Tag: activism

Self-described activist creator of Cell 411 app weirdly refuses to discuss its closed source tech because of anti-racist Twitter handle of the person asking

About a week ago I published a post cautiously praising the work of Boulder, Colorado based SafeArx, the company behind a smartphone app called Cell 411 claiming to cut down on the need for police:

Let me be clear that I love the idea of a decentralized emergency alerting response platform. I think it’s incredibly important for such a tool to exist. […] I want to see a project with Cell 411’s claims succeed and be a part of abolishing the police and the State altogether. I think there’s real potential there to make headway on an important social good (abolishing the police, dismantling the prison industrial complex, among other social goods) and I want to offer whatever supportive resources I can to further a project with these goals.

In the post, I raised some basic questions about Cell 411 that seemed to have gone unasked by reporters covering it. Chief among them is that the app claims to be a de-centralized alternative to 9-1-1, except that it’s not decentralized at all. I described this discrepancy as follows:

On the Google Play store, Cell 411 describes itself like this:

Cell 411 is a De-centralized, micro-social platform that allows users to issue emergency alerts, and respond to alerts issued by their friends.

The problem is in the very first adjective: de-centralized. To a technologist, “decentralization” is the characteristic of having no single endpoint with which a given user must communicate in order to make use of the service. Think trackerless BitTorrent, BitCoin, Tor, or Diaspora. These are all examples of “decentralized” networks or services because if any given computer running the software goes down, the network stays up. One of the characteristics inherent in decentralized networks is an inability of the network or service creator from unilaterally barring access to the network by a given end-user. In other words, there is no one who can “ban” your account from using BitTorrent. That’s not how “piracy” works, duh.

Unfortunately, many of the people I’ve spoken to about Cell 411 seem to believe that “decentralized” simply means “many users in geographically diverse locations.” But this is obviously ignorant. If that were what decentralized meant, then Facebook and Twitter and Google could all be meaningfully described as “decentralized services.” That’s clearly ridiculous. This image shows the difference between centralization and decentralization:

The difference between centralization and decentralization.

As you can see, what matters is not where the end users are located, but that there is more than one hub for a given end user to connect to in order to access the rest of the network.

Armed with that knowledge, have a look at the very first clause of Cell 411’s Terms of Service legalese, which reads, and I quote:

1. We may terminate or suspend your account immediately, without prior notice or liability, for any reason whatsoever, including without limitation if you breach the Terms.

This is immediately suspect. If they are able to actually enforce such a claim, then it is a claim that directly contradicts a claim made by their own description. In a truly decentralized network or service, the ability for the network creator to unilaterlly “terminate or suspend your account immediately, without prior notice or liability” is not technically possible. If Cell 411 truly is decentralized, this is an unenforceable clause, and they know it. On the other hand, if Cell 411 is centralized (and this clause is enforceable), other, more troubling concerns immediately come to mind. Why should activists trade one centralized emergency dispatch tool run by the government (namely, 9-1-1), for another centralized one run by a company? Isn’t this just replacing one monopoly with another? And why bill a centralized service as a decentralized one in the first place?

Despite this, I was hopeful that Cell 411’s creator, Virgil Vaduva, and his team would be willing to at least address the point, perhaps by discussing their development roadmap. Maybe it’s not decentralized yet, but they intend to decentralize it later on? That would be awesome, and important. Moreover, I asked if they would be interested in combining efforts with me or others with whom I’ve worked, since we’ve been developing an actually decentralized, free software tool with the same goal in mind called Buoy for a few months now. I said as much in my earlier post:

I want to see Cell 411 and Buoy both get better. Buoy could become better if it had Cell 411’s mobile app features. Cell 411 could become better if its server could be run by anyone with a WordPress blog, like Buoy can be.

I sent Virgil Vaduva an email last week, and tweeted at him before writing my post. (My previous post includes a copy of the email I sent him.) I was ignored. So I started tweeting at others who were tweeting about Cell 411, linking them to my questions. It seems that’s what got Mr. Vaduva’s attention, since today I finally got a response from him. And that response is extremely concerning for Cell 411’s supposed target audience: activists. Here’s how Mr. Vaduva “answered” my technical questions:

I’m not entirely sure why technical questions like these were answered by a hyper-focus on the militantly anti-racist Twitter handle I happen to be using right now (it’s actually “Kill White Amerikkka”), unless of course if Vaduva is having some kind of trigger reaction caused by (evidently not-so-latent) internalized white supremacy. Later, he called my original post, which, again, included outright praise for Cell 411 a “shitty hit piece.” I even offered to change my Twitter handle (as if that has any bearing at all on the technical matters?) for the duration of a discussion with him, but again, the only replies were, well, have a look:

The full thread is…well, classic Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of installing a closed-source app that reports my location to a centralized database controlled by a company whose founder actively deflects legitimate technical questions by objecting to a militantly anti-racist Twitter handle and making immature pro-capitalist statements when asked technical questions doesn’t sit well with me. But even if that were something I could tolerate, it raises even more concerning questions when that very same app is one touted as being built for anti-police brutality activists.

Last week, I would have told my friends, “Go ahead and try Cell 411, but be careful.” With this new information, my advice is: “Don’t trust anything created by SafeArx, including Cell 411, until and unless the technical issues are addressed, the source is released as free software, and its creators make clear that anti-racism and anti-capitalism is a core intention of their development process.”

In my personal opinion, tools like Cell 411 that purport to be “made for activists, by activists” need to be comfortable materially advancing the destruction of whiteness and white identity, as well as standing in solidarity with militant resistance to white supremacy. But even putting aside concerns over Vaduva’s discomfort with anti-racist Twitter handles, any technologist worth his salt who wants his closed-source technology to be trusted should be able to answer some basic questions about it if he’s indeed unwilling to release the source code itself.

Mr. Vaduva and Cell 411 fall short on both counts. The sad thing is that any potentially latent racism in Cell 411’s creator wouldn’t be a technical concern if Cell 411 itself were actually decentralized free software, since the intentions or social beliefs of an app’s creator can’t change how the already-written code works. As I said in the conclusion to my previous post:

It’s obvious, at least to anyone who understands that the purpose of cops is to protect and uphold white supremacy and oppress the working class, why cops would hate a free decentralized emergency response service. Again, I want to use such an app so badly that I began building one myself.

