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

Friday, September 28, 2007

How to Build a Privacy Movement

We had a demonstration against the surveillance mania in Berlin last Saturday which attracted 15000 people, making it the biggest demonstration against surveillance for the last 20 years. The German Working Group Against Data Retention - which was the main organizer - is still discussing how to move on from this big success. Our feeling is that this was the founding moment of a wider privacy movement. An English news report is here, and there are pictures and videos and our English press release.

I have been at the annual Privacy Commissioners' conference in Montreal since Monday, so I did not really have time to blog about it here. But a lot of people at this conference wanted to know how we did it, and on short notice they put me on a panel today to talk about it. So here are my speaking notes and the accompanying slides - see it as a quick and dirty version of a "privacy-movement howto".

(In the notes, "Tuesday" refers to a pre-event organized by a number of civil society groups before the official conference started on Wednesday.)

Update: Because people keep asking me and don't seem to look into the slides: The "Stasi 2.0" t-shirts are available at I just noticed the site has no English version, but you should be able to understand it. It's a generic web shop.

Update 2: The shirts shop now has an english website.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Liberal Journalists Strike Back

The Economist has started a series of articles on the erosion of civil liberties in the so-called "war on terror":
As we intend to show in a series of articles starting this week (see article), the past six years have seen a steady erosion of civil liberties even in countries that regard themselves as liberty's champions.
This echoes similar series about new surveillance powers and other uncilvil means that have already been published in big liberal German papers and magazines like Die Zeit or Der Spiegel. A clear sign that the almost unconditional support for more executive powers and secrecy in the name of security that was so prevalent after 9/11 has massively eroded.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Think Global, Act Local

This blog has been quiet over the summer - partly because I had some problems with which I did not want to deal with, but partly also because there were a lot of offline activities going on for me. First of all, I re-discovered the beauty of being active at the local level.

The Bremen branch of the Chaos Computer Club, which had mostly been a fortnightly open meeting of nerds and privacy and free software activists for the last year, has suddenly turned into a buzzing cloud of activity. In the run-up to the big German demonstration against the surveillance state in Berlin on Saturday, we organized a series of events in Bremen under the label "summer of privacy". The flyer looks like this.

The kick-off was a party in a new alternative club, which featured several electro DJs, but also dating phones connected by a mechanical switch from the sixties, a pong version on a projector with our interior minister Wolfgang "Stasi 2.0" Schäuble instead of the ball, powerpoint karaoke, and of course a lot of vintage computing in the chillout area. We partied until seven in the morning, had our share of fun, and discussed our ambitions with a lot of interested and nice people on the side.

Then, we had invited Constanze Kurz, spokesperson of the CCC in Berlin and in the news almost every day at the moment because of our government's plans to secretly spy on our hard drives. She gave a lecture titled "Kafka, Orwell, Schäuble. Surveillance in the Information Society". Because our marketing powers were a bit exhausted after the party, we did not expect too many people to show up. But when the event took place, the crowds were so massive that many had to stand in the hallway or even on the stairs. There really has developed a significant feeling of unease in the general population because of these ever more and introsive proposals for more surveillance in the name of security. One person had even driven more than two hours by car to join us. Wow.

Two days ago, we had a workshop on how to protect yourself against surveillance, titled "Firewall of Love". A bit less people showed up, mostly political activists ranging from the anti-G8-groups to the old peace movement. But they all listened closely for a few hours, even to the more technical aspects of public-key cryptography or the problems of personal firewalls. We are now compiling a help page in our wiki.

And finally, coming Saturday we have chartered a whole bus and will go to Berlin with at least 50 persons to join the other protesters at the demonstration "Freedom instead of fear - stop the surveillance delusion" (German: "Freiheit statt Angst - Stoppt den Überwachungswahn!"). The list of supporting groups has grown over the last few weeks and now includes the whole spectrum from the radical left to the liberal party, from physicians and journalists associations to the gay community or the word's largest trade union. I am really looking forward to it, especially because have been helping to organize the federal-level protests against data retention for the last two years, and the demonstration and lots of other activities have developed out of this network of activists called working group on data retention.

My main point was: I really enjoyed being involved in global and European political processes and activities like the World Summit on the Information Society or European Digital Rights for the last four years, but it is such a difference between having to rely on email lists most of the time and working with real people most of the time.

Critique of OpenID

Stefan Brands from Credentica has compiled an impressive collection of criticism against OpenID recently. And Kim Cameron of Microsoft goes nuts. I don't really understand Kim here, as Microsoft's CardSpace is much more privacy-friendly than OpenID. Maybe the summer of interoperability-hugging has created too much of a "we're all in this together" atmosphere.