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Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg Converse at HopeX

By: Monday July 21, 2014 11:19 am
Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden gets a standing ovation at HopeX

This weekend Kevin Gosztola and I attended the HopeX (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference in New York.

We went in large part because Daniel Ellsberg, Jessalyn Raddack, Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden were all speaking at the event. But I have to give the conference high marks overall; the panels and talks were extremely well coordinated and really interesting. And surprisingly political.

The crowd on hand to see Snowden and Ellsberg was insane, to put it mildly.  The conference had taken over the entire 18th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania for the event, which took place in the main hall and was broadcast via closed circuit to all the other rooms.

The 18th floor was closed to further traffic due to overcrowding about an hour before the event began, and re-directed to the 6th floor.  The 6th floor also quickly filled up, and the first floor and mezzanine became the overflow rooms.  By the time the event actually started there were people spilling out onto the street trying to see what was happening.

The actual conversation between Snowden and Ellsberg was fascinating.  The two had never spoken publicly before, although Ellsberg told me they had a 4 hour private conversation last week.  Ellsberg gave Snowden credit for giving him “the best pubilcity I’ve had in 20 years” from people who used to want him in jail.  He also managed to drop two expletives, one for people like John Kerry who said Snowden was no Daniel Ellsberg (“bullshit”); the other for Hillary Clinton who said that if Snowden came back to the US he’d be able to tell his story publicly in court (also “bullshit”).

A large percentage of the presentations at HopeX discussed the urgent need for encryption security that is easy to use, and one panelist said that it was an “epic fail” on the part of the tech community that a year had passed since the Snowden revelations and no reliable alternatives have been developed to clunky programs like GPG.

The call to arms really came from Snowden himself, however, who said during his talk that the people in this room had the ability to create technology which could make it safer for whistleblowers to come forward (while acknowledging that it will never be possible to be 100% safe).  He said this was the task that he hoped to devote the rest of his life to.

He also expressed his belief that when governments discover their actions will become public it will “change the world.”

As for the rest of the conference, I went there thinking that 50% of the presentations would be extremely technical and go way over my head, but that didn’t happen. Among the programs that I attended:

  • Barrett Brown and Anonymous: Persecution of Information Activists with Gabriella Coleman, Kevin Gallagher and Brown’s attorney Ahmed Ghappour.
  • Community Owned and Operated Cellular Networks in Rural America with Peter Bloom and Maka Munoz
  • Building an Open Source Cellular Network at Burning Man with Johnny Diggz and Willow Brugh
  • Darkmail:  A preview of the new encrypted email program being developed by Ladar Levinson (Lavabit) and Stephen Watt, which will attempt to encrypt metadata
  • Unmasking a CIA Criminal, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky: A really fascinating presentation by Ray Nowosielski about a largely unknown figure inside the CIA who may have been responsible for epic screw-ups ranging from hoarding data about Al Quada prior to 9/11 to the distorting the truth of the efficacy of torture
  • SecureDrop: A Wikileaks in Every Newsroom with William Budington, Garrett Robinson and Yan Zhu
  • When You Are the Adversary: Discussion of the infosec needs of the 99% with Quinn Norton
  • Biohacking and DIYbiology North of the 45th Parallel with Kevin Chen and Connor Dickie
  • Codesigning Countersurveillance: Projects of the MIT Civic Media Codesign Studio which develops civic media projects with community-based organizations

Normally I probably wouldn’t got to that many presentations at a conference but by and large they were all really interesting and many dealt with subjects (like building open source cellular networks and biohacking) that I previously knew nothing about.

If I had any doubt before that the tech/hacker world was one of the most dynamic and invigorated political spaces, it was dispelled by the time I left.

While political parties and professional activists busy themselves trying to brand and market “the next big thing” that never seems to be anything more than the status quo with a new set of tires and a fresh coat of paint, there are people out there with the desire and the means to use technology to actually change things. It was really exciting to be among them.

Audio of the Snowden/Ellsberg talk can be found here

Congress Has a Crypto Party

By: Monday June 23, 2014 10:19 am
Oktavia Jonsdottir

Oktavia Jonsdottir of SAFE teaches encryption and secure communication to congressional staffers on the hill today

This morning Congressman Alan Grayson and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren are sponsoring a crypto party on the Hill.

In his “dear colleague” letter Grayson said Bring your personal devices if you would like help using encryption technologies.”

The event is co-sponsored by the SAFE (Securing Free Access to Expression) program, a project of IREX.

According to Grayson, “The event will feature experts who will explain how to protect your security online, how to assess your privacy risks online, encrypt your devices, chat securely, and anonymously browse the Internet. This is a workshop, so come at any time from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.”

