Death Threats Against Blogger

Techie and editor Kathy Sierra has been intimidated into canceling her appearance at the ETech conference where she was going to present a keynote and hold a workshop. In her blog Creating Passionate Users she explains why. She has received threats of violence and death threats in comments on her blog and other blogs.

Read Kathy Sierra’s story on her blog (entry here). Hope that they catch the little shit (hiding behind anonymity) who writes anonymous threats and that Kathy will be back soon.

On not pulling my weight

Sometimes I really feel that I don’t have the energy to mobilize against the next stupid/dangerous/horrifying/hair-brained scheme proposed by some evil/half-witted/misguided (take your pick) parliament. So I relax and let others write and argue for causes that I also should be arguing. It’s complacency legitimized with sentiments such as “I have a lot to do right now” or “I don’t have time to understand this new threat” etc.

This has been the way in which it was with the new Swedish proposal on digital surveillance. Yes, yes I know that this is not going to be a good thing. Yes, yes I know that the politicians are either intentionally lying to the people or are too stupid to understand what they are actually doing (I often wonder which is worse?) – but look I really don’t have the time or energy right now. Lots of work, lots of personal shit, lots of everything. So I lean back and let others write. The more I read the more I realize that my words are unnecessary.

Then today I read Oscar Swartz blog on the topic (his blog is excellent – unfortunately, or naturally, in Swedish) and I realized something. It’s not a matter of whether or not my voice is needed. Of course it isn’t needed. Not mine, personally. But by leaning back and letting others do the work I am making others work a little bit harder. It’s like being on a tug-of-war team that may still win even if one team member isn’t pulling his/her weight. Damn! I knew I should have been active earlier. Guilt bores its way under my skin, my orginal annoyance at the suggestion has been fermenting for much too long.

So here it is.

The proposed FRA law in brief is that the National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets radioanstalt – FRA) shall be given the power to listen to all cable based communication (yes that means everything on the Internet) which crosses Sweden’s borders. The idea is that only international communication (i.e. communication exiting Sweden) will be monitored. Basically since even most national Internet communication passes over international borders the focus on international communication is only a way of pacifying the general population.

Basically the idea is to force all Internet and Telecom providers to copy all communications to state surveillance systems. This means telephones, email, chat, websites, comments on blogs – the works.

Naturally in the age of doublespeak the proposed mass violation of integrity is legitimized by the need to protect the democratic country. People will lose their rights and be viewed as criminals as a default. This will not protect the country. It may help catch people after they have done something but it will not (it cannot) prevent actions.

To make matters worse – oh yes it can be worse – the surveillance is not being carried out by the police. Why is this important?

Well the police have to follow due process. This means in practice that when the police want to bug someone they need to have probable cause to suspect a crime. This new system will make this unnecessary. Everyone will be under surveillance and the state may now order special surveillance on individuals or groups who are not suspected of crimes but who hold political views which are “wrong” – oops now we lost freedom of thought.

Sweden has a long tradition of presenting itself as a bastion of democracy. But this is old stuff. The last decade has seen Sweden shed these ideas and attempt to rush to the forefront of lowlife nations who feel the need to enact a surveillance regime which would have made big brother green with envy.

So what can be done? What did Oscar do to get me going? He just reminded me that the most important feature in a society is the ability of its members to remain active against opposition. To talk, to write and to maintain a voice of dissent – especially when the odds are stacked against us.

Privacy Attitudes

One of the problems faced by researchers working with privacy is the fundamental question of why people do not care about privacy? It is easy to see either from studies or by simply looking at peopleâ??s behaviour that privacy is not a big thing for many people.

Oh course if you were to ask the question: Is you privacy important to you? Then most people would reply that their privacy was important. But if we look at the way in which people act with their privacy then we get the real picture. There is a radical difference between the way in which people want to be perceived (i.e. privacy conscious) and the way in which they act.

What does this mean? Well some of the discrepancy between the peopleâ??s theoretical and real standpoints can be explained by the lack of knowledge and awareness of the privacy threats. So for example, it is difficult to blame people for being unconcerned with their privacy simply because they us gmail or similar services.