But if Cell 411 is centralized, then it becomes a much more useful tool for law enforcement than it does for a private individual, for exactly the same reason as Facebook presents a much more useful tool for the NSA than it does for your local reading group, despite offering benefits to both.

Cartoon of a protester ineffectually trying to shoot corrupt government officials with a 'Facebook' logo positioned as a gun.

[…]

As long as Cell 411 remains a proprietary, closed-source, centralized tool, all the hype about it being a decentralized app that cops hate will remain hype. And there are few things agents of the State like more than activists who are unable to see the reality of a situation for what it is.

Admiral Ackbar: Proprietary and centralized software-as-a-service? It's a trap!

If you think having a free software, anarchist infrastructural alternative to the police and other State-sponsored emergency services is important and want to see it happen, we need your help making Buoy better. You can find instructions for hacking on Buoy on our wiki.

You’re probably a non-racist and a non-rapist, but that’s a pathetically low standard that should be beneath you.

So, I have a question for you: are you you non-, or are you anti-?

Several months ago in response to Ferguson, Baltimore, the killings of Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice my friend Kaitlyn put up a Facebook post breaking down the difference between non-racism and anti-racism.

Most of are non-racist. Because racism is looked upon as some moral lapse, we feel self-assured by simply not being racist. I’m not a bigot. I don’t sing that N-word when my favorite rap jam comes on. I didn’t vote for that guy. I’m not burning any crosses. I’m not a skinhead. “I don’t,” “I won’t”, “I’m not”, “I’ve never,” “I can’t.”

What you end up with is an entire moral stance, an entire code for living your life and dealing with all the injustice in the world by not doing a damn thing.

That’s the great thing about “non-“: you can pull it off by simply rolling over in your bed and going to sleep. So why are you sitting at home and watching unfold on TV instead of doing something about it? Because you’re a non-racist, not an anti-racist.

Now do this for me: take the “C” out of “racist,” and replace it with a “P.” I’m not a rapist. I’m not friends with any rapists. I didn’t buy that rapist’s last album. All these things that you’re not doing. Meanwhile, people are still getting raped. And Black boys are being killed.

It’s not enough that you don’t do these things.

Your going to bed with a clear conscience is not going to stop college students from being assaulted. You thinking climate change is terrible is not going to stop climate change. You being so assured that you’re not anti-black, anti-muslim, won’t stop the next hate crime. And it’s wonderful that you recognize how brave gay people are when facing persecution, but they aren’t the ones who need to be brave.

We need to get active. We need to hold people accountable. We need to accept that what hurts one of us hurts all of us. And we need to stop thinking that injustice going on in the world isn’t to an extent our fault.

We need to stop being non- and start being anti-.

By Marlon James, via The Guardian.

Pair with Allies Must Be Traitors: On Barnor Hesse’s “action-oriented identities.” for more on anti-racism and You Can Take It Back: Consent as a Felt Sense along with “I said ‘yes.’ But I feel raped” for more about how we’re conditioned to behave as “non-rapists” rather than anti-rape.

What tools should we be building to end capitalism?

Someone recently asked me:

In terms of ending capitalism, what tools do we need to start building? How can we help one another connect to the resources we need? If we need laptops and phones to stay connected, but we do not have the natural resources to build them in communities close to us, how do we help one another connect and create while staying decentralized? Does that make sense? Are you already envisioning particular tools?

I wrote an answer I think is the synthesis of a lot of my thoughts about this, and want to share:

That is a really big question. To fully answer, I think it requires an agreement on definitions and a solid shared understanding of those definitions. That’s not something a lone email will be able to offer, so I have to refer you to a number of other sources for that kind of background. (We’ve talked about a lot of them in person, already.)

That said, with the necessary background, I think the answer to “what tools should we be building in terms of ending capitalism” is to rephrase the question so it’s more like: “What are some useful paradigms/models/frameworks we should be building tools based on in order to speed capitalism’s demise?”

I think it’s more important to understand capitalism as a way of thinking than it is to understand that a given tool X is implemented “capitalistically,” because ultimately capitalism is not a thing any more than love or hate are “things.” Capitalism is not a thing one can hold in one’s hand. Rather, it is a way of experiencing the things one holds in one’s hands, or feels about other people with whom one has relationships. There is no physical or digital tool that can directly change such an abstract thing.

Change must come from the other direction: how one thinks and what one values. It is obvious that “how one thinks and what one values” greatly affects the tools one makes, as well as affecting how one chooses to use said tool(s). If you value domination, you will choose to make tools that increase your ability to be dominating. Domination is ultimately what capitalism—the way of being a productive member of society as we know it today—rewards, both financially and otherwise. If society is to thrive, that needs to change away from valuing domination and towards valuing empathy and trust. A society based on domination is not one in which most people’s individual quality of life is high. That’s not just my opinion; a lot has been written in a great many academic and other fields about the importance and correlation of empathy and trust in societies for a joyous life. (Google it.)

But no tool, even tools that were carefully crafted to avoid conferring the ability to dominate on their users, are immune from being used in ways that dominate others. The evidence of this is simply that someone who wishes to dominate someone else can simply withhold knowledge of said tool from them (using the innate human ability of not speaking to that person), thereby increasing the gap of capability between themselves and the person they seek to dominate. And notice that this has nothing to do with the design of said tool. The problem is a human, cultural one, not a technological one.

So with all that said (and hopefully understood), if one chooses to build tools anyway, as I do, and if one chooses to do so with the intent of destroying capitalism, as I do, then it’s important that the tools we choose to build are carefully chosen so their predictable impacts have the most benefit to those who share our intent of destroying capitalism and the least benefit to capitalists.

