The Internet is organizing to oppose mass surveillance on February 11, the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s passing. We’re calling it The Day We Fight Back. This is what we’re doing and how you can get involved.
Call Your Congressmember
Both of our Senators here in Massachusetts and four of our Congressmembers (Tierney, McGovern, Capuano, Keating) have co-sponsored the USA FREEDOM Act, which represents the best near-term chance of meaningful reform of the surveillance state. Now would be an excellent time for newly minted Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Malden) to follow through on her pledge during the campaign to oppose mass surveillance. We’ll be coordinating calls with the ACLU of Massachusetts and others to try to get all nine of our U. S. House members to support it. We need volunteers for all nine congressional districts, so if you can, please sign up to help below.
UPDATE: Courtesy of PrivacySOS, we have news that Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA08) has signed on as a cosponsor. That now makes a majority of Massachusetts representatives cosponsoring the USA Freedom Act.
Cryptoparty at Northeastern
Cryptoparties train members of the public in techniques that go some way toward protecting your communications and your personal data from intrusion by outsiders (non-governmental or governmental). In collaboration with the Tor Project, the Massachusetts Pirate Party, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the National Lawyers’ Guild and others, we’re putting on a cryptoparty at Northeastern University:
It’s not usually our dealio here at Digital Fourth to weigh in on federal digital rights, because terrific organizations like EFF, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and the ACLU generally do that heavy lifting for us. But so much has happened regarding prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that it’s worth focusing on what this law is, why it’s in such a mess, and what can usefully be done about it.
When originally passed way back in 1986, the intent of the CFAA was to ban hacking. This kind of hacking:
In other words, what they were concerned about was access to “Federal interest computers”, namely computers belonging to the government, or at certain designated utilities like nuclear power stations or financial institutions. Now, however, the law covers pretty much any computer held by anyone.
Just in case you thought that the federal government would be satisfied with massively overcharging Aaron Swartz and Barrett Brown, we now have the case of Reuters social media editor Matthew Keys (@TheMatthewKeys).
Seems that a grand jury indictment has been filed in Sacramento, alleging that Keys participated in an online chat where he gave Anonymous hackers login credentials for his former employer, the Tribune Company, possibly in exchange for access to the IRC channel where Anonymous hackers were discussing future exploits, and possibly out of disapproval of the Tribune Company using paywalls. The indictment alleges that he told the channel to “go f*** some sh** up”. A hacker then used those credentials to alter, for about half an hour, a story on the Tribune website, so that it claimed that a hacker called “Chippy 1337” was about to be “elected head of the [U.S.] Senate”, to which Keys apparently responded “Nice”.
May I take a moment? [Sips glass of water] Thank you. [Deep breath]
There are no words to describe the loss to the world of brilliant technologist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself this weekend at the age of 26.
Aaron had already helped to develop RSS and Reddit, worked to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act, and was deeply involved in Internet activism. He could easily have devoted his extraordinary skills only to profit; instead, he committed himself passionately to openness and the spread of knowledge. Lawrence Lessig has summarized his work far better than I can. The creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, gave the eulogy at his funeral.
Aaron’s death teaches us an important lesson about how the law operates here in 21st-century America. He was not the only local activist to be unnecessarily persecuted by government agencies. Laws relating to our Internet activities have been drawn so widely and so poorly that eager prosecutors can find grounds for indicting more or less anyone, for things that in former times the law would not have defined as crimes at all. Government agencies can now open investigations on people, and subject them to the sledgehammer of the criminal justice system, on the strength of nothing more than unwise posts on Twitter or translating the wrong materials. Prosecutors answer to nobody regarding the fairness or proportionality of their investigations.
The result is that dissidents who hamper powerful interests can far too easily be investigated and silenced. The result is that brilliant, original and public-spirited souls like Swartz exhaust their energies on meaningless legal battles, rather than developing new and wondrous technologies to solve problems we all face. We’ll never know now what Aaron Swartz would have come up with next, thanks to the casual brutality of a criminal justice system that cares more for creating criminals than for achieving justice.
Know what side you’re on. Overcriminalization hurts us all. We need to stand together, and rein in this crazy system, before it chews us all up.