Summer Update: The Aaron Swartz Day Solar Survival Project

See our Solar Survival Technology in action at this year’s San Francisco Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon!

TICKETS HERE

The Aaron Swartz Day Solar Survival Project #ASD-SSP leverages the expertise of VR Destination Advisory board member Matteo Borri to promote  the invention of technologies using solar power to improve people’s lives.

We are excited to announce that our “Vampire Charger” which we submitted to the #Hackaday #PowerHarvesting Challenge has advanced to the Semi-Finals!

Here’s more about our Solar Survival Project (soon to have its own website! :)

We have a Facebook Page for this project too!

From our Vampire Charger Submission:

The Aaron Swartz Day Solar Survival Team (led by Matteo Borri and Lisa Rein) has developed a “Vampire Charger” which enables a cell phone to be charged safely from whatever random batteries happen to be lying around after a disaster, while protecting the phone from blowing up.

After a disaster, this can be used with any kind of source of power that still has a battery in it. When you don’t know the voltage or current – and you don’t even know which is plus and which is minus or if it’s AC or DC – that’s the perfect time for the Vampire Charger!

Just connect the two input terminals to your “unknown,” and it gives you reasonably clean 5VDC to run your GPS or emergency radio with. Connect its two alligator clips to ANY two contacts of the part in question.

Chelsea Manning at Hope XII With Yan Zhu (via Hackaday)

Mike Szczys wrote up a nice synopsis of Chelsea’s talk last weekend at Hope XII:

HOPE XII: Chelsea Manning

Yan Zhu (left) and Chelsea Manning (right) at Hope XII, Saturday, July 21, 2018

What a treat for us, to see this last weekend. We have been hanging out on the Hackaday website generally, since we submitted our Vampire Charger to it’s #PowerHarvesting Challenge. (Update July 25th: We made the Semi-finals!)

It’s always nice to see people finally getting to know the real Chelsea – and truly understand her ideas and techniques.

From the article:

I was lucky enough to get a seat very close to the stage in the main hall. The room was packed front to back. Even the standing room — mapped out on the carpet in tape and closely policed by conference “fire marshals” — was packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. The audience was alive with energy, and I think everyone lucky enough to be here today shares my feeling that moments like these tie our community together and help us all focus on what is important in life, as individuals and as a society…

Hardware in hand, she started whittling away at the topics necessary to get back into the now. Among these, getting up to speed on virtual machine platforms, advances in network security, new warning systems, and the requisite mailing lists to stay on top of the latest research were on her short list. She mentioned that she thinks a lot of what once were tedious tasks have been tamped down through automation.

All of this, however, is the small part of her readjustment. When Chelsea entered prison she was only 22 years old. She had never lived by herself, and just learning how to find and rent an apartment was a big adjustment. Prison social dynamics do not jive with life on the outside and her discussion took the audience through what it has been like making the mental pivot to rejoin society.

Summer Update: The Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project

See Tracy Rosenberg, Daniel Rigmaiden & Lisa Rein discuss the Solar Survival Project – LIVE, on November 10, 2018 at the San Francisco Hackathon.

TICKETS HERE

We’ll be posting “Summer Updates” all week regarding our endless hackathon projects that we kept going from last year’s event.

The first is our new quick tutorial with templates for our Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project – or #ASDPSP.

These templates enable you to compel the Police and Sheriff Departments for a given City and County to hand over all documentation on all known surveillance equipment. (Including documentation and information regarding all software used and any data it collects and stores.)

If you’re wondering what the situation is exactly with all of the surveillance equipment (and the data about the public that is being collected via this equipment) – in most major cities across the country –  you’ll want to read my latest interview with Tracy Rosenberg of Oakland Privacy.org, entitled “The Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project #ASDPSP – Reports Back: Here’s #WhatWeFound In Sacramento.

Tracy created the templates, and explains even more about the different types of equipment our templates ask about.

Here are the first two detailed interviews with Tracy on this topic:

Interview with Oakland Privacy’s Tracy Rosenberg On The Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project

How a little “working group” stopped Oakland from becoming a mini-fusion center for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project  is all about developing a larger strategy for determining what types of surveillance equipment a city’s police and sheriff departments have already purchased and whether or not a surveillance policy is in place to monitor that equipment – regulating how that equipment is used against their citizens.