There are some tools that benefit one group of people more than others. But knowing which these are or will be is complex because that trade-off is never static; it changes with each new tool’s introduction and also with the changing cultural morays of a given society in a given time. This isn’t always predictable, but what is predictable is the ways in which different groups incorporate new tools. Bruce Schneier writes about this when he says:

There are technologies that immediately benefit the defender and are of no use at all to the attacker – for example, fingerprint technology allowed police to identify suspects after they left the crime scene and didn’t provide any corresponding benefit to criminals. The same thing happened with immobilizing technology for cars, alarm systems for houses, and computer authentication technologies. Some technologies benefit both but still give more advantage to the defenders. The radio allowed street policemen to communicate remotely, which increased our level of safety more than the corresponding downside of criminals communicating remotely endangers us.

As anti-capitalists, one of our goals should be to identify, design, and deploy technologies that are more use to anti-capitalists than capitalists. There are many good examples of this. Food banks. Public libraries. Distributed telecommunications (like BitTorrent, IPFS, Tor onion services, etc.). Fighting for truly public spaces (like how Occupy Wall Street tried to take back public parks for living purposes). All of these things are anti-capitalist, and there are many more more like them. We should support all of these things and anything that supports those things, would be great.

In other words, we need to be building infrastructure. And when I say infrastructure, I don’t just mean anti-capitalist infrastructure (infrastructure useful for directly attacking capitalism, such as defunding and directly combating the existence of militaries and police, as projects like CopWatch or our project, Buoy, aims to do, although I do think this is useful and important, too). I specifically mean ALTERNATIVE infrastructure: infrastructure useful for doing things other than capitalism.

What does infrastructure enabling doing things other than capitalism look like? That’s a HUGE, diverse array of things that are actually pretty familiar. Public (shared) roadways are the canonical example. Roads themselves are a tool; they are neither capitalist nor anti-capitalist, they have existed long before capitalism. The capitalist part of the modern conception of a roadway is the part where someone thinks to themselves, “there’s a pothole here, but I’ll do nothing about that because it is not my job to fix it, it is the State’s job to send someone here to patch this up.” That’s how capitalism ends up taking over control of roadways. That’s the force that ultimately enables a powerful, dominating entity, such as a government or corporation, to put up toll booths and “privatize” and thereby control access to an otherwise uncontrollable, un-ownable thing such as physical movement.

We’ve already begun building alternatives to this way of thinking. For example, see the “citizen pothole reporting mobile app” developed over 6 years ago.

This kind of app is a nice try, and there have been a lot of these coming from initiatives like (the badly misguided) “Code for America” brigades, but it ultimately benefits capitalists because the developers of these apps take the basic assumption of capitalism (that someone “owns” the road—and that this owner is the State) and amplifies it.

A more anti-capitalist or capitalist-alternative “pothole fixing” app would have included instructions for how to fix potholes in the app itself, included a feature for locating the materials needed to fix potholes on the map (even if that just means directions to the nearest Home Depot), and then walked the end-user through the process of traveling to and fixing the potholes that they navigated to. Of course, anti-capitalism is a gradient. To offer an even more effective alternative to capitalism, the app could include a feature where people are able to list their own garages as spaces where other users (pothole-fixers) could freely take and/or borrow the supplies needed for fixing potholes. Like a pothole-fixing equivalent of a food bank. Instead, all the app does is further centralize responsibility, not to mention the knowledge, for fixing potholes in the entity who is already not doing a good job of fixing potholes: the local (capitalist) government, while also turning citizens into agents who, themselves, further enforce the cult of capitalism amongst their peers.

Do you see the difference?

So when you ask me, “what tools do we need to build in terms of ending capitalism?” my answer is: “we need to rebuild every single tool that exists, including the tools used for fixing potholes in the streets.”

Which tool will you work on? There are many to choose from. Each is important. Each is necessary. The key point to understand is that building alternatives to capitalism do not come about by building anti-capitalist technology. It comes about by building pro-social technologies IN AN ANTI-CAPITALIST WAY.

In other words, alternatives to capitalism are all about the process, the journey, the way in which you do a thing, not the product, the destination, or the specific thing you choose to do or build.

Hope this helps,
-maymay
Maymay.net
Cyberbusking.org

A Sneak Peek at Better Angels’ Buoy: the private, enhanced 9-1-1 for your personal community

As some of you already know, over the past several months, I’ve been working with a team of collaborators spanning four States and several issue areas ranging from alternative mental health/medical response, to domestic violence survivor support, to police and prison abolitionists. Although we don’t all share the exact same politics, we’ve come together as one group (we’re calling ourselves the “Better Angels”) because we all agree that more has to be done to support communities of people whom the current system fails, regardless of whether that failure is deliberate or not. In the spirit of software development as direct action, we set out to design and implement free software that would have the maximum social impact with the minimum lines of code, as quickly as possible.

Today, I want to introduce you to that software project, which we’re calling Buoy.

Screenshot of the Better Angels Buoy community-driven emergency dispatch system sending an alert to a crisis response team.

What is Buoy

Buoy is a private, enhanced 9-1-1 for your website and community. We call it a “community-driven emergency dispatch system” because everything about its design is based on the idea that in situations where traditional emergency services are not available, reliable, trustworthy, or sufficient, communities can come together to aid each other in times of need. Moreover, Buoy can be used by groups of any size, ranging from national organizations like the National Coaliation Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), to local community groups such as Solidarity Houston, or even private social clubs such as your World of WarCraft guild.

Indeed, the more community leaders who add the Buoy system on their websites, the safer people in those communities can be. One can imagine the Internet as a vast ocean, its many users as people sailing to the many ports on the high seas. Buoy is software that equips your website with tools that your users can use to help one another in the real world; the more buoys are deployed on the ocean, the safer traveling becomes for everyone.

How does Buoy work?

Using Buoy is simple. After a website admin installs and activates Buoy, each user of that website can define their personal response team by entering other users as their emergency contacts. This is shown in the screenshot below.

Screenshot of Buoy's "Choose your response team" page.

The “Choose your team members” page, available under the “My Team” heading in the WordPress dashboard menu, allows you to add or remove users from your response team. When you add a user, they receive an email notification inviting them to join your team.

Screenshot of Buoy's "Team Membership" page.

