Snowden and Zimmerman: familiar stories?

July 7, 2013

About 20 years ago, American cryptographer Philip Zimmerman needed lawyers to defend himself against his government. He was distributing encryption software to the public. Bush Sr. law enforcement and intelligence officials saw his cryptography software (“PGP“) as a weapon (a “munition”) to be possessed only by the state and used against its enemies. If the government didn’t have this secret weapon, it was argued, then they’ve lost a valuable military advantage. What they didn’t understand however, is that encryption (though used for military purposes) was a shield, not a weapon.

Zimmerman claimed that tools for encryption, if kept from the public, would make it too easy to operate surveillance programs on citizens’ digital communications and therefore, put their 4th Amendment rights in jeopardy. He worried corrupt government officials might use the citizens’ lack of protection to spy on them even if they hadn’t done anything wrong. Similar to how some US politicians have attempted to justify the secret existence of PRISM, it was argued that laws around encryption needed to strike a “balance” between citizens’ privacy and national security. They said the public must be kept in the dark regarding encryption or the nation faced a security risk.

If we fast forward to the present, it’s easy to see (in retrospect) that the vilification of Zimmerman was harsh and unfair. More than twenty years later, we see that knowledge of encryption technology has provided the world’s masses with ways to securely do e-commerce and shield communication between those protecting human rights and attempting to avoid detection by brutal regimes. Today, few seem eager to cast stones at Zimmerman though in 1991, he was a very polarizing figure.

The recent behavior of Edward Snowden has led to a polarizing debate within the United States. Some label him as a “traitor” who is aiding enemies and putting America at risk (despite the lack of evidence). Others claim he’s a “hero” by revealing secret technical operations that the public deserves to know. After all, they’re the ones being monitored and recorded. I’m curious how Snowden will be characterized twenty years from now, long after the current and most recent US officials are gone.

why did the coder audition for the supporting role instead of the lead?

September 8, 2012

She only wanted a bit part.

beautiful mind

April 29, 2012

Like Nick, I’d try to take control. But of course, what happens if he comes upon a player with the same strategy?

Nick declares his intent to sabotage both their chances. In a way, he puts Ibrahim in a position where he must choose to split. And the icing on the cake? Nick’s choice.

Big Polluter cover-up

April 22, 2012

Greg Palast with some great coverage:

Part One

Part Two

Perhaps major oil corporations should be nationalized and all abnormal profits spent on subsidizing sustainable energy alternatives. This would help force the oil industry into major downsizing. Some of the subsidization could be spent countering the structural unemployment that would come as a result.

norway and anders breivik

April 18, 2012

I think Norway is setting a great example with their handling of the case against Anders Breivik. Imprison him and care for him. This is courageous justice. I have sympathy for, but offer no support to, the Lynch-Mob mentality that wants Breivik to suffer and die as “payment” for his crime.

unhappy halloween

March 27, 2012

It’s like the Halloween Documents, but by homophobes. They want to embrace and extend the “Latino vote” in order to extinguish gay marriage. And “the blacks”? Well, they’re NOM’s SCO.

image is everything

February 28, 2012

Apple’s proprietary software as a bell and whistle for a Veblen good. Speaking of that, iPad 3 will be coming out soon! ZOMG!!

three suggestions for Rovio to build their fan base

February 1, 2012

A promising statement from Mikael Hed at Rovio.

We took something from the music industry, which was to stop treating the customers as users, and start treating them as fans. [...] If we lose that fanbase, our business is done, but if we can grow that fanbase, our business will grow.

I have three suggestions for steps Rovio could take to build their fan base.

One: Release the game engine as copylefted free software. This would allow the free software community to hack and innovate on the engine yet require the community to give those improvements back to Rovio. This could lead to a better engine and even if it doesn’t, it will surely draw more people to the game (the headline itself would be huge, let alone the practical interest it would generate). Rovio would still be free to release their own proprietary version of the engine if they made innovations they didn’t want to share. Further, they could sell exceptions to the copyleft requirements if third parties wanted to use the engine in another application and release it as proprietary software.

Two: Apply a CC BY-NC license to the game’s skins and related artwork with proactive demands for attribution. The Non-Commercial restriction would work well alongside restrictive trademarks to protect certain revenue streams. If someone tried to sell products (e.g. other game versions or stuffed toys) that used the copyrighted works without permission, Rovio could take legal action but fans would be free to remix and display the artwork for non-commercial purposes. This could lead to Angry Birds artwork being seen by more people and therefore, generate more interest in the game. This is not to say that Rovio is actively pursuing fans who do amateur remixing, but why not explicitly promote it by changing the copyright terms?

Three: Authorize/endorse an official version of Angry Birds built by fans. Encourage fans to use the above openness to build new levels. Hold a contest and pick the top levels that make it into Angry Birds Fanatics. Also, a contest could also be held to develop new birds. Again, a contest where Rovio determines the best fan-made bird that makes it into the official version. Such steps would surely generate an even larger fan base.

Any other ideas?

what do taxidermists like to do on sunny days?

January 26, 2012

Some tanning.

Santorum on abortion: a consistent but puzzling position

January 25, 2012

Rick Santorum on abortion in the case of rape:

I respect the consistency of this position (“in every case”) though I disagree with its underlying premise. What I don’t understand is how anyone believing abortion is killing an innocent person can claim, in good conscience, that it’s OK if the embryo/fetus exists as a result of rape. It’s not OK to kill another person to make someone else’s bad situation marginally better.

While I’d agree with Santorum that a human life is present after conception, I disagree with Santorum’s premise that “a human life is the same as a person“. An embryo lacks the experience of complex mental activity to be considered a person. Human life that has only existed in body isn’t precious. Claiming otherwise is puzzling and I don’t see an inherent right to life for that human being. For this reason, there’s nothing unethical in a pregnant woman choosing to abort. Therefore, I support the right of women to choose and the right of doctors to help her carry out that choice safely.

Note also that Santorum slips up when he says his position “is not a matter of religious values” yet later argues that women should, “accept what God has given“. It is likely that Santorum really means “soul” but uses the term “person” to appear more secular in this matter.


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