This project started during Aaron Swartz Day 2017’s Sunday hackathon. Before that event was even over, it was clear that it had been really successful and we were all very pumped and had decided to just keep going until next year.

The results of doing so are just starting to pour in, and I’m going to be doing my best to give you the full story – both here on the Aaron Swartz Day website, and over on Mondo 2000, over these next few months, leading straight into this year’s event.

We just added two new templates (Zip file of all templates in .PDF, Zip file of all templates in .DOC) to our tutorial – one for Police Departments (City) and one for Sheriff Departments (County) – that include the use of facial recognition software, since it came out recently that Amazon has been literally giving away its facial recognition software to law enforcement, in the hopes of getting a number of early implementations. Not a bad marketing strategy, and we’re not saying the software shouldn’t be used; just that there should be a surveillance policy framework in place that regulates how it can be used against citizens.

Special thanks to Muckrock, without which this project would not be possible.

 

 

Tracy Rosenberg Explains How to Compel Police & Sheriff Departments To Admit What Surveillance Equipment They Already Have

See Tracy Live at this year’s San Francisco Hackathon!

TICKETS HERE

Lisa Rein has written a pair of articles in Mondo 2000 with Tracy Rosenberg from OaklandPrivacy.org.

Tracy explains the importance of the Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project, and its mission of filing public records requests en masse, in order to retroactively determine what kinds of surveillance equipment and software a city’s Police and Sheriff Departments already have.

We will have a complete tutorial with templates and step-by-step instructions, so you to start doing this yourself, next week.

For now, please read these articles to get a better idea of why this project is so important, for all of us, right now.

How a little “working group” stopped Oakland from becoming a mini-fusion center for the Department of Homeland Security.

(How The Occupy Oakland Privacy Working Group became Oakland Privacy)

 

and

Interview with Oakland Privacy’s Tracy Rosenberg On The Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project

 

Progress Report: The Swartz-Manning VR Museum, Art Gallery and Fun House

Updated May 30, 2018

By Lisa Rein

From “The History of Aaron Swartz Day” Museum/Art Gallery Installation. By Lisa Rein, Ryan Sternlicht, Bernice Chua, Alex Peake, Tracey Jaquith & Matteo Borri. Border Artwork: Kenneth Bryan Smith. Pixelated Aaron Artwork: Ryan Junell.

At the end of last year’s annual event (Fifth Annual Aaron Swartz Day – 2017) we decided collectively to keep the momentum going on all of our hackathon projects. Some of us had experimented with VR that weekend, and a group of us decided to keep going with our VR project.

As a result, a small team (Ryan Sternlicht, Bernice Chua, Alex Peake, Tracey Jaquith, Matteo Borri, Kenneth Bryan Smith & Ryan Junell) has been working closely with me on the first exhibit of what will be “The Swartz-Manning VR Museum, Art Gallery, and Fun House.”

We are building everything using the Unity gaming engine, and incorporating 3D art, gaming, history, and storytelling into an interactive virtual reality environment.

We will teach history and technology, while helping folks get acquainted with the basics of being in a Virtual Reality environment. We can help “newbies” get acquainted with VR, while providing entertaining and educational content.

Our hope is to become a premiere location – for artists, historians, educators and VR newbies, as VR gradually becomes more popular and enters into the mainstream – by providing an accessible, educational VR destination, and development platform, that can serve as an example to others.

The Swartz-Manning’s first exhibit will provide a detailed history of Aaron Swartz Day, including the story of how I worked with the Aaron Swartz Day community to provide friendship and support to Chelsea Manning, before she was released from military prison, in May 2017.

Noah Swartz (Aaron’s Brother) and his letter to Chelsea Manning, July 2016. From “The History of Aaron Swartz Day” Museum/Art Gallery Installation. By Lisa Rein, Ryan Sternlicht, Bernice Chua, Alex Peake, Tracey Jaquith & Matteo Borri. Border Art: Kenneth Bryan Smith.

The second set of exhibits, displayed in their own “Leary Wing” of the museum, will eventually provide a complete timeline of Dr. Timothy Leary’s life, starting with his birth in 1920. For these exhibits, we are collaborating directly with Dr. Leary’s son, Zach Leary and his Personal Archivist, Michael Horowitz.

