On Wednesday Dec 22 we held the first of what may become a somewhat regular round table discussion about WikiLeaks. I initially wanted to organize this because it’s a topic that comes up again and again right now and not just in circles of hackers. I thought that having a public forum where anyone who was interested in talking about this in an unstructured fashion with others who might have valuable insights would be worthwhile, but I also hoped that as had been happening in my own conversations that were sparked by WikiLeaks, the discussion would lead off into other even more thought provoking directions. This is exactly what happened and I was delighted that we at CRASHspace could help facilitate this. If and when we do it again will depend on both public interest and developments in this specific case, but I this structure of an open to the public and agenda free discussion worked well and should be revisited.
Before I get into the actual wrap up, I thought I’d talk a little bit about some of the issues that came up with attendance. We had about 25 people in the room – only 5 or 6 of whom where members of CRASHspace. This is important to note because the whole idea behind something like this is outreach, and if non-members outnumber members 5:1 I think that shows interest from the public and surrounding community for sure. I have a feeling that the attendance might have been higher but some people expressed privately to me that they were worried the discussion would be recorded/broadcast (as many CRASHspace events are) and didn’t want to go on record saying anything they might not be 100% committed to. We talked about this issue among the attendees and while some people said they would have definitely been much more reserved if cameras had been rolling, others expressed their feelings that broadcasting this kind of thing is crucial to show that not only basement dwelling social outcasts are interested in these topics. This with reservations about the recordings said that the nature of a conversation you have with the people within earshot and with everyone in the world are different, and it was valuable to them to be able to express half-baked ideas and theories and to take devils advocate for the sake of discussion, and if the event had been recorded they would have been uncomfortable doing that. Camera lend to the idea that things said are permanent and lasting where as causal discussion is more fluid. Valuable points from both sides, especially when the conversation is centered around issues of privacy and transparency.
Initially we had planned to Ustream the entire talk, but at the last moment decided not to based on the comfort levels of those in the room at the time. A strong point was made that there are no shortage of ways and places for people to take about these things online and to the world if that is their intent, but most of the people in attendance came out for a more personal discussion that comes with a bit of assumed intimacy and privacy – even if it’s intimacy and privacy between a room full of people you don’t know. 20 strangers is different than potentially millions.
Because of our desire to serve the community on a global level, as well as create a comfortable atmosphere at the space we discussed a possible compromise for the future where perhaps an initial 30 minute presentation or speaker might be broadcast, but then cameras would be turned off for after the fact discussion. Clearly people have some very strong opinions and feelings about this so it’s something we’re going to keep thinking about. The more feedback we get on this the better, so please let us know your take.
That out of the way, on to the discussion itself! The following is just a combination of my notes, and not my own words or opinions per se.
We started out the evening with some of the most recent developments, specifically the just released UN Joint Statement on WikiLeaks which comes out in strong support of whistleblowers and publishers, and says the while governments require secrecy, the responsibility to keep those secrets is entirely on them and not on journalists or publishers who may be leaked those secrets. This is a very big deal. We also showed the MSNBC Interview with Julian Assange from that afternoon where he says that accusations of “high-tech terrorism” are baseless, and notes that the definition of terrorism matches more closely with the actions of many of his more vocal critics – including those inside the US Government. These are strong statements and helped get things rolling right away.
We talked about the recent commentary by Bruce Sterling and noted that while it’s an amazing and dense piece of writing, Bruce definitely has a negative outlook on this whole situation – though it should be noted he’s had a bit of a negative outlook on the future for quite a while and that is certainly influencing his writings here. He spends a lot of time talking about the motives of people involved, though it’s important to remember these are just his assumptions and opinions of what these motives might be.
We discussed the question about if the leaks are the things to worry about or if it’s the effects of the leaks that will have a more lasting impact. While WikiLeaks is certainly the hot topic of the moment, it’s not really new and has been online and publishing documents for the last 4 years. It’s just that these batch of docs have embarrassed the right/wrong people which has drawn attention to them. Attention is important, as Cryptome has been publishing arguably more scandals and secret documents for years but no one cared because most people don’t even know Cryptome exists. Audience is important, and to an extent the public outrage by the US Government has been the best publicity WikiLeaks could have ever hoped for.
