Against Encryption (& what amounts to info hoarding): Transparency = Public Legitimacy = OWS Movement Growth

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felipe ribeiro

Oct 27, 2011, 2:18:00 AM10/27/11
to internet working group,,
Am I the only person who is concerned that the widespread use of encryption justifies the paranoid surveillance state in wanting to tap everything? Excluding logins, etc, why hide ANYTHING? I would say the more we document what we are doing and make it accessible, the more knowledge we share, the less of a "threat" we are, the stronger we are. With OWS, we have nothing to hide. We ARE law enforcement, in the purest sense of the term. Grandma is with US, We The People.

I've probably pissed off alot of people on this list over the past 3 weeks, arguing that we're not doing enough to document what we are doing. And the understandable (but I would argue, incomplete) response is: "We're BUSY trying to build shit that works for OWS to use! The more time we spend on chatter/documentation, the less solid code we can write each day."

here's my argument - the code you write is AS IMPORTANT, but NOT MORE IMPORTANT, than the abundant documentation for the RATIONALE for that code, in terms of the intention, the behavior you want to encourage or discourage, - not just the hows of your process, but the whys. For our power lies in our transparency. Remember that phrase, "we hold these truths to be self evident"? If we document well what we are doing, our goals as a movement - our reasoning, or moral imperative, if you like - is beyond reproach. No one can point at us and say we are "subversive". On the contrary, the subversives own the banking system, and have been subverting the USA for quite some time. We are the super majority, we are the country, we are the fuckin' PEOPLE, man. If we simply take a look at what the big picture is, we know right away We Are In Charge. We're not "protestors", we are the true owners of society. I'm not making a rhetorical point here (believe me, I can further back this point up, but it's for another discussion).

it is for this reason I don't think encryption should be encouraged among OWS supporters AT ALL, unless they live in repressive regimes (and before anyone says the USA is a repressive regime - what happened in Oakland last night, as enraging as it is, cannot be compared to what's happening in Syria, or Zimbabwe, or any number of places). For now at least, the USA is bound by law.

And while I appreciate that everything is super hectic right now, I am of the belief that the set of ideation platforms, online consensus/deliberation platforms, social argumentation spaces, and other emergent systems that can allow thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people to meaningfully partake in decision-making that will ultimately come out of this movement ARE TOO F!&#$@ IMPORTANT TO NOT BE WELL DOCUMENTED, AS THEY ARE BEING CREATED, IN REAL TIME.

So yeah, not only am I against encryption for this movement (in the USA) because it is a tactical blunder in terms of making the state be concerned that they have to employ more intelligence resources to monitor what is going on (again, we have nothing to hide, WE ARE law enforcement), it trends towards further secrecy and non-openness, which is already happening HERE, on this list, and I think that sucks.

I disagree that we're being "transparent enough". No, we're not. Most people don't know what IRC is. Chat logs are temporary, they are not archived. ==> Do you not realize what we're doing is absolutely historic?** <== Why are we forking these conversations into a thousand different (effectively) private conversations? I said it before, I'll say it now - what does it matter if it happens unintentionally? By treating the documentation of what (& why) we are doing as merely an after thought, we're effectively hoarding information.

I think the moment we're in as a movement intersects beautifully with the moment we tech people are in - we need to walk the walk on transparency. Who are we, OWS? We are radically transparent, in that we are documenting the fact that we don't yet know what form our collective voice will take, but we do know that it is important to register our process in real time - the meta narrative - of what tools we're building, and why. What future do we want to build? The tools we design will allow us to build that future. What kinds of tools do we want to build? These conversations must be had, in public, in real time. So, what tools are we going to build? Who is documenting these conversations? Where are they occurring? Why not look at these (tech-centric) conversations as The Golden Opportunity to bridge in the Democratic process that has been happening in parks around the country for the past five weeks with the bigger emergent question of "Who Are We?" as a movement? We are the people that are going to make the existing system obsolete, to paraphrase Buckminster Fuller.

So, let's talk about it. Publicly. In a documentation-friendly fashion. Please? No more disappearing into non-archiving digital places, minimize private listserves (unless what you are discussing is PURELY security-critical topics), and, as much of a pain in the ass as it is, please document what you are doing ten times over.  Anything less than an all-out effort to disclose what/why/how of our tool building is not only methodologically questionable, strategically, it is a missed opportunity for providing the movement with a needed mirror and a way to connect disparate supporters and scale the conversation to the appropriate size.


** Why is this historic? Because we're seeding the development, in the form of research questions, design patterns, and intended outcomes, of the set of platforms and ideas that will eventually beat existing governments in the planes of transparency, just consent, and efficiency (cumulatively: legitimacy). Why? Old paradigm decision making will die in the face of demonstrably superior technology that involves orders of magnitude more information processing. How can 535 politicians compete against the sum of human knowledge? Right. They can't. And right now, that innovation process is underway (the theory has been in place for quite some time, actually). So let's treat this effort as if it could actually succeed, and give it its best chance at doing so: document, document, document.

