Chelsea Manning, Caroline Sinders, and Kristian Lum: “Technologists, It’s Time to Decide Where You Stand On Ethics”

By Lisa Rein

Chelsea Manning at the Aaron Swartz Day Ethical Algorithms Panel, November 4, 2018

A lot of folks were wondering about what Chelsea Manning‘ meant when she discussed a “Code of Ethics” during her SXSW talk, last March. Well there’s no need to wonder, because Chelsea discussed this in detail, with her co-panelists Kristian Lum (Human Rights Data Analysis Group) and Caroline Sinders (Wikimedia Foundation), during the Ethical Algorithms track at the last Aaron Swartz Day at the Internet Archive.

Here’s a partial transcript to shed some light on the situation.

 

(Left to Right) Kristian Lum, Caroline Sinders, Chelsea Manning.

The panel discussed the issue of valid data and how companies have become more concerned with whether they can sell an algorithm-driven software product, and less concerned with whether the damned thing works and who its results might affect, should they be inaccurate.

Link to the complete video for Ethical Algorithms panel.

Lisa Rein: Okay first question: Are the software companies who are making these algorithm-based products are just selling them to whomever they can, for whatever they can apply them to? And if so, how can we stop this from happening?

These companies are powerful and getting larger and more powerful all the time. Yet, no one seems to care; even the companies buying the snake oil products; as long as they can resell the services somehow, and the money keeps coming in. What can we do?

Chelsea Manning: Me personally, I think that we in technology have a responsibility to make our own decisions in the workplace – wherever that might be. And to communicate with each other, share notes, talk to each other, and really think – take a moment – and think about what you are doing. What are you doing? Are you helping? Are you harming things? Is it worth it? Is this really what you want to be doing? Are deadlines being prioritized over – good results? Should we do something? I certainly made a decision in my own life to do something. It’s going to be different for every person. But you really need to make your own decision as to what to do, and you don’t have to act individually. We can work as a community. We can work as a collective entity. People in technology, we’re not going to be able to explain to people – all this stuff. People know that everything’s messed up, and they know that things are messed up because of the algorithms that we have. We’ve educated them on that. They understand that. They understand that viscerally, because they see the consequences and the results of these things that are happening every day.

The problem is that people in technology aren’t paying attention, and even some of us who are paying attention, aren’t doing anything about it. We’re waiting for somebody to do something about it. Somebody else isn’t going to do it. We’re going to have to do it ourselves.

Kristian Lum and Caroline Sinders.

Caroline Sinders: Even if you feel like a cog in the machine, as a technologist, you aren’t. There are a lot of people like you trying to protest the systems you’re in. Especially in the past year, we’ve heard rumors of widespread groups and meetings of people inside of Facebook, inside of Google, really talking about the ramifications of the U.S. Presidential election, of questioning, “how did this happen inside these platforms?” – of wanting there even to be accountability inside of their own companies. I think it’s really important for us to think about that for a second. That that’s happening right now. That people are starting to organize. That they are starting to ask questions.

I think especially looking at where we are right now in San Francisco – inside the hub of Silicon Valley – in a space where it’s very amenable to protest is very amiable to supporting ethical technology. How do we build more support for other people. Is it going to spaces we’re not usually in? Is it going to other tech meet ups? Maybe. Is it having hard conversations with other technologists? Probably. How do we push the politics of our community into the wider spread community? We have to go and actually evangelize that I think.

Is the company even using the algorithm in the way it was intended to be used? Often a company purchases an algorithm that is made for one kind of analytics and it gets used for a completely different thing, and then you get these really skewed results.

Lisa Rein: Wait a minute. I can’t believe I’m asking this, but, are you saying that, as long as they like the results, nobody cares if the results are accurate?

