Now with Stuff and Things!
A blog by Peter Fein.
The views expressed here do not represent my past, present or future employers, collectives, family, nation-state or houseplants. They are mine alone. Who's else would they be?
Be the change you wish to see in the world -Gandhi
A look back at highlights of 2011. Pretty sure I've forgotten something, but that's just as well. ;-)
The start of 2011 found me living in rural Washington state, mostly stuck at home 30 minutes from town. Naturally, I joined Anonymous. We organized protests in support of Wikileaks in 105 cities around the world in under a week.
On January 23rd, I found myself on Telecomix's IRC helping launch a ham radio operation to maintain contact with Egypt. I worked 20 hours per day for eight days trying to keep the Internet running, doing everything from acting as a human proxy to spamming fax machines with treatments for tear gas. Beer consumption averaged a six-pack per day during this time.
Lulz as Anonymous hacked HBGary and the Westboro Baptist Church. I tried to be helpful while keeping my nose clean (I don't do illegal stuff, as my wife would kill me).
After a year of voluntary sabbatical, I landed a very shiny job with a Silicon Valley startup... and then quit after three weeks to focus on activism. My wife was not thrilled.
Travel: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Shenandoah Virginia
The only road to our house washed out in a 500 year flood, leaving us stranded without power or drinkable water for three days. The idea for Mirror Party, a distributed censorship resistant mirror network began to take shape around this time.
Travel: a couch in town while road was rebuilt
I participated in a panel on the Arab Spring at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival (ironic, as I don't watch movies at all). Other panelists included two Youth Movement organizers from Tahrir - it was wonderful to put a face to the people Telecomix had helped, as well as make plans for the future.
I took advantage of the time in Europe to meet other Telecomix agents in Stockholm and Brussels. As a friend-to-friend network, these real-life interactions are essential for maintaining a healthy cluster. Also, they're awesome, amazing people. The trip from Washington to Stockholm took about 22 hours door-to-door and completely changed my perspective on travel.
Travel: Stockholm, Brussels, Sheffield England, Portland
Telecomix began OpSyria to support peaceful activists in the face of a brutally repressive regime. We first found evidence of Western technology being used for censorship around this time. I learned a lot about nmap.
Travel: Seattle, Austin, Chicago
Before there was Occupy, there was OpBART, the little protest that could. I stepped away from Telecomix & the Middle East to focus on free speech at home. Taking inspiration from Egypt, San Francisco's transit agency shut off cell service to prevent a protest, angering Anonymous. I did more interviews in two weeks than the rest of the year combined, including a TV appearance on Democracy Now!. I like to think OpBART helped laid the groundwork for Occupy, both in the public's mind as well as forging collaborations between online and off. Due to a pre-planned trip to San Francisco, I even got to yell at buildings in real life, a nice reward for sixteen hour days of remote organizing.
I also delivered a brown bag talk Free as in People at Mozilla headquarters about writing software for communications emergencies.
Travel: Boston, Portland, San Francisco
I moved back home to Chicago, looked for work and generally took care of my personal life a little. It had to happen sometime, but I still managed to find a little time for activism, coding, and dressing up silly and protesting with Occupy Chicago.
Travel: Cross country drive from Washington to Chicago, New York
Telecomix released logs showing US-made Blue Coat hardware was being used to censor the Internet in Syria. As I seem to have a knack for explaining technical things to non-technical people, I helped guide reporters through the evidence, eventually resulting in an admission by the company and investigation by the Department of Commerce. Like OpBART & Occupy, I like to think out efforts helped raise awareness of surveillance and censorship, culminating in Wikileaks' Spyfiles and the EU implementing export controls on this technology.
I gave an opening speech at ContactCon during which I destroyed a fax machine to demonstrate how easily communication can be severed. Several US-based Telecomix agents attended and we gave an introduction to online security, privacy and anonymity for activists. I went straight to a panel at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference, while simultaneously agents in Stockholm presented at the Net4Change conference. It was an amazing feeling to represent the cluster during 72 hours of round-the-clock global discussion - a topical demonstration of the Internet's potential to facilitate communication.
Travel: New York City, San Francisco
A last minute invite to the EU Transparency Hackathon at the European Parliament jump started a project to analyze the Blue Coat logs. I met several more Telecomix agents, as well as Tor Project participants, and totally failed to get enough sleep.
I gave two days of lectures at the University for Peace to students from 30 countries. Day one covered the events of the year and new media strategy and tactics. Day two was a hands-on exercise in adhocracy (leaderless self-organizing). Though I didn't make it to Costa Rica's famous beaches, I did manage to go for a jungle hike, ending on top of a hill with views of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
After a year of living off savings to do hacktivism full-time, I finally landed a contract programming job.