PS: I just joined twitter tonight: @philosophrclown

felipe ribeiro

Oct 28, 2011, 9:28:12 AM10/28/11
to, internet working group,

@ Yifu - I agree that it is not trivial to document our actions well. It does take commitment, and the first step is to discuss what we have to gain by doing so. This was the intention of my email. To get the ball rolling, I noticed there is a transparency working group, perhaps ill see what their MO is and try to rally support for looking at documentation as mission critical, for all the reasons I outlined earlier. I am interested in working on the wiki with people, so I would like to see how these two projects could mesh.

@Dan - my reading of nonviolence is we behave naively, with the power of the cameras to document what is happening. This means in protests acting non threateningly, handing out flowers, joining a marching band, and otherwise behaving like a responsible citizen, purposely naive about police force, tear gas, etc. Let them break the peace. Let them act as the aggressor. They lose legitimacy in the court of public opinion, and this is the strategy. Same thing w crypto - until our identities get spoofed, no preemptive action should be taken. If and when we are the recipients of sabotage, then we document the fact and take appropriate defensive action. I don't want to encourage the idea of combativeness in any way, on the streets or online. I agree that you can use PGP pretty innocuously, I wanted to draw a line in the sand WRT to the idea of implementing or encouraging crypto for point to point communications on a mass scale. The use of things like TOR, for instance, would be incompatible with the ideals I've laid out, in my opinion.

@sam - my email was sent to all, not any one person in particular. This is why I changed the subject line and forked the original thread. Absolutely not an attack in you or your opinions or anything like this. I think fundamentally, we agree in plenty more than we disagree. I'm just pushing for the elevation of the idea of transparency as an objective with equal importance of whatever tool we want to code and implement. Maybe create a designated bb type forum, where good practice is to document your process as much as possible.

Maybe Dans occupy wifi project could fit in here, I dont know. But we need a designated channel to capture the disparate chatter that is being lost, that pertains to our short term, medium term, and long term goals.

@ Josh - no, I don't think passwords should be sent in the clear. I usually call people for things like this, but I would say the best defense regardless is a robust distributed backup solution with multiple different copies. Nothing is truly secure in any event.

@ Eric - re: everything winding up in the wiki, eventually. Yes, this may be true and it's already an excellent default. My argument is that prioritizing transparency would mean building the culture & the means to archive, in an accessible, inviting format what is happening AS it is happening, or as close to this as possible. We're seeing numbers of participants levelling off, we're so far not really leveraging all of our remote participants, and this is why - you have to dig to find it. This is no way to build a movement.

@ Bailey - this google group is publicly searchable, it's public as it is. And I don't think it's OK to march with a bandana in font of your face. It shows double naivete - 1) that the state couldn't discover your identity if it wanted to, that 2) somehow a bandana is a better tool than openly revealing your face, as a properly indignant citizen of this country.

Bottom line - the main thrust of the argument seems to have fallen through the cracks in this thread. Everyone got hung up on the trigger - the discussion of the implementation of encryption - no response regarding leveraging transparency as the tool for achieving critical mass. So, ok. Wrong place. I'll keep looking for a better one. Maybe Direct Action, maybe the transparency WG. Apologies for any perceived insult, none intended.


On Oct 27, 2011 8:13 AM, "Sam Boyer" <> wrote:
i, respectfully, completely disagree. i'm a HUGE advocate of open,
public discussion spaces. it's one of the things i treasure most about
this movement.

when we create public discussion spaces, they only retain value so long
as other people are actually paying attention to what we say. and when
their volume exceeds most humans' capability to keep up, people stop
paying attention...and the value is lost. it's more than just, as you
characterize it, "a pain in the ass"; people stop reading, and all that
well-intentioned effort goes for naught.

please, re-read my original email about this. i'm pointing out a simple,
well-established principle: if you *only* encrypt the stuff that
matters, then anyone with the ability to decrypt it knows exactly where
to direct their effort. it makes encryption markedly less valuable. so
when i say i want to encrypt individual emails whenever possible, it is
specifically *because* i am trying to protect the sensitive ones. no one
knows how much computing power the NSA has, but if it takes a week of
supercomputing to brute-force one of my emails, that's a much more
worthwhile investment for them if they're *guaranteed* a server password.

i think i didn't make my note at the end of my email clear enough: i am
in no way advocating that we abandon our public spaces for narrow
communication channels. not now, not ever. but i do believe that, in the
interest of keeping those public spaces valuable, it is my
responsibility to avoid filling them unless there's something the group
really needs to hear, lest i contribute to their saturation and loss of
value. so i will document as much as i can, i will discuss in these
public spaces as much as i can. but i will not indiscriminately send
around information, as i believe it harms the public space and DETERS
movement growth. and in those circumstances where i am sending
individual emails, i will encrypt them wherever i can, to protect those
few emails that really matter.


ps - on re-reading your email, i find myself being triggered at what
feels like a suggestion that i'm making anything less than an all-out
effort to do that work of publicly documenting. if that wasn't your
intention, then ok, but otherwise, please understand that that
implication is quite hurtful.
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