From the “Folsom Prison Dr. Timothy Installation” By Lisa Rein, Ryan Sternlicht, Bernice Chua, Alex Peake, Tracey Jaquith & Matteo Borri. Floor Artwork: Kenneth Bryan Smith.

There will be numerous other museum and art gallery exhibits to follow, including historical artifacts such as letters, photographs, and audio/video recordings, merged with artistic installations; paintings you can step into and walk around in, to re-creations of historical rooms and locations, journals you can read through, so you can peer into the minds and thoughts of these three inspirational icons.

The Swartz-Manning VR Museum, Art Gallery, and Fun House will include four different types of installations:

1) A “traditional” kind of museum, in Virtual Reality.

“Traditional” museum exhibits (essentially, artifacts presented on walls and displays). (It seems kind of like a waste of VR to us, but we can do it, easily, and there seems to be a demand for it :-)

2) A “Fun House” version of the museum’s archival content.

The Fun House is a VR game that teaches about history while you wander around in different environments made up of the the same art and historical artifacts as the traditional version, all woven into a game, using animations and visually stimulating content and characters to create an ever-expanding game-like learning environment.

You can explore completely anonymously, or keep track of your trip, and share with others as a “flashback.” There is literally a trivia game that can be played with the “TimBot” robot character, or the player can watch videos, look through pictures, or just keep walking around looking at stuff in the house.

3) Art Gallery Installations, Platform & Templates to enable artists to create their own VR worlds.

An experimental Art Gallery platform and installations with “educational zones.” This Art Gallery platform will provide templates to enable artists to exhibit their own creations in VR easily. Artists may wish to exhibit in our gallery or greate a gallery of their own and we encourage derivative galleries – and make our templates freely available for use under a Creative Commons license.

Users can frequent our “Educational Zones” to learn how to quickly build their own VR spaces using CAD templates.These educational areas will explain and teach how the museum itself was built, step-by-step. (Complete with CAD templates.)

4) Learning Maker Technolgies and “Solar Survival” Technologies. (Coming Soon, Solarsurvival.net)

A focus on teaching “Solar Survival Technologies” – using VR and special inventions by our team members, to help teach folks that might be temporarily homeless (after a natural disaster, or just from being displaced) how to build devices such as solar cell phone chargers, or a freshly-invented “Vampire Charger,” that actually enables a cell phone to be charged safely from whatever random batteries happen to be lying around after a disaster, while protecting the phone from blowing up from a sudden power burst – for use by the homeless or after a natural disaster. (Technology courtesy of Advisory Board member Matteo Borri, who has just built a chlorophyll detector for NASA’s next MARS rover-like robot.)

We will most likely make the project available for download from the Internet Archive, and will have versions running on all platforms. Ideally, we will have multiple implementations going at first, while we conduct user testing and build out the first version of a framework.

Dr. Timothy Leary, Chelsea Manning and Aaron Swartz have more in common than you might think. All three of these people risked their freedom and their lives to make a positive difference in the world (whether they realized it at the time, or not :-) We will tell these stories, and others, while also creating an experimental art and teaching everyone VR development basics.

We are also experimenting with photogrammetry and 3D scanners, to construct 3-D models of many interesting objects from several historical archives, and also locations in nature, such as the desert.

The goal is to use a 3D scanner for some objects, and use photogrammetry “in the wild” for taking pictures of living objects. (I have a team member in the Imperial Desert, for instance, capturing wild flowers and insects there.) We are looking to partner with 3-D scanning companies and VR haptics companies, and various hardware accessory companies of all kinds. (Contact: Lisa Rein: lisa[at]lisarein.com)

I am also collaborating on the project on Tuesday nights with the folks at the Gamebridge Unityversity Meetup at Noisebridge in San Francisco, on Tuesday evenings.

See you there, if you’d like to learn more or contribute. Or email lisa[at]lisarein.com.

Thanks for taking a look and giving me your ideas.

Lisa Rein
Founder, The Swartz-Manning Museum, Art Gallery, and Fun House

Lisa Rein, Founder, Swartz-Manning VR Museum, Art Gallery, and Fun House, Co-founder of Aaron Swartz Day, Chelsea Manning’s Archivist, Co-founder, Creative Commons
(Photo: Kevin Footer – Art Design/Concept: Kenneth Bryan Smith)

 

 

ACLU: Amazon Needs To Get Out Of The Surveillance Business

“But wait,” you may start to say “I didn’t even know Amazon was even IN the surveillance business.”