When you are invited to join someone’s response team, you receive an email with a link to the “Team Membership” page, shown here. On this page you can accept another user’s invitation to join their team or leave the teams you have previously joined.

After at least one person accepts your invitation to join your response team (i.e., they have opted-in to being one of your emergency contacts), you can access the Buoy emergency alert screen.

screenshot-3

You can bookmark this page and add it to your phone’s home screen so you can launch Buoy the same way you would launch any other app you installed from the app store. Pressing the large button nearest the bottom of the screen activates an alert and immediately sends notifications to your response team. Clicking on the smaller button with the chat bubble icon on it opens the custom alert dialog, shown next.

screenshot-4

Using that button with the chat-bubble icon on it, you can provide additional context about your situation that will be sent as part of the notification responders receive.

For some use cases, however, sending an alert after an emergency presents itself isn’t enough. Unfortunately, this is the only option that traditional 9-1-1 and other emergency dispatch services offer. In reality, though, there are many cases where people know they’re about to do something a little risky, and want support around that. This is what the other button with the clock icon on it is for.

Clicking on the smaller button with the clock icon on it opens the timed alert (“safe call”) dialog, shown next.

screenshot-5

Use this button to schedule an alert to be sent some time in the future. This way you can alert your response team to an emergency in the event that you are unable to cancel the alert, rather than the other way around. This is especially useful for “bad dates.” It’s also useful for border crossings or periodic check-ins with vulnerable people, such as journalists traveling overseas.

Regardless of which alert option you select, Buoy will gather some information from your device (including your location and your alert message) and either send your alert to your response team immediately or schedule the alert with the Buoy server. A nice pulsing circle animation provides visual feedback during this process.

screenshot-6

If you pressed one of the immediate alert buttons, the next thing you’ll see when you use Buoy is some safety information. This information is currently provided by the website admin, but we have some ideas of how to make this even more useful. Either way, if it is safe to do so, you can read through this information and/or take one of the suggested actions immediately. In the example screenshot here, Buoy has been installed on the website of a domestic violence survivor’s shelter, so the admin composed safety information that helps DV survivors quickly find and access even more supportive resources, such as hotlines and other nearby services like animal rescuers.

screenshot-7

If you’re in an emergency situation where interacting with your phone isn’t feasible, such as if you are being beaten or chased, you can simply ignore this screen. As long as you don’t lose or shut off your device, your device will send your location to your response team so that they will be able to track and find you, even if you travel away from the spot where the crisis originally began.

If you can interact with your phone, you can also close the safety information window at any time. When you do, you will see that behind the safety information window, a private, temporary chat room has been loaded in the background.

screenshot-8

When one of your response team members responds to your alert, they will join you in this chat room.

In addition to the chat room, behind the safety information window is also a real-time map. (The map can be accessed at any time by clicking or tapping the “Show Map” button. Tapping the same button again hides the map.)

screenshot-9

On the map, a red pin shows the initial location of the emergency. Your avatar shows your current position. As responders respond to your alert, their avatars will also be added to the map.

Buoy is just as easy to use from the point of view of a responder, as it is from the point of view of someone sending an alert. When a responder clicks on a notification from the alert (either by email, SMS/txt message, or whatever other notification mechanism they prefer—we are continually working to add new notification channels as our people-power and resources allow), they will be shown your alert message along with a map. They can click on the red pin to get turn-by-turn directions from their current location to the emergency alert signal. If they choose to respond, they click on the “Respond” button and will automatically be added to the group chat shown earlier.

screenshot-10

When a responder clicks the “Respond” button, they will automatically be added to the same live chat room that the alerter is in. They will also see the same map.

screenshot-11

The alerter and all current responders become aware of new responders as they are added to the chat room and the map. As people involved in the incident move around in the physical world, the map shown to each of the other people also updates, displaying their new location in near real time.

screenshot-12

Clicking on any of the user icons on the map reveals one-click access to both turn-by-turn directions to their location and one-click access to call them from your phone, Facetime, Skype, or whatever default calling app your device uses.

Who should use Buoy? Should it only be used in emergencies?

Although Buoy is designed to be useful in even the most physically high-risk situations such as domestic or dating violence abuses, kidnapping, home invasion, and other frightening scenarios, you can use Buoy however you want. We particularly encourage you to use Buoy when you feel like your situation may not rise to the level of calling 9-1-1 or when you feel like the presence of police officers will not improve the situation.

For instance:

  • If you feel you are being followed as you walk home on campus, use Buoy. Your friends will be able to watch your location on their screens and quietly chat with you as you walk home, ensuring you reach your destination safely.
  • If you or someone you are with feels suicidal, or is having a “bad trip,” and you don’t want cops showing up to your house but need assistance, use Buoy. Responders will be notified of your physical location and will be able to coordinate a response action with you and with each-other in real time without ever notifying the authorities of the situation.
  • If you are with a group at an outing such as a hike or a large amusement park and get separated from your group, use Buoy. Each group member will be able to see one another’s current location on a map, can easily coordinate where to meet up, and can even access turn-by-turn directions to one another’s locations with one tap of a finger.

We’ve designed Buoy with people for whom “calling the cops” is not possible or safe, such as:

  • Undocumented immigrant and homeless populations.
  • Domestic violence victims and survivors.
  • Social justice and social change activists/political dissidents.
  • Freed prisoners.
  • Frequent targets of assault and street harassment (trans/queer people, women).
  • People suffering from a medical or mental health emergency.
  • Especially all the intersections of the above (homeless feminine queer youth of color, for instance).

In other words, these are all demographics who could benefit by having “someone to call” in the event of an emergency for whom “the police” is obviously a counterproductive answer, because when police are involved they are more likely to escalate the situation than de-escalate it.

That said, even if these descriptions don’t fit who you are, you can still use Buoy and if you do, we hope you find it useful.

How can I get Buoy?

Buoy is a bit like a very advanced telephone. Just like a telephone, it’s not very useful if no one else you know has one! For Buoy, or a telephone, to be useful, you have to know someone else who already has it.

