Last month, Cory Doctorow talked with Al Gore, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee in Mexico City about privacy, freedom, neutrality and democracy in the context of the Internet and the Web. Shaky handheld video is embedded below — the audio is worth tuning in, however, even if the video is a bit jumpy.
Hat tip to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, who writes:
We had a wide-ranging discussion, but kept circling back to the threats and promises for the net — copyright wars, privacy wars, government and grassroots. It was a lot of fun, and quite an honor, and I’m happy to see they’ve got the video online.
There’s a new deputy chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: Danny Weitzner. He’ll be taking over the policy portfolio that Andrew McLaughlin held. The appointment appears to have been reported first by Julia Angwin in her story on a proposed bill for an online privacy bill of rights drafted by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Rick Weiss, director of communications at OSTP confirmed the appointment and said that they anticipate that Weitzner will start work “very soon.”
With the appointment, the OSTP staff has three deputy CTOs again working under federal CTO Aneesh Chopra: Chris Vein for innovation, Weitzner for Internet policy and Scott Deutchman for telecommunications policy.
Weitzner has a deep and interesting background when it comes to Internet policy. He was serving as associate administrator for policy at the United States Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the principal adviser to the President on telecommunications and information policy. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Weitzner created the MIT CSAIL Decentralized Information Group and was used to be the policy director for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) before he joined . Here’s his bio from his time there:
Daniel Weitzner is Policy Director of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Technology and Society activities. As such, he is responsible for development of technology standards that enable the web to address social, legal, and public policy concerns such as privacy, free speech, security, protection of minors, authentication, intellectual property and identification. Weitzner holds an appointment as Principal Research Scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, co-directs MIT’s Decentralized Information Group with Tim Berners-Lee, and teaches Internet public policy at MIT.
As one of the leading figures in the Internet public policy community, he was the first to advocate user control technologies such as content filtering and rating to protect children and avoid government censorship of the Intenet. These arguments played a critical role in the 1997 US Supreme Court case, Reno v. ACLU, awarding the highest free speech protections to the Internet. He successfully advocated for adoption of amendments to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act creating new privacy protections for online transactional information such as Web site access logs.
His publications on technical and public policy aspects of the Internet have appeared in the Yale Law Review, Science magazine, Communications of the ACM, Computerworld, Wired Magazine, and The Whole Earth Review. He is also a commentator for NPR’s Marketplace Radio.
Mr. Weitzner has a degree in law from Buffalo Law School, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Swarthmore College.
As Angwin reported, Weitzner pushed for creation of the Commerce Department new privacy office while he was at NTIA. In his new role, he’s likely to be working closely with the FTC, Congress and a new privacy office at the Commerce that, according to Angwin, is likely to be run by Jules Polonetsky, currently head of the Future of Privacy Forum.
For those interested, Weitzner can be found on Twitter at @djweitzner. While he has not sent out a tweet since last November, his link to open government in the United Kingdom last July bodes well for his support for open data and Gov 2.0: “Proposed Government Data Transparency principles from UK gov’t via Shadbolt & Berners-Lee http://bit.ly/b1WyYs#opendata#gov20.”
Today in Washington, Secretary of State Clinton reiterated the State Department’s commitment to an Internet freedom policy in a speech at George Washington University. Rebecca MacKinnon, journalist, free speech activist, and expert on Chinese Internet censorship, provided some on the spot analysis immediately following Clinton’s words. MacKinnon made an interesting, and timely, point: there are limits to directly funding certain groups. “I think one of the reasons that the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were successful was that they were really home grown, grass roots. At the end of the day, the people in the countries concerned need to really want change and drive that change.”
MacKinnon parsed the considerable complexity of advocating for Internet freedom in the context of Wikileaks and electronic surveillance in other areas of the federal government. For those interested, she elaborated on the issues inherent in this nexus of government and technology in her Senate testimony last year. At some point this winter, there will be a hearing on “CALEA 2″ in the United States Congress that’s going to be worth paying close attention to for anyone tracking Internet freedom closer to home, so to speak.
Clinton defended the slow rollout of funding today in her speech (emphasis is added):
“The United States continues to help people in oppressive Internet environments get around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online. While the rights we seek to protect are clear, the various ways that these rights are violated are increasingly complex. Some have criticized us for not pouring funding into a single technology—but there is no silver bullet in the struggle against Internet repression. There’s no “app” for that. And accordingly, we are taking a comprehensive and innovative approach—one that matches our diplomacy with technology, secure distribution networks for tools, and direct support for those on the front lines.”
The caution in spending may well also be driven by the issues that the State Department encountered with Haystack, a much celebrated technology for Internet freedom tool that turned out to be closer to a fraud than a phenomenon.
There may be no silver bullet to deliver Internet freedom to the disconnected or filtered masses, per se, but there are more options beyond the Tor Project that people in repressive regimes can leverage. Today, MIT’s Technology Review reported on an app for dissidents that encrypts phone and text communications:
Two new applications for Android devices, called RedPhone and TextSecure, were released last week by Whisper Systems, a startup created by security researchers Moxie Marlinspike and Stuart Anderson. The apps are offered free of charge to users in Egypt, where protesters opposing ex-president Hosni Mubarak have clashed with police for weeks. The apps use end-to-end encryption and a private proxy server to obfuscate who is communicating with whom, and to secure the contents of messages or phone conversations. “We literally have been working night and day for the last two weeks to get an international server infrastructure set up,” says Anderson.