Seems everyone is lionizing Aaron Swartz. Aaron is someone I was acquainted with peripherally through mutual friends at One Laptop. He was, and remains, my friend on Facebook. I have to say aaronsw is not my hero.
If I thought it was justified to take all the documents in JSTOR I would have done when I was the sysadmin for the company that wrote the first interface to it. I don’t and I didn’t. I never even looked at a single document and I had root on everything.
Same is true for the American Mathematical Society and about a million of their documents I worked on the public interface for back in the 80’s. Never looked at a one.
Aaron was very charismatic, brilliant, and had a lot of good ideas. But he also according to what has come out, acted incredibly stupidly in the whole scenario with JSTOR and MIT. They kept blocking him and he kept coming back. Hello, clue?
But maybe he thought of this as civil disobedience and in some sense meant to get caught. If so I think he totally wimped out rather than doing the six months they offered him or going to trial and potentially taking a draconian sentence.
Not to say I think he was treated fairly. Given that JSTOR and MIT saw no reason to prosecute (or that’s the official story at MIT now anyway), and that there is apparently no evidence that documents were ever exfiltrated off-site or published if I was the prosecutor I would have exercised discretion and taken a pass on this one. No harm, no foul.
It worries me that Aaron is being made out to be a hero who deserves to be be emulated. He wasn’t, and he doesn’t.
Copyright © 2014 Henry Edward Hardy
Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security, to law and order […] and the like.
Each person knows something they don’t want other people to know about. That they will give almost anything to conceal.
Be they a saint, be they a libertine or someone who lives a very public life, still there will be something.
It might not be a secret sin. It might be a memory of a lost love. Or knowledge of a crime for which the wrong person went to jail. Or a family issue of incest or abuse. Or any of a long litany of small horribles.
This is the danger represented by the US Other Government Agencies (and there are a lot, not just the familiar three letter ones). By compiling transactional and source data a profile can be built for a person by which their secrets can be revealed. Even the fear that this *might* happen will be a a strong motivator for most.
The data being gathered by these agencies and their civilian counterparts like Choicepoint, Palantir, Berico, ManTech, Stratfor, Booz Allen, Equifax, and Lockheed Martin when made available through a single conspectus view, means that essentially there are no secrets. At least no assurance of secrecy.
A democracy, or any political system but a tyranny, cannot survive the existence of an elite which arrogates to itself the power to know everything about everyone all the time, and the means to keep that knowledge secret from everyone else.
Copyright © 2013 Henry Edward Hardy
Regarding “Egypt Leaders Found ‘Off’ Switch for Internet“:
Dear James and John,
Interesting article. However, the following paragraph and much of what follows is incomplete or inaccurate.
Because the Internet’s legendary robustness and ability to route around blockages are part of its basic design, even the world’s most renowned network and telecommunications engineers have been perplexed that the Mubarak government succeeded in pulling the maneuver off.
The fundamental “building block” of the Internet is the Autonomous System (AS). Each AS is uniquely identified by an Autonomous System Number (ASN). In short, the internet is comprised of independent networks which voluntarily connect to each other by following the internet standards documents, known as RFC’s (“Request for Comments”).
How do systems know how to route traffic to other systems?
Today this is accomplished via BGP (Border Gateway Protocol).
Generally speaking, each AS broadcast routes via BGP over port 179.
What happened in Egypt is that, on January 28, most Egyptian AS stopped broadcasting routes via BGP, and thus became suddenly unreachable by almost all other internet AS. This was not a mystery to experts or even run-of-the-mill system engineers. It was immediately understood and documented.
How is it you did not talk to a single person with a clue as to what they were talking about? Or, did they know and simply not want to tell you so other governments would not exploit the same technique? In any event, had you googled “Egypt BGP” the answer would have become blindingly obvious to you instead of a “mystery.” The BGPmon post was referenced by at least 105 other blogs in the days following Jan 28, so the information was, and is, widely known and available.
Note: Article was being revised, and retitled, by nytimes as I wrote this letter.
Copyright © 2011 Henry Edward Hardy
This is taken from a response I made on a mailing list discussing technical means of implementing “filtering”, or computerized censorship, of children’s access to the internet in a school environment.
I’m a bit disturbed when I hear people using the euphemism “filtering” for automated, computerized censorship. I understand there may be legislative or political mandates. However, we should never talk about this as though it is a good or desirable or acceptable thing.
I realize this may be seen as off topic from the merely technical discussion of how to implement computerized censorship, but when we calmly discuss technicalities of something which is obviously wrong without questioning it, then the discussion needs to be aired.
“Filtering” is what you do to the water in a fish tank. “Censorship” is when a state or quasi-state agency proscribes and limits access to certain classes of written material.
Here are a few tests we should apply to any such proposed system.
Does it allow access to information about “Romeo and Juliet”? (Underage sex, gang-oriented violence, suicide, murder)
Does it allow access to “Huckleberry Finn” (Slavery, frequent use of the word “nigger”)
Does it allow access to “The Catcher in the Rye” (Use of “fuck”, blasphemy, drinking, smoking, lying, promiscuity, implied pederasty)
Does it allow access to “Heather has Two Mommies” (Lesbianism)
Does it allow access to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (Information about human health, sex and sexuality)
Does it allow access to “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Genocide, strategic bombing, sex)
Does it allow access to “Of Mice and Men” (Retardation, sex, rape, murder)
Does it allow access to “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Sexual roles, patriarchy, racism, and theocracy)
Does it allow access to “The Kite Runner” (Homosexuality, rape)
Does it allow access to “His Dark Materials” (Anti-state, anti-catholic, magic and witchcraft)
Does it allow access to “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Alchemy, murder, debauchery)
Does it allow access to “1984” (Torture, illicit sex, anti-state and anti-party politics)
Does it allow access to “Canterbury Tales” (Promiscuity, anti-clericalism)
Does it allow access to “The Decameron” (Anti-state, anti-Catholic and general ribaldry, such as the Third Day, Tenth Story, “How to put the Devil in Hell”)
And in terms of websites particularly,
Sites which criticize the ruling party or government.
Sites which criticize or parody the predominant religion.
Blogs, in general
And classes of internet services such as
Peer-to-peer file-sharing services such as Bittorrent, EMule, Gnutella
In general, censorship is bad and morally wrong; and automated, computerized censorship especially so; and we should never refer to it by a purpose-made and innocuous-sounding term like “filtering” or treat it as though it is morally or pedagogically acceptable.
What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.
–Sigmund Freud, 1933
Copyright © 2009 Henry Edward Hardy