Since Buoy is so new and is designed to be used in real-life emergencies, we are only working with a small group of alpha testers in order to ensure that there are no major technical or usability issues before its widespread adoption. However, we are very excited about the possibilities and we are currently looking to include more people in the testing process. If you think this is exciting and want to help put the finishing polish on this tool, please get in touch with someone from the Better Angels collective directly; links to our contact information is posted on the Buoy project’s development site. (Or just email me at bitetheappleback+better.angels.buoy@gmail.com directly.)

That being said, if you are a community leader, and you maintain a WordPress-powered website, you can try out Buoy right now by installing it directly from your WordPress admin screens! It’s just as easy to install as any other WordPress plugin. Similarly, if you yourself are not a “community leader,” but you want to try it out, you can either ask to join our private testing phase or you can tell others in your community about Buoy and see if the group of you can install it on your own group’s website.

If you do that, don’t hesitate to ask for technical or other help of any kind over at the Buoy support forums.

How can I help Better Angels projects?

There’s a lot you can do to help make Buoy better or help the Better Angels collective more generally! Check out our contributor guides for more information! Of course, one of the most immediate things you can do to help is spread the word about this project. (Hint hint, click the reshare button, nudge nudge!) Cash donations are also very helpful! Finally, we’re also trying very hard to get the entire tool translated into Spanish, so if you’re bilingual and want to help, please sign up to be a Better Angels translator here.

We think Buoy is a great tool for building strong, autonomous, socially responsible, self-sufficient communities, and we hope you’ll join us in empowering those communities by making them aware of Buoy.

Prison Abolition Panel: Direct Action Software Development – SFLOKRC 2015

This year’s Students for Liberty Oklahoma Regional Conference (SFLOKRC) held a panel discussion and Q&A session focusing on prison abolition. On the panel were Cory Massimino, Nathan Goodman, and Rebecca Crane. The panel was also the first conference at which the newest project I’ve been working on, Better Angels/Buoy, was introduced to an audience of left libertarians and left-leaning anarchists. I’m glad there’s interest in an alternative to the state-sponsored, government-controlled, horribly centralized emergency dispatch infrastructure known as 9-1-1.

I recorded Rebecca’s introductory presentation to the Q&A and panel. Below is a video of the presentation and a transcript. As usual, please share and republish to your heart’s content.

Rebecca Crane: I’m assuming that everybody here is convinced that we should abolish prisons. And so I’m going to talk a little bit about how we as individual people can get involved in that work on the ground. I am not a Libertarian and I’ve heard that there are a lot of people at this conference that also don’t identify as Libertarians, so I’m in good company. I actually came to activism through social justice. I was a teenage social justice warrior way back before there was such a thing as Tumblr.

Audience: [laughter]

Rebecca Crane: And as a social justice warrior, I have to point out that we are a panel of three white people up here talking about prison abolition, and so there’s some really important perspectives about this conversation that isn’t being represented. But I just want to take a moment to hold some space to acknowledge who’s not here in this conversation.

So, y’know, throughout my life I have gotten involved in a bunch of different movements. Restorative Justice is similar to Transformative Justice [discussed earlier in the panel], it’s ways of thinking about ways we might preempt the way that the sentencing process works. Anti-racist activist, queer liberation work, social anarchism. Ultimately, all of these things lead to prison abolition.

It was a bit of a hard concept for me to grasp when I was starting out. I mean, it feels very intense. Like, “Uhhh, what do we do if we don’t have prisons? What do we do with the rapists and the murderers and the pedophiles and all of this?”

And I really appreciated Per Bylund’s talk this morning because even though there’s been some great suggestions about what are things that could replace the prison system, the real issue is that the thing we’re doing now doesn’t work. It’s not preventing crime. It’s not making communities safer. It’s only making things worse and it’s not solving the problems that it claims to solve. And so I feel like the question that when people ask, y’know, “Well how could we get rid of prisons? What else would we do?” Well, the answer is, “We may not know, but we’re doing now isn’t working. So we have try something else.” And we’ve all been immersed in this context of state violence all our lives, so it’s hard for us to look outside of this context and imagine what it might be like to live in a world where state violence is not the solution to crime or to interpersonal violence, but we’re not going to be able to come up with a solution just by sitting around talking about it until we find this perfect utopian ideal. We have to just try some stuff.

So one of the things that I’ve been trying over the past couple of years with some other collaborators, one of them being maymay who’s here today, is try to use new technologies to build some non-state alternatives for community justice and crisis response. So, just as a couple of examples of these, the one that’s gotten the most press—you can’t actually see the whole slide here, um—this is the Predator Alert Tool. It’s a software that exists for a bunch of different social networking sites.

The two ones that I most primarily want to talk about here is the one that exists for Facebook and there’s also a Predator Alert Tool for a site called FetLife, which is kind of a BDSM/fetish social network dating site. And these are tools that allow people who have been victims of sexual violence to communicate with other people in their communities about their experiences. The one that was built for FetLife is specifically—because it’s a small community that uses the site anyway, it’s a way for people to be able to, like, let the whole website know, “Hey, this is this experience I had with this person at this time.” The one that exists for Facebook, because Facebook tends to be more lots of these atomic social networks that are connected to each other, it allows people to say, I, as a survivor, had an experience and I want to be able to connect with other people of my social community who had an experience with the same person. So I can say, “I went to this party, this person put a drug in my drink. I don’t want to talk about this publicly, but I do want to talk to anybody else who has had a similar experience with that same person.” So I can post a little thing and it’ll only be shown to other people who made a similar comment about that person. It just takes advantage of Facebook’s granular privacy settings in some various ways.

And again, these are all experiments. They’re very beta. They’re very proof-of-concept. But they’re ways for people to sort of think about how might we talk about our experiences of sexual violence and building community support and resourcing around preventing and recovering from sexual violence in ways that don’t involve calling the police, which is typically not a system that’s very helpful to survivors of sexual violence anyway.