Yeah. Neither did we. :-/

This is pretty much our worst fears realized: A huge corporation quietly implementing biased facial recognition software without any oversight from anyone.

Needless to say, this situation falls under the territory of our #EthicalAlgorithms mandate.

Here’s an ACLU Petition with links to more information:

Amazon: Get out of the surveillance business

(https://action.aclu.org/petition/amazon-stop-selling-surveillance)

We are still evaluating the documents and will be planning a specific strategy to deal with this situation – Aaron Swartz Day style :-

We have been making enormous progress on the Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project – which is a 100% successful experiment done in collaboration with the EFF, Oakland Privacy.net, cell phone privacy expert Daniel Rigmaiden and wonderful Muckrock.

The project provides letter templates to make it easy to ask your local police and sherriff’s departments what surveillance equipment they may have already purchased; they have to give you receipts and contracts if you guess correctly. (It’s like a little game show.)

So we are still in catch up mode at this time – but we are on the case. And we have many experts and technologists working to explain and expose the truth, before it’s too late.

If we can’t stop it from being implemented in the short term, perhaps we can develop technologies to stop it from functioning properly. While we are working out these issues in the courts, there is nothing saying we can’t share information and take defensive action. If you know techniques that folks should know about, email us at aaronswartzday [@] gmail.com

More on the situation from the New York Times.

New York Times: Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police.

Sign the ACLU petition here.   More on this issue here.

The Ethical Algorithms  Panel & Track will be even more full than last year – at Aaron Swartz Day 2018 ‘s San Francisco Hackathon. We will have projects for you to hack on from afar. (Keeps your eyes right here for more information this week! :-) Pro publica story on Machine Bias here.

New York Times: Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police.

By Nick Wingfield for the NY Times:

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union led a group of more than two dozen civil rights organizations that asked Amazon to stop selling its image recognition system, called Rekognition, to law enforcement. The group says that the police could use it to track protesters or others whom authorities deem suspicious, rather than limiting it to people committing crimes.

Here is the full text of the entire article – because, in our opinion, it is a clear cut case of Fair Use – being information that is clearly in the public interest (and should not be behind a paywall in the first place).

*****

By Nick Wingfield

May 22, 2018

SEATTLE — In late 2016, Amazon introduced a new online service that could help identify faces and other objects in images, offering it to anyone at a low cost through its giant cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services.

Not long after, it began pitching the technology to law enforcement agencies, saying the program could aid criminal investigations by recognizing suspects in photos and videos. It used a couple of early customers, like the Orlando Police Department in Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, to encourage other officials to sign up.

But now that aggressive push is putting the giant tech company at the center of an increasingly heated debate around the role of facial recognition in law enforcement. Fans of the technology see a powerful new tool for catching criminals, but detractors see an instrument of mass surveillance.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union led a group of more than two dozen civil rights organizations that asked Amazon to stop selling its image recognition system, called Rekognition, to law enforcement. The group says that the police could use it to track protesters or others whom authorities deem suspicious, rather than limiting it to people committing crimes.

Facial recognition is not new technology, but the organizations appear to be focusing on Amazon because of its prominence and what they see as a departure from the company’s oft-stated focus on customers.

“Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments,” the group said in the letter, which was addressed to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive. “This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build.”

With the letter, the A.C.L.U. released a collection of internal emails and other documents from law enforcement agencies in Washington County and Orlando that it obtained through open records requests. The correspondence between Amazon and law enforcement officials provides an unusual peek into the company’s ambitions with facial recognition tools, and how it has interacted with some of the officials using its products.

Many of the companies supplying the technology are security contractors little known to the public, but Amazon is one of the first major tech companies to actively market technology for conducting facial recognition to law enforcement. The efforts are still a tiny part of Amazon’s business, with the service one of dozens it offers through Amazon Web Services. But few companies have Amazon’s ability to effectively push widespread adoption of tech products.
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Amazon’s campus in downtown Seattle. The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups are asking the company to stop selling its image-recognition system, Rekognition, to law enforcement authorities.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

“The idea that a massive and highly resourced company like Amazon has moved decisively into this space could mark a sea change for this technology,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director at the Center on Privacy & Technology at the Georgetown University Law Center.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Amazon Web Services stressed that the company offered a general image recognition technology that could automate the process of identifying people, objects and activities. She said amusement parks had used it to find lost children, and Sky News, the British broadcaster, used it last weekend to automatically identify guests attending the royal wedding. (The New York Times has also used the technology, including for the royal wedding.)