A similar argument can be made to cover those who have no choice but to use less private alternatives. But wait! before you begin to argue that there is always a choice not to use the technology at all, I want to point out being a Luddite is not an option for many people and neither is it for you, considering where you got a hold of this text.

Why is peopleâ??s perception of privacy a problem? Well if we argue the right to privacy (and I often do) then the fact that people do not care about privacy makes this a problem. Can there be a human right if it is unwanted? For a long time I used the smoker analogy.

Smokers want to be healthy but still do not quit smoking despite all the information available. This is not meant to be understood as smokers do not want to be healthy, nor does it invalidate their right to healthcare. The problem with privacy however is that either you have it or you donâ??t.

Recently Paul Saffo wrote about the online habits of the young be warning them that they will come to regret their openness and online presences:

Which is why I pity teens today, for in a few decades their sophomoric musings will deliver a vast embarrassment utterly unknown to earlier generations. It is not that their words are any sillier than earlier generations; rather teens today have had the misfortune of being the first generation to record their thoughts in cyberspace where those thoughts will remain perfectly preserved until some wag drags them out at a school reunion or the authorâ??s children discover the IM affections that passed between mom and dad.

Saffo’s post seems to come as a reaction to (or proof of concept) the peice by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker “Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy: The Greatest Generation Gap Since Rock and Roll“.

Basically people (many of them young – but by no means all) are putting their lives online – innermost thoughts, bad poetry, homespun politics, private erotica and everything else that was previously covered by privacy. Add to this the number of cameras and videos that surround us – almost one in every pocket. We have a situation where every embarassing situation is recorded and transmitted to the rest of the disinterested world. The material is also stored away for no reason to resurface at a later date – even though I think most of it will be lost on trashed computers long before the future.

So the concern is: children doing things today with technology will live to regret it later.  And it will be a lot worse than when “we” were young since there will be texts and photos around to prove it.

I disagree.

The mass of material produced today will sink into obscurity. Yes some material (potentially embarassing) will remain to be found. But this change will not create the scandal that such material cuases today. Finding an embarrasing image from the teenage past of a prominent figure of today is hardly newsworthy – but it is considered to be news. In twenty years it will not even be news.

The self publication of ones teenage life and angst will not create a generation of people neurotic about the fact that someone may remember them or their thoughts, it will create a generation of people who can say that they were teenagers in much the same way as all other teenages were.

What about privacy?

This is not the death of privacy. Privacy is a “floating” value. Ideas of what is, and what should be, private change in culture, time and space. The only shock that we are seeing here is the death of the privacy concept as it has been understood by the “others” or “outsiders” – in other words it is the attempt of those outside the group to dictate norms on those inside the group.

Bad Passwords

Most of us hate all the little passwords we need to get by in the digital world. Most online passwords are neatly stored in our browsers. But have you ever thought about how bad your passwords really are? Bruce Schneier has checked out the passwords people use on Myspace.

The most popular password was password1

The top 20 passwords? password1, abc123, myspace1, password, blink182, qwerty1, fuckyou, 123abc, baseball1, football1, 123456, soccer, monkey1, liverpool1, princess1, jordan23, slipknot1, superman1, iloveyou1 and monkey

We are such an original species 🙂 what’s your password?

Anonymous Online

Most people have heard of the Zen koan “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The purpose of the koan is not to have an answer but rather to be a point of departure for deeper reflection. Unfortunately for most of us with a western education we tend to attempt to answer the question with a yes or no – therefore defeating the purpose. My question of the day is a variation of the koan: If a protest is not heard – does it make a sound?

The ability to communicate in particular mass communicate is becoming easier. With all due respect to the numerous digital divides (age, knowledge, access, infrastructure etc) the ability to communicate via the internet is still growing. The question is whether this technology will serve the purpose of those attempting to conduct resistance or protest actions. The drawback with mass communication is that the communicator is all too easily identified and can be punished by those she is protesting or communicating against.

So there is a need to both be able to conduct mass communication via the internet and to remain anonymous. There is (thankfully) a growing number of relatively user friendly methods, in addition to tips and tricks, which the anonymous protester can use.

Many of these are to be found in the following guides: