thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Presentation on "Privacy and Social Software" online

I was in Vienna two weeks ago at a workshop on social software, organized by ProLearn, an EU-funded "network of excellence" on e-learning. The workshop was interesting and had a nice international crowd. I got some new ideas for thinking theoretically and analytically about privacy (especially in terms of visibility and invisibility, and under which conditions this is a reward or a punishment), which is really the best you can expect at meetings like this.

The organizers have uploaded the slides and podcasts of the presentations now. Mine on "Privacy and Social Software" is here (ppt, mp4).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"Privacy and Identity" Presentations at 23C3 and CFP

The video of the presentation on "Privacy, Identity, and Anonymity in Web 2.0" I gave with Udo Neitzel and Jan Schallaböck at the recent Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin in finally online. There are several mirrors for downloading the video - just search for "identity" in the filename on any of them. The audio and video are not exactly synchronized (I'll ask them to fix this), but you get the idea.

I am also happy to announce that our proposal for a similar session at the upcoming "Computers, Freedom and Privacy" conference in Montreal in May has been accepted. We are currently trying to get a few more speakers on it, Caspar Bowden from Microsoft is already on board. And it looks like I'll also be on a related plenary panel there, together with people from Microsoft, Liberty, Privacy International, and Credentica. I hope to see many of my North American readers and colleagues there!

Digital Security and Privacy for Human Rights Defenders

Privacy advocates in liberal Western democracies often face the problem of explaining the existential value of being able to hide and act anonymously. Many people have this intuitive "I have nothing to hide" attitude, which seems to be growing among the young generation. The trust in governments, legal protection and human rights has certainly taken some punches recently because of the expanding surveillance programmes being set up under the guise of the "war on terror/child porn/whatever-fits-public-opinion", but to most people, it is not an existential problem but rather an abstract concern that maybe goes in line with a general frustration about politics.

There are people in this world who actually risk their lives for a great cause, and who desperately need effective privacy for their protection. These are the human rights activists, researchers, and lawyers that work in openly oppressive countries and dictatorships. While many of them use computers, the practical problems and risks related to this are not widely understood. Privaterra, the Toronto Citizen Lab and others have been working on this for the last couple of years with capacity-building workshops and technical help. One of the most active groups here has been Front Line, group based in Ireland that gives grants and also has its own operational activity.

Front line has just released a large manual titled "Digital Security and Privacy for Human Rights Defenders". The 164-pages book (pdf) contains systematic descriptions of privacy and security risks human rights defenders may face (and have faced), and has detailed and hands-on instructions for all kinds of protections, including computer setting and tools, but also workflow management, physical office security, and so on. The volume includes rich material and examples on the state of surveillance and oppression online, making it also worth a read for those not directly working in this field. Kudos to Dmitri Vitaliev who did all the work in pulling this together and writing most of the text.