Tag Archives: information technology

Digital Culture Killed My Dog

anonymous-16114-400x250This week, aaronJacob and I examine the state of the digital world, wondering whether our state of technological growth is a good thing or a bad thing, much the same, or if that growth is perhaps a little overstated. Is it making us mentally unstable? Does it help us escape or confirm our biases? Does new technology annihilate old modalities? We’ll spend our electronically-scored time delving into as many aspects of our collective computer culture and online ouvre as we can in two hours, everything from viral videomemes and remix art to pitched copyright battles and very real cyberwars, piracy and hacktivism to censorship and surveillance. Not to mention the insidious, darkest corners of the web; conspiracy, violence, cyberbullies, trolls,  and even hauntings.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-19: Digital Culture Killed My Dog by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Galaxee Trance
Katamari on the Swing – We Love Katamari Soundtrack
my favorite james taylor song – (8BitPeoples) yuppster
Hard Reset – Eats Tapes
Gimme the Mermaid – Negativland
Circumlocution – The Quiet American
Human After All (Alter Ego Remix) – Daft Punk
Scratch Bass – Lamb
Slow This Bird Down – Boards Of Canada
Verbal (Prefuse 73 Dipped Escalade mix) – Amon Tobin
Roboshuffle – Kid Koala
Spread Teamer – Yip-Yip
Super Mario Bros. Dirty Mix OC ReMix – A Scholar & A Physician
Spy vs Spy II (Drunk n’ Basement Mix) – 8-Bit Weapon
Lavender Town – Pokemon
Clocktown Backwards – Majora’s Mask
Wood Man Theme – Mega Man 2
Town (Day) – Castlevania 2
Hydrocity Zone Act 1 – Sonic the Hedgehog 3
no more memory – cyriak
Return of the God – Dreadnots
A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld – The Orb
CHange FRom ONe FOrm TO ANother – The Royal You
Upgrade (A Brymar College Course) – Deltron
Sattellite Surfer – F/i

January 18 marks an online holiday: Internet Freedom Day, or#InternetFreedomDay. The day a massive online protest successfully defeated the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA). But as the EFF points out, we must remain ever-vigilant against such threats:

  • Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership
  • Demand Patent Reform
  • Reform Draconian Computer Crime Law
  • Protect Cell Phone Location Data
  • Stop new Internet Surveillance Laws

We recognize the value of fair use when artists are free to express their creative, political and social statements by repurposing and remixing such classics:

Whatever new aesthetic form our digital art takes, such as data moshing or augmented reality. Heck, there is even value to preserving the nature of piracy in some regard.

So while our leaders are trying to convince us that foreign entities and idealistic individuals are to blame for the viruses and espionage around the globe, but in reality our own massively overpowered governments are spying and prying into our personal affairs, unleashing damage and persecuting the free every day.

In response to a FOIA request, the FBI sent the ACLU of empty and redacted pages (PDF), providing zero insight into what this policy actually is. The FBI says that information is “private (privileged) and confidential.”

“The Justice Department’s unfortunate decision leaves Americans with no clear understanding of when we will be subjected to tracking—possibly for months at a time—or whether the government will first get a warrant” ~Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney

All this while human rights monitors document the rise in surveillance and censorship technology being exported from America to other (arguably) more repressive nations.

Human rights monitors have documented the use of US-manufactured Internet surveillance and censorship gear in 21 countries, some with checkered human rights policies such as Syria, China, and Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela. Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The technology isn’t subject to US State Department export restrictions except to countries such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea (all on an embargo list).

So while we idly worry about threats to our online privacy, diligent crusaders and information liberators are actively targeted by government prosecutors.

Reddit co-founder and internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz tragically committed suicide on January 11, 2013. He had been arrested and charged back in 2009 for having downloaded a massive cache of documents from JSTOR., and was facing up to 13 felony counts, 50 years in prison, and millions of dollars in fines. MIT and JSTOR had already settled over the ‘Terms of Use’ breach, but prosecutors only dropped the charges after his death.

Prosecutors allege that Swartz downloaded the articles because he intended to distribute them for free online, though Swartz was arrested before any articles were made public. He had often spoken publicly about the importance of making academic research freely available. His actions were criminalized under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), an act was designed to prosecute hackers.