Caroline Sinders: ‘How sure are we that it’s true?’ is not the question that I’m hearing in the conference room. It’s more like ‘we’ve gotten these results and these people have purchased it.’ or ‘It’s selling really well.’ Cause we are in the age of people building software as a product, capabilities as a product, APIs as a product. (Meaning that you buy access to an API that’s like a pipeline.) And if it’s returning certain results that a company can then use and put in a portfolio to sell to other different kinds of clients, like, it doesn’t actually matter how much it works, if it has the appearance of working; if it’s pumping out ‘results.’ So, I can’t speak to like academic verifiability of different kinds of APIs. I can speak to “that I have not ever heard people really talk about that.

Chelsea Manning: Yeah. I’ve had experience with this in particular… For verifiability of data, it’s purely academic. That’s what I’ve found. When you are working in a corporate or a business setting or whether your are working in a government setting – military context or whatever – it’s ‘results, results, results.’ Nobody cares how verifiable the data is. Everybody’s cutting corners. Everybody’s trying to meet deadlines. That’s why we — people in technology – we need to be thinking more ethically. We need to be very cognizant of the systems that we’re building, and not just sitting there, continually meeting deadline and meeting priorities that our set by our leadership, or by clients or by senior corporate, ya know, C Suite people.

You really need to think about what you’re doing. What the consequences of what you’re doing are. Because these (questions) are not happening, and they should be happening. In many cases, for some of these systems, maybe the question of whether we should be doing a system like this at all is a question that should be asked – at least asked, in some of these rooms. It’s not, and it’s not going to be.

Caroline Sinders: I think there is a big push though, if you work in industry software, to really understand the ethical ramifications of the products your using, or the software that you’re using, and how it effects your users. And how this effects even unintended bystanders – people that have not opted in to the system, or into the product, right? And that’s where you get into like, different surveillance systems, or systems that are in the whole vein of the Internet of Things, right? How many people are “accidentally” a part of a data set that they didn’t get to opt in to. 

Aaron Swartz Ceramic Statue (by Nuala Creed) and Kristian Lum.

Kristen Lum: And in some cases, remember, you yourself can act as a sponge for accountability. Because now, let’s say you have a system that’s been purchased, that’s been created by “peer reviewed science” or very expensive technology, and it’s saying to do the thing that your organization kinds of wants to do anyway. Well, maybe do some research and show the people your working with, and say “hey we may be over policing this community.” Because, otherwise, it’s like “Hey, this software we spent all this money on is telling us to do it,” which gives them justification to do what they want to do anyway. So, try to maybe act like a buffer, between these viewpoints, by being able to ask, and question, ‘why are you doing that?’

Lisa Rein: Would opening up the “black box” solve everything?

Chelsea Manning: It’s not just that it’s a black box, even when the code is available to you, sometimes how it’s actually coming up with the predictions it’s coming up with — apart  from doing pure math, when you’re trying to come up with something that’s understood by humans for an explanation, it can escape you sometimes. So I think that’s one of the dangers of depending on showing the entire algorithm. We have to fully understand these algorithms and not just see how they work from a code perspective or an algorithmic perspective.

What scares me with that is some of these algorithms being used in like, Bail hearings… You literally changing this person’s life, because they are going to stay in jail, because they are in a bail hearing, where an algorithm — made by some company — decided that you’re more predicted to be arrested. It’s not evidentiary in any way, but it’s being used in an evidentiary manner. It’s just a mathematical prediction based on false data — or poor data — and it’s actually tearing people’s lives apart. And it’s also feeding into this feedback loop, because they’re seen as being re-arrestable. Therefore, it reinforces the data set.

Kristen Lum: There are a lot of models now predicting whether an individual will be re-arrested in the future. Here’s a question: What counts as a “re-arrest?” Say someone fails to appear for court and a bench warrant is issued, and then they are arrested. Should that count? So I don’t see a whole lot of conversation about this data munging.

Caroline Sinders: Specifically, I think some of the investigative reporting that Pro Publica has done specifically on this is really worth highlighting.

(Editor’s Note: Parts of this partial transcript were rearranged slightly for flow and readability.)

