focused on the 2 foreign journalists, and all campaigns encapsulated the 2 foreigners, and their governments (Australia and Canada) worked tirelessly to get them out.
We put together an online campaign aiming to get the 3rd (Egyptian) journalist included within the narrative so he could benefit indirectly from the buzz foreign governments and news outlets were making around the case. We quickly (within days) reached tens of thousands online and began being approached by international news outlets, including the BBC,that began to ask us about the 3rd journalist. We acted as his voice to the world, and ultimately were successful in including him in the global and local narrative, which forced the hand of the government to release him when they released the 2nd foreign journalist.
ASD: So you decided that you worked well together, and formed “The Planet?”
TN: Yes, we started the business before the revolution and found ourselves and formed bonds during the revolution.
ASD: How did you guys hear about the hackathon and Aaron? Is there anything in particular. A personal story or something that resonated with one or all of you that led you to want to participate this year?
TN: For me Aaron is my role model. He could have just focused on making money, but he wanted to make sure he added true value, tried to make the world a better place and essentially gave his life for what he believed in. I was first introduced to him 2-3 years ago, when I came across the documentary, and was absolutely shocked. I’ve been spreading “the gospel” ever since.
ASD: Is open source software popular in Egypt?
TN: Within a niche techie community, yes it is. The majority of developers here utilize open source technologies for work and personal projects. Most of the web market in Egypt is based on open source software and technologies. For example, WordPress, Drupal, Magento (needs licence), PHP (lalavel), Python (django), and js (node.js-angular.js).
ASD: What is licensing like for software in Egypt? Are you able to sell your software creations to the global market?
ASD: Are the app stores pretty much centralized, so it doesn’t matter where the actual software is being created?
ASD: Are young and independent developers being exploited in Egypt with this “gig economy” like they are here in the US? (Underpaid generally, no health benefits.)
TN: In Egypt they are actually thriving, because the gig economy pays in USD and the exchange rate is so high, they can make a killing, on Upwork for example, and only need to work two weeks a month.
Aaron Swartz once published a blog post entitled “Squaring the Triangle“, hypothesizing that a blockchain could be used to create a name system that had secure, decentralized, and human-readable names, thus “squaring” Zooko’s Triangle.
Since that post was published, numerous blockchain name systems have been developed, putting Aaron’s idea into practice. This talk will give a brief overview of the most popular blockchain name systems* in production and show some of their applications.
Namecoin was the first fork of Bitcoin and still is one of the most innovative “altcoins”. It was first to implement merged mining and a decentralized DNS. Namecoin was also the first solution to Zooko’s Triangle, the long-standing problem of producing a naming system that is simultaneously secure, decentralized, and human-meaningful.
Blockstack is a new internet for decentralized apps where users own their data. With Blockstack, users get digital keys that let them own their identity. They sign in to apps locally without remote servers or identity providers.
ENS offers a secure and decentralised way to address resources both on and off the blockchain using simple, human-readable names. ENS is built on smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, meaning it doesn’t suffer from the insecurity of the DNS system. You can be confident names you enter work the way their owner intended.