“Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” by Aaron Swartz

July 29, 2017


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

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

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

Ubuntu Forums down! Security breach! Don’t panic, carry on…

July 23, 2013

Ubuntuforums.org, the bestest user forum for Ubuntu users that I know of, is offline due to a security breach whereby usernames, passwords and email addresses were compromised. This happened on 20 July, apparently, I only just noticed (come here for the latest news, eh).

Canonical, the company behind the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system, and whose servers host the Forums site, have put up an announcement page, to which you get redirected if you try to browse to the forums. From what Canonical have said, it appears:

1. Usernames, passwords and email addresses have been compromised. The passwords were stored hashed, ie not in plain text, but users who use their Ubuntuforums.org password on other sites should change them, just to be sure;

2.Ubuntu One, Launchpad and other Ubuntu/Canonical services are not affected by this.

I’m wondering: the forums site was being hosted on Canonical servers, and it was compromised. But other Canonical services are unaffected… So, is Canonical giving Ubuntuforums.org second-class service? Or are all Canonical servers this badly managed, meaning users should forget about using Ubuntu One, Launchpad, etc?

I don’t want to be an asshole about this – but Canonical, WTF??!

EDIT: I’m a bit behind the times with this, but Ubuntuforums.org is up and about again.  They’ve changed the logging-in mechanism, now you need a Launchpad account too, but it’s easy to do.  Just go to Ubuntuforums.org as usual and you’ll be walked through the new process.  If you’re into Ubuntu it’s a wonderful resource, I’ve managed to keep an account there since 2007, I’ve had a shit load of infractions (official warnings), one admin said he didn’t know of anyone worse, but the community there is really good.


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Guardian help track down “Climategate” whistleblower – what a bunch of cnuts!!

November 25, 2011

This really pisses me off. The Guardian were pro-whistleblowing when it came to Wikileaks – probably because the Guardian found those leaks ethically sound. But when the whistleblowing/leaking is in aid of a cause not close to the newspaper’s heart – like the leaked emails at the University of East Anglia that seemingly expose evidence-tampering by scientists who believe in man-made climate change – suddenly the Guardian wants to assemble a posse or lynchmob to track down the whistleblower and deliver him to Scotland Yard.

I’ve been a Guardian reader for 20 years, and usually I find its campaigns to be defensible even if I don’t particularly believe in them. But this whistleblower/leak/”hacker” hunt leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Get your act together, Guardian… or you’ll lose another once-loyal reader.

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Question: Who is/are “Anonymous”? Answer: No one/everyone.

March 15, 2011

Just read about the “hacker group” Anonymous’ release of apparently incriminating emails from the Bank of America. This story really annoys me. Not because I’m a Bank of America fan – I’m pissed off with the Guardian for describing Anonymous as a “hacker group”.

The Wikipedia article on Anonymous. describes it well – it says:

is an Internet meme originating 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, representing the concept of many on-line community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, digitized global brain.[1] It is also generally considered to be a blanket term for members of certain Internet subcultures, a way to refer to the actions of people in an environment where their actual identities are not known.

Anonymous is not a hacker group in the sense you’d usually expect: there’s no organization, no hierarchy, no agreed agenda. Anyone with the required know-how and/or tools can do some cyber-vandalism or cut-and-paste someone’s email, then say it was done by Anonymous.

So who is Anonymous? Everyone. No one. Me. You. Anyone. Please bear that in mind next time you see a report that “Anonymous” did something.

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Wikileaks.org is back up! Not a *huge* victory for freedom and common sense – but a victory nevertheless

December 15, 2010

On 3 December, we reported that you could no longer reach the Wikileaks site by using the wikileaks.org URL. Well, that is no longer the case: aim your browser at “http://wikileaks.org” and you get rerouted to http://mirror.wikileaks.info/ – one of the many, many mirrors that sprouted after the USA’s clumsy efforts to limit free speech. Not a major victory by any means. But a victory nevertheless.

In other (Wikileaks/Assange-related) news: Julian Assange is still in prison even though he was granted bail yesterday. The Swedish prosecutors have appealed against the bail ruling, claiming that he would pose a major flight risk. I’m not sure how the Swedes think he’ll flee: Assange’s face must be one of the best known in border security circles, plus they have his passport… but as things stand, he must remain in HMP Wandsworth for at leat another couple of days while this judicial circus runs its course.

This case is highlighting the problems with the new European arrest warrant system. Usually, it is only possible to extradite someone if the crime he’s accused of is also a crime in the country he’s “hiding” in. As far as I can tell, Assange’s alleged crimes are not illegal in Britain (what the Swedes call “rape” and “sexual molestation” are very different to the UK’s definitions – I believe one of the charges relates to Assange refusing to use a condom; the complainant admits that the sex was consensual, so how in hell can this be called a crime? He didn’t force her to have unprotected sex).