(Author’s Note: Lisa Rein thanks ThoughtWorks, for their support of the Ethical Algorithms Panel and Track at Aaron Swartz Day 2017.)

Meet Matteo Borri & His Most Recent Inventions

Matteo Borri is an Advisory Board member for the Swartz-Manning VR Destination (a project of Aaron Swartz Day).

By Lisa Rein

Matteo Borri is an inventor and engineer in San Rafael, California that is currently working with NASA and the Mars Society. His chlorophyll detector will be included on the equivalent of the next Mars Rover.

Matteo’s company, Robots Everywhere LLC, has been working with NASA to create three different prototypes for detecting Chlorophyll in unchartered territory. These devices use “chlofluorescence” to detect the presence of Chlorophyll. They are all handheld devices that can be used indoors or outdoors, and are often operated using a simple Android phone.

Matteo Borri in his San Rafael shop – March 2018

 

LR: So how did you discover this technique for detecting Chlorophyll?

MB: I got the idea from an experiment I did in college. I wanted to build a day-for-night filter that didn’t use any post processing. What I ended up with instead was a filter that would show green fabric one color, and green plants of the same hue another color. Adding a laser to that in order to only “trip” the right fluorescent frequency was done by trial and error.

LR: And when we are detecting Chlorophyll, we are essentially looking for “life” on another planet, right?

MB: Yes. Mars is not seismically active like for example Europa is, so the Sun would be needed to put energy into anything living. If it doesn’t use chlorophyll, it will use a molecule that has to work in a similar way, so it will have to react to sunlight in a similar
way.

Photo 1 (above) – A rendering of chlorophyll molecules

 

Photo 2 (above): A microscopic picture of actual chloroplasts inside plant cells.

LR: So, what’s “chlofluorescence” exactly? Is it as simple as a color shade? Or is there something more complex being detected?

MB: Chlorophyll is a lot more efficient than solar panels, but it’s not 100% efficient. So, it transmits out some of the light it receives back out. The tricky part is detecting it! It’s a bit like trying to see a weak LED turning on or off in sunlight.

LR: So was the review basically: This works great! Except 1) we need to make sure a flourescent green sharpy marker doesn’t work and 2) we need a larger interface to accommodate the astronauts clunky gloves? 🙂

Photo 3 (above): A screenshot of the Chlorodetector Interface, running on an older Motorola Android phone.

MB: Yes. There are a few false positives, notably green fluorescent markers — not a big surprise there given that they are green and fluorescent! — but if we find those on Mars, well, someone has beat us there. As for the gloves, it was a complaint from a research team: the real instrument is not going to have a touch screen, but it was cheaper to wire in a phone (with a touch screen) as the camera and CPU than work from scratch, for the purpose of this test.

LR: Tell me about this stuff you invented to help Puerto Rico. It is really interesting. The solar cell phone charger and the thing you call a “Vampire Charger,” that enables you to get whatever battery power is left out of any battery without the danger of blowing up your phone if the voltage doesn’t match.

MB: Yes. I named it the “Vampire Charger.” It is an inefficient but flexible device which will take any voltage that you might find in the world – from 1.5 volts to 12 volts – to even 110! (That’s when it stops, as 220 will blow it up, but 220 is not a common voltage in the U.S., so if you’re over here, it’s not a problem. I’ll have to come up with an European adapter 🙂

LR: So this is for when something bad has happened, obviously, and you need whatever power you can get, right?

MB: Yes. The idea is that you can use it with any kind of source of power that still works. You don’t know the voltage, you don’t know the current. You don’t even know which is plus and which is minus. You don’t even know if it’s AC or DC!

It has two alligator clips.You connect them to ANY two contacts of the part in question, in any way. (To be clear: the color it doesn’t even matter, in this case.) And it gives you USB power, safely! Read more “Meet Matteo Borri & His Most Recent Inventions”

Edward Snowden Explains The Direct Connection Between John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of Cyberspace” & His Historic Surveillance Disclosures

Edward Snowden

John Perry Barlow woke me up. He raised a message sounded an alarm, that I think we all heard. He didn’t save the world. None of us can, but perhaps he started the movement that will.