The tool that we’re working on right now is called Better Angels, and the specific packaging of Better Angels, Buoy, is built for a domestic violence use case. But this is a community-based emergency crisis response app. And so the idea is that I, as a user, would have this on my phone. I set up the people that I want voluntarily on my crisis response team. So I say, if I’m in an emergency situation I don’t want to call 9-1-1. I want to call my brother, my best friend, this friend of mine who lives down the street who’s like a Black Belt in karate, and somebody I know who’s really trained in medical care, and the advocate I know that works at the local shelter. So I set up my own team, and then if I’m in a crisis situation, I just have one click, I hit the button. This alert goes out to all the people in my network. They get an alert saying, y’know, Rebecca’s in crisis. I [Rebecca] can put a little message to say, “My house is on fire!” Or, like, “I’m being harassed by the cops!” They get a message, it shows them where I am, a map of where they are in relation to me, where any other responders are in relation to them, and it drops everybody into a little chat room so that people can coordinate a response. So they can say, “Okay, I see on the map that you’re the closest person to Rebecca. Why don’t you go over there and see what she needs. I’m going to go to the school to pick up her kids.” Y’know, this [other responder] can go to the hospital, or this person can go to the Walgreens and get some band-aids, or whatever else is needed.

So, again, this is just an experiment. This one is in development right now. But these are both examples of a larger concept—which, I also can’t show you the whole slide for?—this idea we’ve been playing with of software development as a form of direct action. So, we’ve probably all heard a lot about hacktivism and Anonymous, going around and leaking things, and breaking into the FBI website or whatever. And, y’know, there’s a very anarchic element to this kind of, like, burn and destroy hacktivist ethic. But there’s also, I think an anarchic element an idea of using technology as a way to build alternative community mechanisms and so these are just a couple of experiments that we’ve done. And there’s a lot more out there!

I wish there was a way to…like, how do I? Is there a way to show you the whole thing?

Nathan Goodman: I can write the URL [of your blog] on the board if you want.

Rebecca Crane: Yeah, yeah, just do that. Thanks. How do I go back to the slideshow?

Audience member: I think you can press ESCape.

Rebecca Crane: Okay. Oh, there we go.

Nathan Goodman: Oh, cool. I guess I don’t need to write it down on the board.

Rebecca Crane: Okay! So, this blog post, the “Software Development as Direct Action” is on my blog there [at unquietpirate.wordpress.com]. I think if you just to that URL the top post right now is about Relationship Anarchy, but you can scroll down and I think this is the second post on my blog right now.

So, if you’re interested, and we can always use people who are technologically inclined, people who want to write code, people who want to test code, or just have ideas, people want to get involved, this is one way you can get involved. Like, say hi, I’m doing some projects, you wanna get involved, you can hit me up and work on some projects with me. Alternatively, there are many other—how do I switch to the slides?

Cory Massimino: There’s an option in the menu….

Rebecca Crane: There we go. So there’s lots of other organizations of various sizes and distributions that you can look up. Here’s a bunch of websites. Black and Pink [BlackAndPink.org] is a prison abolitionist organization that works specifically with LGBTQ prisoners and they have a prison abolition sort of, like, bent and also they just do prisoner support. Critical Resistance [criticalresistance.org] is also just a broad-based prison abolition organization. They’re more based on the coasts, but they’re always looking for people who want to start chapters in their town. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence [incite-national.org] is a group of women of color who have a just, kind of, anti-carceral, anti-violence, and they’ve got some good anthologies, they’ve done a lot of writing. The Anarchist Black Cross [abcf.net], of course, they do prisoner support for people who they consider to be political prisoners. And then there’s some discussion about whether all prisoners are considered to be political prisoners. No One Is Illegal [NoOneIsIllegal.org], which ties into the talk that we’re going to see later today [on Open Borders]. And the Sylvia Rivera Law Project [SRLP.org], as Nathan mentioned, is Dean Spade’s organization. They mostly work on supporting transgender, gender non-conforming prisoners and they also have a prison abolition base. And then just a shout out to, ’cause I know there’s some other people from New Mexico here, Free Spook [FreeSpook.org] is a little prison abolition that’s based out of Albuquerque that’s doing just some really, really, like, hands-on work. They have a specific person they’re trying to get a retrial for and they’re just trying to do education about prison abolition and the prison system and solitary confinement specifically in New Mexico area. The picture I showed earlier of the little ofrenda [English: offering/altar] that was something that they put together for the Day of the Dead celebration and they just do some outreach and education. So if you’re in Albuquerque or anywhere in New Mexico and you want to get involved, look at their website.

And that’s about it. Thanks very much. Feel free to drop me an email [at foxtale@riseup.net with PGP key ID: 7E0021BA] if you want to contact me or if there’s anything you want more information about.

Audience: [applause]

CryptoParty Albuquerque: Know Your (Digital) Rights

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hosting CryptoParty Albuquerque. If you missed the party (and it was an awesome party), be sure to check out my “what you missed” post about CryptoParty Albuquerque. As I wrote there, my co-host and I began CryptoParty Albuquerque with two back-to-back presentations to ensure that everyone participating got exposed to what we felt are the most fundamental bits of information.

My opening presentation was first and it was a gentle introduction to threats and how to defend against them. After that, I handed the mic to my co-host, who gave a brief “digital know your rights” talk. A video and a transcript of that presentation is below:

So, it’s good to encrypt your data using all the tools available, but what happens when you’re faced with police wanting to search your digital device? Well, the best tool you have then is to know your rights! And thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and their helpful guides we know what to do when the police come around asking to search your phone or computer. Tonight I’m going to be talking about what your rights are and how to act around the police, essentially giving you a brief overview of the guides the EFF has available.

With that in mind, I am not a lawyer and I am not giving you actual legal advice, I am just sharing with you what I learned from reading a bunch of stuff on the internet, because I care about these things, but it is not actual legal advice. Please use these suggestions at your own discretion.

The rights protecting your digital advice are pretty much the same that are granted to you by the fourth amendment of the constitution. You are protected against unreasonable search and seizure of your phone. With a few exceptions, you’re not obliged to let the authorities into your device, so we say the fourth amendment mostly applies.

We need to borrow a bit from maymay’s threat model from the previous presentation and figure out who we are and what we are protecting. We’re going to go over four roles in this presentation and those include:

  • a person going about your day
  • a protestor, activist, or someone documenting a protest or the police themselves?
  • an employee at your job?
  • a person crossing the border into the U.S?