“wikileaks is a wizard of oz… it’s been there all along”
It was suggested that the negative outlook is potentially shortsighted and a comparison to the abolition of slavery was made – the middle and transitional time was certainly bleak – the economy was thrown into chaos, markets were upset and people were killed. It was ugly for sure, but we as a society emerged from the other side better off. There is no undoing what has been done, history will definitely look at the time before and after WikiLeaks differently. As noted before, it was discussed how it’s important for upstanding citizens to take a public stand in support of WikiLeaks to set an example to others that this is an OK thing to do. It people let showing support be villainized it’s easier to crush things. One person in attendance (sorry didn’t get the name) noted how he spent several hours with his bank that day jumping through the hoops required to donate money to WikiLeaks and he did that on purpose. He noted that this kind of social courage was important in a time like this. Being secretive about support makes it seem suspect.
Returning to slavery comparison – it was noted that slavery was abolished via a rushed presidential decree in a time of war, and was initially directed at “the other guys” – does this require a war and presidential action for change?
“the amount of outrage fatigue is higher than ever.”
The conversation shifted a bit here to talk about deepwater horizon – in the wake of this disaster that the country and perhaps the world were up in arms about, all proposed EPA regulations were defeated and drilling is now back to where it was before – this is proof that major disaster doesn’t cause change for the american public. But oil going to $110 a barrel will get people will notice – but will that be better or worse? Will that encourage more regulation or make things more lax? People tend to make decisions based on the here and now and not on the longterm results – out of site out of mind.
An example about Russia and Perestroika was made, that sometimes these changes and directions don’t always work out the way people who initiate them hope they will.
It was brought up that recently many have discussed that info is safer when it’s out in the open – in fact that was one of the justifications for ending DADT. secrets create liability and with personal info being secret by rule it creates problems for people, by allowing it all to be open that liability disappears. Information should pen by default then secret when needed vs secret by default and open only rarely. Unfortunately the US lives firmly in the later these days.
“politicians are people too” – I don’t remember why I wrote don’t that quote, but someone said it and it seemed important at the time
The discussion shifted here a bit when someone made a comment about people voting and the tendency for a super majority of votes, mostly do votes count? Is voting the most important political process? optional vs compulsory voting – emotional arguments vs political process. This was a very heated discussion, some people feel that if you don’t vote you can’t comment on politics, where as others feel voting is completely optional and not always the best way to incite change in the political process. This got very interesting, but wasn’t really the point of the night so we jumped off of it, but maybe should revisit it another night.
Honest question now – what are the cables and has anyone actually read them? Basically they are just communications – e-mails, faxes, etc.. and no, most people haven’t read them. Most *people* haven’t read them because they are boring as hell, but most *politicians* haven’t stopped reading them because they are the ones the info is crucial too.
So what can we (as individuals, as a community) do? Host a freenet node, tor routers – these things were applauded when giving voice to dissidents in Iran so shouldn’t be legally problematic not either. If something is a valuable tool it doesn’t because less valuable just because some pope don’t agree with how some people might use it.
What is the fear? Rushed legislation as a result of blame cast for inconvenience. Look at the Patriot Act for example, most politicians who voted for it didn’t read it.
Is net neutrality related to this? Some think no as NN is about delivery of content, some think yes because if setting different levels of delivery one could be off. Is Mesh the answer? Mesh is hard and wont happen fast. “Freenet and Tor are the intersection between the internet and wikileaks”
***** Several people requested it so we’ve decided we should have a class for setting up TOR on your system – now we just need to pick a date!
The no-fly list was one of the scariest thing to come from 9/11 – it is so secret and no way of knowing how you might get added or if you do how to get removed, the issues with banks and WL open up discussion of what could be the next to worry about. If banks can just cut you off entirely on a whim, with no option for you to appeal.
You think Facebook knows a lot about you? That’s nothing compared to what MC and Visa know.
What about assange – is his stardom because of ego or safety – easy target? It’s noted that this isn’t paypals war, it’s not Amazon’s war, it’s not MasterCards war – when throated by the government most companies don’t hesitate to jump. That’s reasonable, but it it good? Where is the slippery slope?
How do EULAs play into this – and while EULAs can justify anything, does that make it OK and are all EULAs legal or applicable? Many aren’t, but people don’t have the knowledge/finances to argue them.
What route is available to you if there is always someone who can shut you down, right now you don’t have “a right” to be online, but perhaps that is something that will change. Connectivity vs what that connectivity is used for. Communication is permissible but results of that communication being liable vs some communication being OK and some not (yelling fire).
Cables are out in the wild, only a matter of time until they are all public. All discussion is what is going to happen on a national/global level, but what is going to happen on a local level isn’t being talked about at all and is something worth asking. A lot less red tape in local politics than national, so often one person going and talking to someone makes a big change. Local govts are often clueless and take word docs (searchable) and convert to pdf and put online trying to be open, not knowing they are making it harder but making them not searchable.