The spokeswoman said that, as with all A.W.S. services, the company requires customers to comply with the law.

The United States military and intelligence agencies have used facial recognition tools for years in overseas conflicts to identify possible terrorist suspects. But domestic law enforcement agencies are increasingly using the technology at home for more routine forms of policing.

The people who can be identified through facial recognition systems are not just those with criminal records. More than 130 million American adults are in facial recognition databases that can be searched in criminal investigations, the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law estimates.

Facial recognition is showing up in new corners of public life all the time, often followed by challenges from critics about its efficacy as a security tool and its impact on privacy. Arenas are using it to screen for known troublemakers at events, while the Department of Homeland Security is using it to identify foreign visitors who overstay their visas at airports. And in China, facial recognition is ubiquitous, used to identify customers in stores and single out jaywalkers.

There are also concerns about the accuracy of facial recognition, with troubling variations based on gender and race. One study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that the gender of darker-skinned women was misidentified up to 35 percent of the time by facial recognition software.

“We have it being used in unaccountable ways and with no regulation,” said Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, a nonprofit civil rights organization that signed the A.C.L.U.’s letter to Amazon.

The documents the A.C.L.U. obtained from the Orlando Police Department show city officials considering using video analysis tools from Amazon with footage from surveillance cameras, body-worn cameras and drones.

Amazon may have gone a little far in describing what the technology can do. This month, it published a video of an Amazon official, Ranju Das, speaking at a company event in Seoul, South Korea, in which he said Orlando could even use Amazon’s Rekognition system to find the whereabouts of the mayor through cameras around the city.
Video from an Amazon event where a company official spoke about the company’s facial recognition system.CreditVideo by Amazon Web Services Korea

In a statement, a spokesman for the Orlando Police Department, Sgt. Eduardo Bernal, said the city was not using Amazon’s technology to track the location of elected officials in its jurisdiction, nor did it have plans to. He said the department was testing Amazon’s service now, but was not using it in investigations or public spaces.

“We are always looking for new solutions to further our ability to keep the residents and visitors of Orlando safe,” he said.

Early last year, the company began courting the Washington County Sheriff’s Office outside of Portland, Ore., eager to promote how it was using Amazon’s service for recognizing faces, emails obtained by the A.C.L.U. show. Chris Adzima, a systems analyst in the office, told Amazon officials that he fed about 300,000 images from the county’s mug shot database into Amazon’s system.

Within a week of going live, the system was used to identify and arrest a suspect who stole more than $5,000 from local stores, he said, adding there were no leads before the system identified him. The technology was also cheap, costing just a few dollars a month after a setup fee of around $400.

Mr. Adzima ended up writing a blog post for Amazon about how the sheriff’s office was using Rekognition. He spoke at one of the company’s technical conferences, and local media began reporting on their efforts. After the attention, other law enforcement agencies in Oregon, Arizona and California began to reach to Washington County to learn more about how it was using Amazon’s system, emails show.

In February of last year, before the publicity wave, Mr. Adzima told an Amazon representative in an email that the county’s lawyer was worried the public might believe “that we are constantly checking faces from everything, kind of a Big Brother vibe.”

“They are concerned that A.C.L.U. might consider this the government getting in bed with big data,” Mr. Adzima said in an email. He did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Deputy Jeff Talbot, a spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said Amazon’s facial recognition system was not being used for mass surveillance by the office. The company has a policy to use the technology only to identify a suspect in a criminal investigation, he said, and has no plans to use it with footage from body cameras or real-time surveillance systems.

“We are aware of those privacy concerns,” he said. “That’s why we have a policy drafted and why we’ve tried to educate the public about what we do and don’t do.”

Chelsea Manning, Caroline Sinders, and Kristian Lum: “Technologists, It’s Time to Decide Where You Stand On Ethics”

(Left to Right) Kristian Lum, Caroline Sinders, Chelsea Manning.