JSTOR did acknowledge it was “deeply saddened” by the Swartz tragedy.

“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge,” the organization wrote in an unsigned, undated statement. “At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”

Law professor Lawrence Lessig, a friend and mentor to Swartz, wrote a post called “Prosecutor as Bully”:

The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.

Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.

They don’t prosecute Wall Street for destroying the world’s economy, they don’t prosecute HSBC for laundering billions for the drug cartels and terrorists, and they don’t prosecute war criminals. But they’ll prosecute Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning and other activists.

Some Senators are demanding answers:

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introducedAaron’s law,” which would reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that was used to prosecute Swartz. Another member of the House Judiciary Committee, Darrell Issa (R-CA), said he wanted to investigate the actions of the US Attorney who authorized the prosecution, Carmen Ortiz of Massachusetts.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter this morning to Attorney General Eric Holder, suggesting the case against Swartz may have been retaliation for prior investigations of Swartz, or his use of FOIA.

But US Attorney Carmen Ortiz released a statement defending her prosecution of Aaron Swartz, calling it an ‘appropriate handling of the case’, even though many are claiming that it may have prompted the 26-year-old’s suicide.

“At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to see – maximum penalties under the law,” Ortiz said. She claims she would have recommended that the judge offer a deal that came with six-month prison sentence in a low-security setting.

Elliot Peters, Swartz’s lawyer, said that prosecutors planned to argue for a seven to eight year prison sentence if their client had rejected the six-month offer.

So while Zoe Lofgren’s terrific changes are a good start, the EFF vowed to continue Aaron’s work and ‘attack‘ the obsolete, vague, and abused computer and communications laws:

EFF vows to continue his work to open up closed and entrenched systems that prevent ordinary people from having access to the world’s knowledge, especially the knowledge created with our tax dollars… to attack the computer crime laws that were so horribly misused in the prosecution of Aaron.

First, [to] ensure that when a user breaks a private contract like a terms of service or other contractual obligation or duty, the government can’t charge them criminally under the CFAA or wire fraud law—two statutes the Justice Department used against Aaron.

The second set of changes ensures that no criminal liability can attach to people who simply want to exercise their right to navigate online without wearing a digital nametag. It ensures that changing a device ID or IP address cannot by itself be the basis of a CFAA or wire fraud conviction.

Meanwhile, a group of online archivists released the “Aaron Swartz Memorial JSTOR Liberator.” The initiative is a JavaScript-based bookmarklet that lets Internet users “liberate” an article, already in the public domain, from the online academic archive JSTOR. This is in the hope that free knowledge can be taken from behind academic paywalls and put into the public domain, to liberate information and do to publishing what has already been done to other forms of media.

But as Swartz’s and other “hacktivist” cases demonstrate, you don’t necessarily have to be a hacker to be viewed as one under federal law. Are activists like Swartz committing civil disobedience, or online crimes?

  • Publishing Documents – Accessing and downloading documents from private servers or behind paywalls with the intent of making them publicly available.
  • Distributed Denial of Service  – Some web activists have pressed for DDoS to be legalized as a form of protest, claiming that disrupting web traffic by occupying a server is the same as clogging streets when staging a sit-in. A petition started on the White House’s “We the People” site a few days before Swartz’s death has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

“Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) is not any form of hacking in any way. It is the equivalent of repeatedly hitting the refresh button on a webpage. It is, in that way, no different than any ‘occupy’ protest.”

  • Doxing – Doxing involves finding and publishing a target’s personal or corporate information.
  • Website Defacement

As we’ve seen, hackers can be a lot more benefit than harm, and the internet, if it is to be the most democratizing system on the planet, must allow for radical transparency of information. Even if you disagree with much of it, or find the bulk of it stupid or offensive. Reactionary censorship and oppression are never righteous, or even permanently effective, solutions.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-19: Digital Culture Killed My Dog by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

“whether we know it or not, all of us are being influenced by the net. The machines have changed everything in our lives. As you know, if you use the internet, there is a tremendous evil available at your fingertips. Do not- DO NOT allow the machines to take control over your lives. Don’t do that.”

~Bill O’Reilly

“the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

~Ted Stevens

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