Rights are different for each of these roles, and I’ll go over each in more detail.
Before I do, I want to say that if you are not a citizen of the U.S. you are still, amazingly enough, protected by the fourth and fifth amendments, but your interaction with the police may be more complicated depending on your immigration status. Unfortunately, that situation is beyond the scope of this presentation, but there are resources available to you if you are not a citizen and the police are compelling you to let them search your device. Besides the EFF, you can contact the National Lawyers Guild, and locally, Somos un Pueblo unido, a wonderful organization based in Santa Fe, and the NM chapter of the Dreamers. These will have specialized legal resources that can be made available to you as an immigrant, however, the following tips still do apply.

So the first situation is you’re just going about your day, and officer Johnson comes up to you and says “I’d like to search your phone!” What do you do? Well, you should have already encrypted your device. If you encrypt your device, it will be protected against easy access, and you have the right not give up your passphrase under any circumstances. The best protection is a full passphrase with encryption, as screen locks, like the four digits on iOS or the pattern match on Android are easily bypassed. Now, a grand jury or a judge may try to compel you to give up your passphrase and decrypt your device, but the police cannot, and if you find yourself in a situation where a judge or jury is trying to make you give up your passphrase, please call the EFF, they’ll help you out.

Now, you have an encrypted device, and Office johnson wants to search it. Well, don’t consent to a search! say “I do not consent to a search.” In fact, don’t say anything else, and say nothing about your passphrase or how you protected your device. You have the right to be silent and ask to speak to a lawyer before any questioning. Keep saying you don’t consent to a search. If the office has a warrant and they come to your home, don’t open the door, but ask them to slide the warrant underneath the door. Verify the warrant is perfect. It needs four things to be correct: Your name and address, typo-free, the scope of the warrant, meaning what they can search, a judge’s signature, and a deadline that cannot have passed. If any of these are wrong or missing, give the warrant back to them and refuse the search, telling them to come back with a valid warrant. Use that time to encrypt your device. If the warrant is valid, or if they’re conducting a warrantless search on your device without your consent, contact a lawyer if you have one, or the EFF if you don’t. Finally, be careful using biometrics like fingerprints to lock your device. Police can compel you to unlock a device with your fingerprint as these are part of your identity, and the government already has them on file. If you use a fingerprint lock, turn off your phone so the fingerprint is flushed from memory and your passphrase is needed to unlock the device.

If you’re an activist at a protest or documenting a protest or the police, these special tips may be useful to you:

You can legally film the police, anytime, in any public space. If they tell you to stop filming, say you are legally filming the police and it is constitutionally protected. Also be sure to livestream in case they don’t care about your constitutional rights, and most importantly, protect yourself over your device. In fact, consider a burner phone. These are relatively inexpensive phones that you use in protests or as an alternative to your actual personal phone. The idea is that there’s nothing important on these phones, they are single use and can be lost without personal data being sacrificed. Regardless of what kind of phone you bring to a protest, encrypt your device! This makes it harder for the police or anyone to get at whatever you were recording or communicating to your fellow activists. Finally, mass arrests are unfortunately not uncommon at protests and actions, so remember that if you are arrested, after you are released you should get your device back. If not, file a motion for it to be released, even if the police put it into forfeiture or think it holds evidence of a crime, you can still get it back.

What if you’re an employee and have a work computer? Well, in that case, don’t use your work computer for personal communications of any kind. Use it only for work. This is n’t just what your boss wants, it’s also good for you, as your employer can consent to searches of computers they give you, and furthermore, you don’t know if they’re logging your computer activity. In fact, they probably are. So, you should also encrypt your network traffic as much as possible, especially if your work computer is your only computer and you need to use it for personal reasons occasionally. And if your boss ever asks for your personal paswords, like to Facebook, for example, tell them no, even if they say it is in your contract. It’s illegal for employers to ask employees for personal passwords and any contract with such a clause is illegal. For that matter, don’t mix personal passwords and work passwords.

One last role, and it’s a special one: what if you are crossing the border into the U.S? In this case, the fourth amendment doesn’t apply. Customs and Border Patrol agents at the US borders are empowered to search and often confiscate anything entering the united states, including your digital device. So what do you do? Well, as usual, encrypt your device! and turn it off before you reach the border. Like with the police, you cannot be compelled to give up your passphrase to a device, and even though border agents can confiscate and forensically search your device, it will be difficult for them, and more private for you, if your device is protected by a strong passphrase and encryption. The EFF has even more tips about how to protect your data at the border in the border crossing guide online, so check them out. Lastly, some US states provide stronger protections against confiscation at the border, that is, the agents in these states need probable cause to confiscate your device, so try to enter the U.S. through them. These states include Arizona, shockingly, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and Hawaii. Some territories also provide these protections.. Remember, international airports count as borders.

Now, while this presentation described your rights and some suggested behaviors when dealing with the police, it does not, unfortunately, describe how the police will actually act. As we’ve seen time and again, the police wield great power, and they will not always act in accordance with your rights. So, even if you flex your rights as suggested in these presentations, the police may still illegally search, confiscate, or even destroy your phone or computer. In this case, it is best to not obstruct them, note their name and badge number if you can, stay silent, contact a lawyer or the EFF, and above all, protect yourself so you can share what happened with people who care, and we can signal boost your story.

For more complete information and advice, please visit the EFF, form which I culled much of this information. Oh, and, thanks EFF for all the great work you do. More resources on how to interact with the police is on copwatch.org, as well.

Thanks for watching and be secure out there!

You’re invited to CryptoParty Albuquerque: Learn how to protect your data from prying eyes!

Recently, I’ve been helping these folks get the first ever CryptoParties happening in New Mexico. If you’re going to be in or around the Albuquerque, New Mexico area next weekend, join us for a party! Either way, tell your friends. :)

CryptoParty Albuquerque, a new small collective of hackers, makers, and doers of various ages, with various levels of technical knowledge, is getting together next Sunday, July 26 at 4pm to throw a kick ass party while learning and teaching one another about privacy and security, encryption, digital safety, cryptography, and free software. And YOU’RE INVITED!

