“Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” by Aaron Swartz

July 29, 2017

Aaron_Swartz_profile

Aaron Swartz was a computer programmer, writer, political organiser, hacker, and hacktivist of note.  Amongst other accomplishments he founded Watchdog.net, “the good government site with teeth,” to aggregate and visualize data about politicians, was a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Demand Progress; with Virgil Griffith he worked on Tor2web, an early (2008) HTTP proxy for Tor-hidden services and with Kevin Poulsen he created Dead Drop (now known as “Secure Drop”), a mechanism allowing whistleblowers to send files to the media anonymously.  He was prosecuted for making the data in JSTOR, a digital repository of academic journal articles, available to users for free.  He refused a plea bargain that would have seen him serve 6 months in a low-security prison, preferring to make the authorities justify the prosecution.  He faced a possible 50 years of imprisonment and $1 million in fines, for pursuing the hacker belief that all information wants to be free.  Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013. After his death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges. [Thanks to Wikipedia.org for the above.]  He was a champion for freedom, in the best hacker tradition, and nine years ago he wrote the following manifesto.

Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for
themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries
in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of
private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the
sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought
valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure
their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But
even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future.
Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their
colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them?
Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to
children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they
make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal —
there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s
already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been
given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world
is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for
yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords
with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

 

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been
sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by
the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or
piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a
ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only
those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate
require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they
have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who
can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the
grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public
culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with
the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need
to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific
journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open
Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the
privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz

July 2008, Eremo, Italy


How to delete that iffy stuph off your computer

November 18, 2015

Hopefully, most/all people know that simply clicking “delete” on your computer is not going to delete the files.  Erasing a file simply erases the file system entry, leaving the actual file intact and accessible to others if they have the correct tools and know-how.

To combat this, various “secure” deletion programs have been created: eg shred and secure-delete (srm) etc in the Linux/UNIX world, and programs such as Eraser, Freeraser, Blank and Secure and DP Shredder (and others) for Windows operating systems.

Unfortunately these tools are not a cure-all.  If someone has physical access to your laptop, a skilled technician can fool these programs and make the computer to spew its guts.  Just look what the NSA and GCGQ did to a Guardian computer believed to be carrying details of what NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden had told them.  Just check out what staff members of the Guardian newspaper had to do under the watchful eyes of NSA/GCHQ operatives to ensure no nasty ones and zeroes got out there to knock Western Civilisation down onto its knees.

Many folk in the computer security community think this was “security theatre”… the NSA/GCHQ experts did stuph that was in no way necessary, it just helped stop educated security guys from figuring out what bit of laptop needed to be trashed and what was trashed for no reason except for the daft notion of “obscurity = security”.  Secirity experts will have talked with their expert buddies to find out what they thought as they watched the computer dismantled and buggered-up beyond recognition.

Anyway, have the NSA/GCHQ forgotten that mantra that is beaten into them at school “back-up, back-up, back-up”.  Who says that the files on that laptop were unique?  I seem to remember that a number of newspapers around the world were publishing details of this story… do NSA/GCHQ held the only copy of the intel?  That is a stupid idea.  If I was given a story whose details and proofs were on a disk, I would send copies to everyone, to be published if I slipped and fell horribly in the shadow or I disappeared one night never to return.

Bloody stupid intelligence service.  Their #1 secret = there is no intelligence regarding their intelligence.  Because they have none.  Now let’s go drive off a cliff somewhere.  Orders is orders, innit?

 


Podcast conversation about mesh networking

November 25, 2014

Very interesting conversation podcast about mesh networking, the obstacles and the ways to circumvent them. Mentions the Open Garden project, a mesh networking utility for Android smartphones and for Windows and Mac laptops (support for iOS is coming). It’s a free app that turns your device into a mobile hot spot. No matter how you’re connected to the Net (Wi-Fi or cellular), it makes that connection shareable (over Bluetooth) to other Open Garden users. Likewise, if you’re running the product but don’t have a connection to the Net, and you’re near a user who does, this service seamlessly gets you online. The conversation describes the military’s application of mesh networking. I think we need the decentralization of connectivity that mesh networking offers. As during the “Arab spring”, governments can shut down the internet in its territory. Mesh networking will get round that. The sophistication of smartphones and other gadgets and the RF power available to consumers nowadays means that a decentralized network that can route around censorship will soon be a reality.