A lot of folks were wondering about what Chelsea Manning‘ meant when she discussed a “Code of Ethics” during her SXSW talk, last March. Well there’s no need to wonder, because Chelsea discussed this in detail, with her co-panelists Kristian Lum (Human Rights Data Analysis Group) and Caroline Sinders (Wikimedia Foundation), during the Ethical Algorithms track at the last Aaron Swartz Day at the Internet Archive.

Chelsea Manning, Caroline Sinders, and Kristian Lum: “Technologists, It’s Time to Decide Where You Stand On Ethics”

By Lisa Rein for Mondo 2000.

Link to the complete video for Ethical Algorithms panel.

Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning: Me personally, I think that we in technology have a responsibility to make our own decisions in the workplace – wherever that might be. And to communicate with each other, share notes, talk to each other, and really think – take a moment – and think about what you are doing. What are you doing? Are you helping? Are you harming things? Is it worth it? Is this really what you want to be doing? Are deadlines being prioritized over – good results? Should we do something? I certainly made a decision in my own life to do something. It’s going to be different for every person. But you really need to make your own decision as to what to do, and you don’t have to act individually.

Kristian Lum and Caroline Sinders.

Caroline Sinders: Even if you feel like a cog in the machine, as a technologist, you aren’t. There are a lot of people like you trying to protest the systems you’re in. Especially in the past year, we’ve heard rumors of widespread groups and meetings of people inside of Facebook, inside of Google, really talking about the ramifications of the U.S. Presidential election, of questioning, “how did this happen inside these platforms?” – of wanting there even to be accountability inside of their own companies. I think it’s really important for us to think about that for a second. That that’s happening right now. That people are starting to organize. That they are starting to ask questions.

Aaron Swartz Ceramic Statue (by Nuala Creed) and Kristian Lum.

Kristen Lum: There are a lot of models now predicting whether an individual will be re-arrested in the future. Here’s a question: What counts as a “re-arrest?” Say someone fails to appear for court and a bench warrant is issued, and then they are arrested. Should that count? So I don’t see a whole lot of conversation about this data munging.

Read the whole thing here. Watch the whole video here.

See all the Aaron Swartz Day 2017 videos here with the New Complete Speaker Index!

Thanks to ThoughtWorks for sponsoring the Ethical Algorithms Track at Aaron Swartz Day 2017. This track has also led to the launch of our Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project, and we have lots to tell you all about it, very soon :-)

Shari Steele (w Cindy Cohn & Cory Doctorow) At the John Perry Barlow Symposium

This is from the April 7, 2018 event. Complete transcription and video available here at the Internet Archive. (A complete index of all speakers is forming here on the Aaron Swartz Day website.)

Left to Right: Shari Steele, John Gilmore, Joi Ito, Steven Levy.

Cindy Cohn: Our second panel of speakers are Shari Steel, John Gilmore, Stephen Levy, and Joy Ito. And although she ended up at the end, our first speaker up is Shari Steele.

Cory Doctorow: So Shari was the turnaround specialist that turned the EFF into the powerhouse it is today. She calls herself a “First Amendment Junkie.” And when I met her, EFF was on the rocks. John Gilmore had brought it back to San Francisco from adventures on the East Coast and they lost their digs and so they were everyone was working out of their living rooms and meeting up once a week in coffee shops and today. Well, today we’re a much bigger organization and a lot of it – well so much of it is due to Shari and her leadership. One of the places where I got to see her shine is in managing her Board, and it’s quite an irascible and amazing board. And as you heard about Barlow, he was always a challenging board member. So I’m looking forward to hearing what Shari has to say about about being the adult supervision for John Perry Barlow. [02:47:56]

Shari Steele: Hmmm. I wasn’t going to say anything about being “the adult supervision of John Perry Barlow.”

So, I started EFF in 1992, as a staff attorney, and I’m just going to give a little aside. Mitch Kapor actually detoured his plane to stop to meet me too. (Laughs) I was in Washington D.C. and I had already interviewed with Jerry Berman and Danny Weitzner, who at the time were the EFF D.C. office, and Mitch wanted to meet me and so was on his way back to Boston from someplace or other, and stopped so that I got to meet him. And I got the job. So whatever, but when I first when I first took this job we didn’t know what EFF was going to become, but I had heard of Mitch Kapor and was really interested in working with Mitch Kapor, but had never heard of John Perry Barlow. I was not a Grateful Dead fan I was not from San Francisco. I didn’t know who this guy was. It literally took one meeting for me to become a groupie. This man had more charisma than anybody I’ve ever met and his belief in the First Amendment and in a free speech, in a society with free speech ,and a vision of the Internet as being a place for free speech, resonated so powerfully with me that he became an instant buddy.