When Officer Friendly asks:

CryptoParty Albuquerque is a free and public event where we will run digital safety training and anti-surveillance workshops to help activists, journalists, change makers, and other vulnerable people protect their data from the prying eyes of the government, local police departments, and corporate spooks. The party and workshops are being hosted at Fat Pipe (200 Broadway Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM).

More information as available at our website: ABQCryptoParty.com.

What is a CryptoParty? Watch any of the short introductory videos here:

abqcryptoparty.com/intro

CryptoParty Albuquerque is free, there will be food, there will be solidarity, there will be music! Hell, there may even be dancing! Ain’t no party like a CryptoParty! :)

If you use Facebook, you may also invite folks to the event using this link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/917582934947858/

Thanks for your attention and we hope to see you at CryptoParty Albuquerque!

Spain’s “Robin Hood” faces prison time for funding anti-capitalist social movements

In Spain, little-known hero faces prison time for funding anti-capitalist social movements:

From 2006 to 2008, Duran took out 68 commercial and personal loans from 39 banks in Spain. He farmed the money out to social activists, funding speaking tours against capitalism and TV cameras for a media network. “I saw that on one side, these social movements were building alternatives but that they lacked resources and communication capacities,” he said.

[…]

Duran was arrested in Spain in 2009, on charges brought against him by six of the 39 banks that had lent him money. He spent two months in prison before being bailed for €50,000bail. In February last year, facing up to eight years in prison, he decided to flee rather than stand trial. “I don’t see legitimacy in a judicial system based on authority, because I don’t recognise its authority,” he said.

His actions, he said, were at the vanguard of a worldwide debate on the economic crisis. The timing pushed the anti-capitalist movement into the light, just as many Spaniards were seeking alternatives to a system that had wreaked havoc on their lives.

While the same actions would probably be better understood in today’s Spain, he said that they would not be needed. The anti-capitalist movement has grown from a fringe movement to one supported by thousands of Spaniards, he said, evidenced by the 70 or so social currencies in use across the country and widely supported movements such as the indignados.

Success has helped the movement become self-sufficient. “We now have the capacity to generate resources,” said Duran, adding somewhat ironically that this was exactly what banks issue credit for – “to advance and generate a situation that allows you to be independent”.Duran is widening his focus to include Spain’s justice system, by promoting restorative justice. “The people in Spain who believe that banks don’t work, they think that I don’t owe anything. I’ve already done my work,” he said.

Hmm….

Weev on antagonism

I think the best thing someone can possibly do for a work of art is to hatefully criticize it. […] I am able to cause impact precisely because I am so polarizing. Eyeballs are attracted to what I do because lots of people very viscerally dislike me. The spectacle of my presence causes more impact than my initial actions. I was a little worried I would come out of all this being a little too well liked, and am delighted to see that isn’t the case.

[…]

A lot of people think I was indicted because I am an asshole. That is not true. Aaron Swartz was not an asshole. Matthew Keys is well loved by everyone as well. Deric Lostutter literally exposed rapists to public scrutiny, and he is still catching a case for it. The underlying issue is that there are real criminals that loot billions from our economy through computer crime. The FBI has neither the competence to identify them nor the ability to extradite them from Russia where they are operating. They receive a metric fuckton of money to solve this problem and have to act like they are doing something about it. They will not indict you because you are a bad operator. They will indict you because you are there. I overturned my verdict only because I am an asshole. You can’t avoid being indicted here, but you can fight endlessly against the seditious morons that do it.

Infamous “ATT&T hacker” Weev, aka Andrew Aurenheimer, talks about his time in prison in a blisteringly succinct and punchy interview with TechCrunch contributor John Biggs.

This is a great, high-profile example of an application of my theories on productive antagonistic relationships. My aphorism: “Be nice if you care more about credit than results.”

See also:

This July 4th, I spent the day on the steps of the Old Courthouse in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, participating in one of the day’s “Restore The Fourth Amendment” rallies that happened in over 50 cities across the United States.

The most striking thing about this event was the sheer diversity of political persuasions the people participating in the rally held. I spoke to more people with different political beliefs at this one rally than I did during my weeks at Occupy camps across the States. That’s awesome.

If absolutely nothing else is clear, this is undeniable: THE PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO BE SPIED ON. Even the folks who “have nothing to hide” don’t want to be surveilled. How do I know this? I asked them!

“Why should I care? I have nothing to hide,” many people said.

“Then why do you have curtains on your windows at home?” we asked.

Privacy is not about justifying innocence. Privacy isn’t a reward. Privacy isn’t even merely a right conferred by the US Bill of Rights.

As I said in a brief interview for the progressive blog Dangerous Intersections:

I feel we have fallen ill to our own hubris regarding what we’ll allow our government to do. We’ve assumed for a long time that American citizens are protected from the American government, even as we’re seemingly okay with having ‘foreign nationals’ and other people with scary sounding names under surveillance. And it seems to me like incredible hubris that when the surveillance State turns around and starts to spy on its own citizens—it’s unfortunate that so many people are surprised by that.

So this [“Restore the Fourth Amendment” cause] is an important issue for me because I’m an American citizen and I don’t think I should have more protection against surveillance than a citizen of any other nation, because privacy is a human right, not just in the Bill of Rights.

While rallies and handing out flyers to passers-by are important, they’re not enough. I believe that one thing we can do that’s far more important and effective at resisting the surveillance State is educating people about things they can do, both legally and technologically.

To that end, I organized a spontaneous teach-in on privacy technologies that are free, secure against the NSA, and available to you today. I also made myself available to help people install, use, and learn about these things all day, in a one-on-one fashion. It went wonderfully, and it was SO much fun! I want to do this again—and so can you! All it took was a few pieces of paper, markers, and the willingness to speak up.

In the teach-in, modeled after Cryptoparties, a group of about 10 folks installed and walked through using secure mobile communications tools for their phone platform (ChatSecure for iOS devices and TextSecure for Android devices). I also gave out a lot of resources. Among them:

Best of all, I made some new friends. :) Thanks, everyone, for a wonderful day!