Compared to more centralized network architectures, the only way to shut down a mesh network is to shut down every single node in the network. Image from www.interference.cc

Compared to more centralized network architectures, the only way to shut down a mesh network is to shut down every single node in the network. Image from http://www.interference.cc

Mentions Open Garden, Tropos, plus technology such as utilities meters being part of a wireless mesh network so the meter reader doesn’t actually need physical access to read the meter.

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Snowden Q & A

June 28, 2013

Sorry, I didn’t spot this when it first came online. Other stuff going on… Anyway, here it is now: Guardian readers asking the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden all about PRISM, the other secret documents he leaked, and of course why did he blow the whistle? The USA and its buddies are now claiming he gave juicy secrets to China and Russia, why else would he have been allowed to travel to Hong Kong and Moscow? Just shit-throwing, but when they throw enough shit at you some will stick and you’ll smell pretty bad. Snowden will likely be considered a hero in the future. But the heroes of history are often reviled in their own time. I just hope the USA doesn’t get hold of him; if they do, he’s a dead man. Killed for telling us that our own governments spy on us just cos they can.

We gotta stop acting like the dumb jackasses our governments treat us like. In the words of RATM we gotta take the power back! Cos it’s our power, not theirs; they have it right now cos we lent it to them. Some of us thought they could be trusted; some of us have acted like idiots. But that doesn’t mean we are idiots, and we should be real pissed off what’s been going on. FFS, what more will it take before we see this set-up as the house of cards it really is and kick the foundations out from under it?

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“Killer robots should be banned…” But I want one!

November 20, 2012

Image

The Terminator – coming to a war zone near you!

 Human Rights Watch has released a 50-page report on the subject of “fully autonomous weapons” that could kill without any human interaction required – in other words, killer robots, like Arnie in The Terminator.  And surprise surprise, the report (catchily entitled Losing Humanity: the Case Against Killer Robots) says that they should be banned – now, before anyone pours too much money into such a project.

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, the HRW arms division director. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimising civilian deaths and injuries.”  The robot would have to make ethical judgements as well as tactical and strategic decisions: for instance, are some civilian casualties acceptable weighed against the battle outcome.  At the moment these kind of decisions are made by human officers on the battle ground.  But can a computer be fully capable?

And then there’s the scenario of a malfunctioning robot soldier.  Do we really want to risk having a heavily armed killer robot running amok?

There are already basic semi-automous weapons systems already in use – for instance the drone aircraft that are famous for firing hellfire missiles at innocent Afghan wedding parties, and the Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapons System) that is used to protect ships from missiles. And in December 2010, the South Korean firm DoDAAM unveiled the Super aEgis II  an automated turret-based weapon platform that uses thermal imaging to lock onto human-sized targets up to 3km away. It is able to function during nighttime and regardless of weather conditions . No one has yet created a robot soldier, but several countries are actively looking into the subject, such as the US, China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain.  The HRW report claims that experts believe operative machines could be ready in 20 years if not sooner.  And who knows what is going on in top secret defence projects?  They’re not called “top secret” for nothing.

So the report recommends that international treaties banning these kinds of weapons should be banned now, before any country gets too involved in such a project – no government wants to scrap a project that it’s already invested billions of dollars into.

“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals,” Steve Goose said. “As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up.”

But it’s hard to see this idea stay unexplored.  Automation is invading everyday life – why shouldn’t it be used on the battlefield?  I can certainly imagine the robot soldier being sold to the public as a way to avoid seeing our boys coming home in body bags.  But what will it be like for the people who are on the front line: not just soldiers, but the people who actually live in the war zone?  Mistakes are made by human soldiers – what could a fritzed Terminator be capable of?

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Even those yanks with their Gitmo crap can get it right now and then… so how come us Brits consistently get it so wrong?