Anyway, a blog like this one is not really a good place to discuss the intricacies of Swedish law. But what I will say is this: Sweden has got very accommodating rendition agreements with the USA. If Assange is extradited to Sweden, it won’t be long before he ends up in America. And if you look at what politicians are saying about Assange it’s pretty clear he won’t receive a free trial and he’ll end up on a slab.

But do these people really believe that Assange is Wikileaks? The leaks will continue, regardless of his fate. All that will happen is that Assange’s colleagues will improve their security and anonymity. Killing (or imprisoning) Assange will not kill Wikileaks. And all politicians need to beware: if they treat Assange like a piece of shit, the leaks will become more and more damaging to the so-called “liberal” European “democracies” who are currently baying for his blood. So watch out, fools: the day of reckoning is nearly upon us… and you.

UPDATE: I just noticed this, a page that lists the very many sites that are mirroring Wikileaks in an attempt to stop the authorities ever again closing them down. Well, when I say “stop”, I actually mean “make it very difficult”. The USA has already demonstrated the length of its reach. But when Wikileaks is mirrored in a huge number of countries, some of whom dislike America intensely, the job of censorship becomes much more difficult.

There’s also info on the page about how you too can mirror Wikileaks on your web server. I say go for it! I think it’s about time that the USA learned what “democracy” actually means: rule by the people for the people; not rule by a bunch of rich geezers on behalf of their billionaire buddies. Or is my dictionary out of date?

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Top 10 tech tricks we’re sick of seeing in movies

October 27, 2010

This is a pretty interesting article: detailing some of the wonderful moments in film history where some hacker/computer expert can get a computer system to do stuff it ain’t supposed to do, just by pressing a few keys and, no doubt, intimidating the the software with his superior skillz…

I remember some of the stuff on the list, but other details have been driven from my memory by thousands of years of substance abuse.  But never mind: there’s enough listed there to make any half-educated geek to kick his cat about.

One particular moments that’s always stayed with me is in Jurassic Park when the surviving humans need to “hack” (ugh!) the computerized security system to try and contain the rampaging dinosaurs.  The little girl (kids always know more than adults about computer-related stuff, even when the adult is a highly-trained, highly-experienced computer professional) takes one look at the monitors, says “I know this – it’s Unix”, and goes on to fix the electric fences or whatever.  It’s pretty unlikely that a Unix system would have the amazing 3D desktop interface we see on the screens… and it’s even more ridiculous to suggest she can do shit the pros found impossible after looking at the machines for 5 minutes or so.  Please not: I am not claiming that her skillz are impossible; but it’s still a huge heap of doggy doo-dah.

All this crap achieves is to reinforce the opinion that 1) little kids eat highly-trained adults for breakfast; and 2) give that kid a Commodore 64 and a modem and she’ll destroy the earth using the adults’ thermonuclear weapons against themselves.

I much prefer scenarios where AIs become self-aware and decide to wipe out the dangerous virus that is humankind.  Maybe kids can do that too… but chances are that the kid will probably be too busy tweeting about her despicable plan to notice the SWAT gunmen abseiling down to come shoot her in her bedroom.  Kids are too immature and too all over the place to actually do anything major.  Shit like Skynet is much more likely to succeed.  And we can’t threaten Skynet with being grounded and losing its allowance.  FFS.

DEFCON 18 Presentations audio files available for free download.

September 14, 2010

So DEFCON 18 has been and went.  Who went?  No, neither did I.  I live thousands of miles from Las Vegas, on the wrong side of an ocean, and I’m not too sure I’d be allowed into the USA anyway.  So I just love those wonderful audio and video files of the DEFCON talks and presentations that eventually appear on the DEFCON site.

Yes, eventually is the operative word.  The videos and audio files aren’t posted immediately for free download.  The DEFCON people want to squeeze a bit more blood out of the stone first, so they sell the material on DVDs for a while, before letting us uncouth freeloaders fill our boots.

So, if you want to buy a DEFCON 18 DVD, go to defcon.org – I’m sure you’ll find someone there only too pleased to take your coin.  But if you’re like me – you want it, you want it free, and you want it now – go check this site.  You’ll find mp3 files of most of the talks there for free downloaded.  As of this date (14 September 2010) there are no links to get the videos.  And some of the “mp3 links” aren’t actually links to mp3 files at all – some point to .BIN files, and even though I run a Linux box I don’t like to click on links to binaries.  Call me careful, or paranoid – I don’t care.  If you want to see what’s in the .BIN files, download a few and let us know what happens in Comments.

Even though I’ve only been able to find audio files of the presentations so far, it’s possible that the DEFCON people can unwittingly help us out.  If you go to defcon.org and browse to the DEFCON 18 archive page, you’ll find that white papers and slides for some of the talks are already available.  Match the right slides with the right mp3 file, and it’ll be like you were actually in Vegas.  In fact, I think I’m gonna go down to the casino floor and play some dice before the next presentation starts.  I gotta catch Dan Kaminsky’s talk, that guy rocks!!

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