As of 10:00 am about 20 Congressional staffers had shown up to learn how to protect themselves from intrusive internet snoopers.  Since Congress is not currently in session member of Congress themselves are not attending.

Senator Dianne Feinstein squabbled with the CIA earlier this year after denouncing the them for spying on the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee staffers looking into the agency’s torture program.  Nothing really came of it besides a few stern speeches, so there apparently is no price to be paid for spying on the computers of members of Congress and their staffs — just as there is no price to be paid for lying to Congress while under oath.

If Congressional staffers want to protect themselves from being spied on, they best get themselves over to Rayburn 2200 before 1pm.

Tracking Detroit’s Urban Decay Using Google and Bing Streetviews

By: Friday June 6, 2014 12:49 pm

detroit decay

, and now Google Street View Time Machine.  You can find his tumblr here.

The most shocking thing about the photos is that the decay he documents takes place in such a short period of time, between 2009 and 2013.  Many well-manicured neighborhoods and active businesses have turned into Detroit into a virtual wasteland, looking more like something out of a post-apocalyptic John Carpenter film than habitable neighborhoods.

Asup describes it as “a Hurricane without water“:

The crisis came at a moment when home values had already been declining for years. All of the sudden there was a precipitous drop in value, yet assessments remained incredibly high, city services further declined, and you had tens of thousands of people facing a situation where their house was worth $20,000, they owed $3,000 or so a year in property taxes, and were delivered very poor city services for that exorbitant sum. So they left. They were kicked out via speculators buying their homes at foreclosure auctions, they started renting, left the city, bought a cheaper place. All kinds of things.

The result is the graph you see below. 70,000+ tax foreclosures since the financial crisis. An annual auction that sees 20,000 properties go up for bid for $500 a piece, sold oftentimes to speculators who do nothing to the property. Half the properties don’t sell, and are inherited by the city, where their fate, historically, has been just as bad.

As if you needed another reason to be angry that nobody has been held to account for the financial crisis.

Colorado Legislature Becomes First to Authorize Uber, but Problems are Far from Over

By: Friday June 6, 2014 9:52 am

Yesterday Colorado’s legislature passed the first bill in the country to authorize and regulate Uber and Lyft, two of the new technology companies that have recently sprung up that connect drivers with passengers. Ridesharing has been available in Colorado since September of last year, when Lyft officially began offering services in Denver.

In theory the two companies merely provide apps connecting supply with demand. But in practice they have been able to act as unregulated cab companies, without being required to follow the laws and regulations (and subsequent overhead costs) that apply to cabs.

Ebay Hacked – Change Your Password

By: Wednesday May 21, 2014 10:19 am

Ebay announced today that it’s the latest megalith online site to be hacked, and is asking users to change their passwords:

Hachette Says Amazon Delaying Book Shipments to Monopolistically Squeeze Profits

By: Friday May 9, 2014 11:30 am

Amazon controls roughly one third of the book market in the United States, giving it considerable muscle to extract favorable sales and payment terms. And according to Hachette Books, one of the largest New York publishing groups, Amazon is monopolistically delaying shipment of hard cover books 2-4 weeks by authors like Stephen Colbert and Malcolm [...]

Amazon Dash Shopping Wand – Amazingly Convenient or A Little Creepy?

By: Monday April 7, 2014 5:23 pm

As part of Amazon’s new AmazonFresh grocery service, the online giant is introducing Amazon Dash, a wifi-enabled barcode scanner you can simply wave at items you want to replenish. You can also just say the name into a microphone on the device.

Game of Thrones Premiere Sets New Piracy Record

By: Monday April 7, 2014 2:10 pm

HBO apparently didn’t learn their lesson over the True Detective finale, and the HBO GO service crashed due to Game of Thrones subscriber demand.

Could Facebook End the Cable Companies’ Chokehold on Broadband Access with Its New Solar Powered Drones?

By: Friday March 28, 2014 12:51 pm

For years the big cable providers — Verizon, AT&T and others — have been justifying massive rate hikes with assurances that they need the money to wire the entire country with broadband. But instead of using the money to bring wireless infrastructure to rural America, which they are legally obligated to do, they’ve spent it [...]

14 Year-Old Finds Federal Government Can Save $400 Million Per Year By Changing Typeface

By: Friday March 28, 2014 11:41 am

File this under things I did not know: printer ink is is nearly twice as expensive as French perfume. Chanel No. 5 Eau de Parfum costs $38 per ounce, while the same amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink can cost up to $75.

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