Our first real big fight related to free speech was in 1995, when Congress passed this horrible horrible law called the Communications Decency Act, or the CDA. Barlow was, and we were all, really upset about it. As soon as it passed, we knew that was unconstitutional. And, with the ACLU, EFF challenged the law. [02:49:50]

The big part of that that was horrible was the part about indecency. It was it was Congress’s attempt to regulate pornography. And in it they had this whole part about if, basically, if the internet was was not good enough for kids then it was bad. So things like, talking about sexuality, or curse words, or talking about assisted suicide. Talking about anything that would be a topic that wouldn’t be appropriate for kids, you could possibly have been fined two hundred fifty thousand dollars per violation for doing that on the Internet.

So along with this lawsuit, and that was, of course, the EFF and ACLU way of fighting it. John Perry Barlow in his way of putting pen to paper, or typing on the keyboard, came up with his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. I loved this thing from the very start. Cindy and I were just talking about this the other day. [02:51:04]

So I re-read it particularly getting ready for today. A whole bunch of this was about sovereignty. The way he wrote it was was basically daring governments from around the world to come in and regulate cyberspace and saying “you have no business here.” But the reason why I loved it was because the reason why he felt that cyberspace was so important to defend was speech. It was about the free speech. And here’s a quote from the declaration:

“We are creating a world where any one anywhere may express his or her beliefs no matter how singular without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”

As a first amendment attorney yes as a first amendment attorney those those words still still give me chills. So in 1997, those indecency provisions of the CDA were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Yay us. And ten years later Barlow, was asked to defend or talk about his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. And he kind of talked a bit about the sovereignty your stuff but he gave us some more beautiful language that I’m going to share with you here. [02:52:27]

“I still dream of a world where anyone could express anything he or she chooses, no matter how odious or unpopular, without fear of official reprisal. I dream of a world where anyone else can either here or ignore those expressions as they choose, but will at least be able to make that choice with similar immunity. I dream of a world where anyone who wants to know something will be able to learn the truth about it, regardless of his or her economic status, social standing or race. I imagine a future where intelligence will be the primary economic resource and the location of one’s cerebral cavity will be irrelevant to the earning potential of its contents. I have not given up on the idea that as a species we can be more humane and fair. Nor have I forsaken the notion that the greater understanding bred by universal access to knowledge is the key to increasing these qualities in us.” [02:53:30]

Yeah. And that’s the thing about Barlow. He wanted to hear all different kinds of viewpoints. He knew more people who had divergent ways of looking at things, because that’s how he grew. That’s how he thrived. He was always learning. He always wanted to know more. He was always encouraging voices. He was always encouraging people to talk to each other. To have conversations where you normally wouldn’t maybe have thought that this was somebody that you might have something in common with. He was fascinating, and he was dynamic, and he helped us create an Internet that has all sorts of fascinating and dynamic speech in it. Thanks. [02:54:23]

Q & A

Cindy Cohn: Thanks. Maybe for Shari or any of you actually. Looking to the future (garbled question) So I believe if I can rephrase this “looking to the future how can freedom of the press or freedom of the Internet be manipulated by would be tyrants and how do we fight it?” I added that last part myself.

Shari Steele: Is that a hypothetical? I’m having little bit of trouble with this because I think we are seeing how it can be manipulated by would be tyrants, and that’s it’s pretty terrifying actually, because it requires us to be diligent about about paying attention and about following trails and about being honest with what actually is happening. The people who have the knowledge sharing that with us. I don’t know how that’s going to play out. I know that right now it makes it very scary. It brings a darkness to the communications that are not not making me feel comfortable.