Travel: Costa Rica, New Jersey, New York City, Boston
Looking Back, Looking Forward
This past year has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. After years of feeling politically frustrated and impotent, it was wonderful to apply my heart and head and hands directly in service of what I believe. I am honored by the friends I have made - those whose names I know, and those who remain anonymous; those whom I knew for only a few hours and those whom I will know for a lifetime. As we move into 2012 and face ever-greater threats to our freedom, I can only hope my actions inspire others to take up the cause.
There is no utopia to strive for - there is only now.
I gave this technical talk on August 30 Mozilla's offices in Mountain View. The talk was broadcast live on AirMozilla - 30 people attend in real life, and over 9000 participated on IRC and watched on the intertubes (including a few jellyfish). I was excited and honored to talk at Mozilla - the people who literally make the web happen. Mozilla embodies the best of Internet & open source & hacker culture. Find more awesome videos from AirMozilla here (raw video). Find more of my talks on YouTube.
Telecomix and the Arab Spring
An introduction to Telecomix, a cluster of Net activists who have been called "tech support for the Arab Spring". I've spoken previously about our efforts in Egypt: see this five minute talk Hacking for Freedom or this interview on Democracy Now!. Also check out this recent profile of Telecomix in Der Spiegel or Agent Urbach's talk at CCC camp.
Design Guide for Hacktivist Software
Guidelines for how to use technology to facilitate communication, to fight censorship & wiretapping, and during crises. The Internet and live audiences collaborated on an Etherpad outline (editable) during the talk.
Where's the Party? mirrorparty.org
Well, that was a crazy week. I'm gonna go sit in the hot tub.
I did an interview about Telecomix, Anonymous and hacktivism in general this morning on Democracy Now!. Thanks to Amy Goodman and Biella Coleman for a great conversation. The show is archived - we start about 1/2 way in. And yes, I'm actually as tired as I look - drove three hours last night to Seattle, after a long day on OpBart.
To clarify: I am not a spokesperson for either Telecomix or Anonymous. We quite simply don't have those. rly, no leaders? ya rly
Under orders from our beloved leader Cameron, Agent Urbach announced the shutdown and reboot of the Telecomix cluster at CCC Camp (best do what she says, lest she hit you with her Markov chain). As a loyal agent, I will follow her orders to reflect and rebuild.
I joined Telecomix nine months ago, shortly before the Egyptian revolution, because I believe that free speech is the foundation of a free society. Since then, I have helped the cluster in the fight for freedom in Egypt, Libya, Syria and the rest of the world. I have interacted with people on the ground in these places, as well as Iran, Nigeria, Bahrain and elsewhere. This work has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. The opportunity to directly apply one's skills and heart and hands in service of your beliefs is a rare and precious gift. I am grateful for it and for the company and solidarity of the other agents on our Internet adventure.
I worked twenty hours per day for eight days in a row on Egypt. Since then, I have worked full time, without pay, on activism. I have traveled the world to speak about our work and the causes we believe in. I have spent more hours on IRC than I can count. Much of this work has been as a 'handler' - acting as a primary point of contact for people who come to Telecomix seeking help. Such intervention is intense, time-consuming and thrilling. Handling is as close to the on‑the‑ground action as you can get without leaving your office. As a handler, you take responsibility for the physical well‑being of people in very dangerous places (to say nothing of the electronic threat of spies and infiltrators on our own IRC). When we tell a Syrian "use this VPN and you will be safe", we are asking for their trust. We are encouraging them to take risks - actions such as posting a video or tweeting, if detected, could get them arrested and tortured, or worse.
I believe myself to be comfortable with the inherent uncertainty and moral ambiguity of this work. Did a person disappear because they were arrested, because their Internet was cut off or simply because the café closed? Often, we don't know. Protesters in repressive regimes continue to communicate, whether or not they are doing so securely (most do not have the technical knowledge to tell the difference). Given that, shouldn't we at least try to help them? As far as I know, no one has come to harm because of our actions. But we cannot know for certain. Perhaps I would feel differently if I did. Indeed, one of my mentors (not a TCX agent) who has 20 years of experience on IRC, pulled out of Syria because his contacts kept getting dead. What right do we have to intervene under such circumstances? And yet, what right do we have to say 'no' when someone asks us for help?
Being a full time Internet super-hero is a little addictive and unhealthy. It is not sustainable. Moreover, it's not scalable. The need for assistance is overwhelming. There have been protests in dozens of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. There are over ninety thousand incidents of "domestic unrest" in China per year, as well as a ten month shutdown of the Internet in Xinjiang province. To say nothing of the longstanding fights for freedom in Burma, Western Sahara and the myriad other places that do not make headlines.
Telecomix was conceived two and a half years ago as a communications agency. The cluster would work within the political system to oppose censorship and spying legislation, as well as provide the tools to build free and secure communications systems. Somewhere along the line we became revolutionary tech support. We have learned much and done much in that time. But it cannot continue this way. Quite simply, there are not enough of us, and we grow weary of the burdens we have shouldered.
Let others take up the task. In the coming months, we will share our experience so that you may continue where we left off. But for now, let us rest, and reflect. Vi bygger om - we build on.