February 29, 2012

I got my monthly EFF newsletter email earlier today, and a couple of things caught my eye. Some pretty important stuff, so I’m gonna tell you about it here:

1. Appeals Court Upholds Constitutional Right Against Forced Decryption. Basically, the FBI seized laptops and disk drives of this guy, but couldn’t access the data thereon because it was encrypted with Truecrypt. A grand jury ordered the man to produce the unencrypted contents of the drives, but he refused, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The court held him in contempt and sent him to jail. But the EFF filed an amicus brief, arguing that the man had a valid Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and that the government’s attempt to force him to decrypt the data was unconstitutional. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that the act of decrypting data is testimonial and therefore protected by the Fifth Amendment. Score one for Freedom, right? Well, it’s good for the Americanos: but unfortunately, since 2007, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in the UK (RIPA) has allowed a person to be compelled to reveal a decryption key. Refusal can earn someone a five-year jail term. How in hell can a country that keeps uncharged prisoners in Gitmo for over 10 years and gasses its own citizens on a regular basis embrace liberty better than us Brits? Please, answer me in Comments. It’s like that film Brazil, or a Franz Kafka story.

2. This one paints us Europeans in a better light (I say us Europeans, because unfortunately us Brits will do whatever America and the rich want us to do, including embarking on illegal wars that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and leave Middle East countries unbelievably unstable and wrought with sickening sectarian violence). This particular happy story is about the European Court of Justice’s decision that

social networks cannot be required to monitor and filter their users’ communications to prevent copyright infringement of music and movies. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) found that imposing a broad filtering obligation on social networks would require active monitoring of users’ files in violation of EU law and could undermine citizens’ freedom of expression.

The ECJ found that forcing an ISP to install a filtering system that would identify and prevent its users from making available any potentially copyright infringing files would require “active observation” of the ISP’s users. Implementing such a system would fall afoul of the key principle in Article 15 of the EU e-Commerce Directive, which prohibits EU member states from imposing a general obligation on ISPs and hosting services to monitor information they transmit or store, or to actively seek facts or circumstances that indicate illegal activity.

The EFF note that the dreadfully-nigh ACTA, a wide-ranging treaty that will force laws on us in a backroom-dealing way that bypasses democracy, also seeks to make Article 15 meaningless. Will the ECJ decision affect at all the approaching behemoth? Or will our governments, all round the world, continue to obey the dictates of commerce rather than the wishes of their electorates? I think I know the answer already; but your Comments are, again, truly welcome.

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Information Age or Dark Ages?

January 30, 2012

In the Guardian today (30 Jan, 2012),  the prize-winning writer Jonathan Franzen says that ebooks “will have a detrimental effect on the world” because they lack permanence.  “Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now,” Franzen says, “but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring,”

Franzen may have something there.  I think our growing reliance on electronic communication (eg email) and publication (eg ebooks, .doc and .pdf documents) leaves future archaelogists and historians very little to work with.  No doubt many readers think that the present will be remembered for all time, that we live in a never-ending Information Age.  Well, the Romans were also arrogant enough to believe that their imperial glory would last forever; well, the ancient Roman age didn’t last forever, and their written literature was lost for a long time, resulting in the so-called “Dark Ages”.  So, if we put our arrogance to one side for a moment, we have to accept that the Information Age will come to an end; and that our ever-growing reliance on electronic forms of documentation will lead to the loss of our literature and written history, and our wonderful Information Age will be looked back upon as another Dark Ages.

The only way to prevent our civilisation from receding into obscurity is to make sure there are hard-copy backups of everything we create.  But that’s not going to happen.  We are not going to print every email we write or receive, every essay or article or novel we write, for posterity.  Where will be able to store all this stuff?  We have back-ups on external hard drives and DVDs and tape; and we also have “the cloud” to store files, so we may not even have physical possession of the storage medium. We can act like little Ozymandiases and claim that our data will always be accessible – but that isn’t necessarily true.  I’ve got files saved in old proprietary formats on floppy disks.  I might be able to retrieve the data if I try really hard – but this is just 20 or 25 years after its creation.  Will it still be accessible in 100 years?  1000 years?

We think our progress and ideas and creations are so Earth-shatteringly grand and important; but in the end maybe all our achievements will amount to nothing.  And ironically, it will be our technological achievements that cause their own disappearance – if only we’d used a pen to write everything down on paper.

 

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

~”Ozymandias”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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