***

Cindy Cohn: Here’s one maybe for Shari. Some people are advocating for an Internet Bill of Rights or a digital bill of rights. Net neutrality is now controversial (Cindy looks up and says “not in my house.”) How can we be sure that government regulation is appropriate for something like the Internet which is supposed to protect free thought. I did. I took some liberties with that question. [03:46:55]

Shari Steele: It’s a really hard one. So government regulation is a double edged sword. And anytime that we are trying to bring the government in you have to make sure that there isn’t overreaching. And a piece of legislation, as it gets started, as it was originally introduced often gets compromised in ways that you sometimes can’t even imagine what’s going to happen to it. That’s all a very long winded way of saying that it would be very difficult for me to answer that question in a vacuum. A particular piece of legislation is really the way you need to look at these kinds of issues as to whether or not it could be the solution that you’re looking for. I’m not doing day to day long legal work anymore, so I think that there are probably better people including Cindy, to answer this question so maybe she has something more enlightened than what I just shared. [03:48:04]

Cindy Cohn: Sure. I think that a way to parlay that. See what she does. I do think that the questions we need to ask ourselves is not whether the government should pass laws that regulate the Internet or whether it shouldn’t. I think there were some fundamental questions about that maybe early on, but the internet has always been a place where a law was going to apply in one way or another, and we have to ask ourselves the harder questions which is “How do we want law to apply in the online environment? And how do we make sure that we protect freedom from law even in this space where there’s going to be laws.” So Shari’s right. We do look at each question individually. I’ve never been sure that we needed an Internet Bill of Rights because we have a Bill of Rights. I’ve never thought that we needed Universal Declaration of Internet Rghts because we have an International Declaration of Human Rights and until we have the AI and we have to figure out what that codicil looks like. I think those rights will hold for us. If we’re smart, and we’re thoughtful, and we think carefully about how we want to apply them in this new context. I don’t think people need to worry. I don’t think we want to start from scratch again about whether we think the right for freedom of expression is something we want to protect or whether we think people want to be protected against search and seizure or whether we think people want to be able to be protected against summary execution. I think humanity’s thought all that through already and we came to mostly the right decisions. We need to make sure that we’re hyper careful about how those things get presented in in this new environment. And frankly that’s been my worry for the last 28 years and I don’t think we’re done yet. [03:49:58]

Transcription by Lisa Rein (Co-founder Aaron Swartz Day & Creative Commons, and friend of John Perry Barlow). Lisa Rein used Teme to start – and then cleaned it up by comparing it to the video, over many days :) Corrections are very much appreciated-please send them to: lisa[@]lisarein.com.

Complete transcription and video available here at the Internet Archive. (A complete index of all speakers is forming here on the Aaron Swartz Day website.)

A Little Note About All John Perry Stuff We’ve Been Publishing Lately

Hey you guys! We hope you know that you are not expected to read all of this John Perry Barlow Syposium content at once. On the contrary: there is so much of it because it’s not going to matter until later: when someone is researching that particular topic, about something relevant, happening in the present.

These posts are not about John Perry Barlow as much as they are discussing relevant questions about the future of our movement and our world.

Yes siree, we here at Aaron Swartz Day are into the present, and protecting the rights of living people. Not wallowing around in the shadows and sadness of the past; unless those shadows cast light on a current topic.

It was one of the requirements of Aaron’s family and friends that these events be celebrations and calls to action. (Although it’s important to continue to spread awareness about what happened to Aaron, as we keep learning.)

Why is it so important to look back on these and all events? Because, unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself. Not knowing that an idea has already been tried, and would have worked except for that one thing, is, potentially, our strength and their greatest weakness.

When they divide us, we are less likely to share this kind of information with each other. That’s why we need to share this kind of information with everybody constantly.

Our only hope is to index the truth faster than the powers that be can whitewash it.

Again, these indexes are for the future. Believe us, they will come in handy. Our archivists have learned from past experience: It’s a lot easier to index the present while you’re in it. And the inaccurate associations that historians often draw is a testament to that.

Plus how often is it that you get to index a historical time period while you are living it? That is the position that the Aaron Swartz Day team has found itself in. (That’s what our main partner, Internet Archive, tries to do on a daily basis.)

Alas, it would appear we have to fight many of the battles over again that we worked so hard on in the past. Net Neutrality, the First Amendment, and having control of our own bodies, just to name a few.

So, hang in there, as the content starts flying out, over these next few weeks and months.  It might not seem like everything is connected at first, but it is.

Everyday/Forever (Event is November 10-11, 2018)