Complete transcription and MP4 available for download from the Internet Archive.

Edward Snowden: Thank you. (Applause.) I’m never going to get used to this. (Standing ovation at the Internet Archive)

There are a lot of things that can be said about John Perry Barlow, or, as I called him, JPB. He was a good man. He was a brave man. He was an original thinker. This was an incredibly talented charismatic individual.

He had no obligation to live a life that was touched by the struggles and challenges and politics that we’re made to deal with and confront every single day. For many of us, it’s not a choice. We have no alternative. We have no special talent. We are not rock stars. But he chose to side with us. He chose that. And it is that shrewdness that I think is the mark of highest distinguishment for his character.

This was a man who actively sought discomfort when he had every opportunity to sort of stay in bed with the wonderful and interesting people that were involved in his life, and he never lost this. In fact, as he got older, in the brief time that I knew, and I had the rare opportunity to share a stage with him, he became ever more politically involved. Ever more politically astute and ever more self-sacrificing.

This was a man who was not afraid to say things that others were not. This was a man who was not afraid to ask questions that would make people uncomfortable, and yet were necessary. And it was this trait that he put into the organization and lives that he was connected to that brought be forward.

One of the stories that is very little told in the media, perhaps untold, is this story: I’m sitting at the NSA as a high school dropout being paid an extraordinary amount of money to help build and run machines to spy on you. And there were over 30,000 people working at the NSA at the time. This was a comfortable life. This was an easy life. And it was certainly the path of least resistance for me.

Now I started out as a true believer. I too, had a choice, but as I climbed higher and higher levels of the government I gained access to more and more highly classified information. And eventually, I reached the sort of highest peak of security clearance. I realized that something wasn’t right. I realized that what was legal was not necessarily what was moral. I realized that what was being made public was not the same as what was true. And eventually this reached the point where we had the most senior intelligence official in the United States government, General James Clapper, who went before Congress, and swore an oath to tell the truth nothing but the truth. You know, we’ve all heard it. And he was asked by Senator Ron Wyden: “Does the NSA spying on millions, or hundreds of millions, of American’s communications.” The general immediately starts sweating, rubs his head, realizes he’s on camera. Thinks about it for a second. He’s gotten these questions 24 hours in advance. And he says “No. No sir. Not wittingly.”

This was a problem that John Perry Barlow understood, even though he didn’t know exactly how that was a lie. He knew it didn’t sit right. He talked to me about this after the fact, after I had come forward. But the idea here is this story from 2013 of the mass surveillance revelations was never about the surveillance. It was about democracy. What does it mean that when we have a system of government? When we have elected officials… when we have the highest powers in our country accountable the lowest standards of behavior. At the same time, if we break the smallest law, as ordinary people, we face the highest consequences.

Well, JPB created this organization, The Electronic Frontier Foundation,with his friends. He created the Freedom of the Press foundation, that I would later join myself and have the privilege of serving on the board with him. And the idea is this…. It’s an argument that he put to me when I shared a stage talking about the future of democracy. And I was talking about sort of where I thought the systems were breaking down; where things were working, and where they weren’t working in a very technical sort of engineer’s way, because I’m not a politician by training. And he said that he thought I was missing the point. He said, in the unique case of these United States the whole question of national security, this entire area of conversation topic, is being misrepresented by the government to the detriment of the public. “National security” doesn’t mean what they try to make you think it means. “National Security” is not about terrorism. “National security” is not about military.

“National Security” means the security of our founding principles. It’s not our borders. It’s not our culture. It’s not anything except those founding documents that we still profess to believe in. According to him. And if we are insecure in our beliefs and our willingness to protect and preserve those beliefs, that is a threat to national security, and perhaps the only one that matters. Now I’m not even sure he knew this at the time, but when I was going about my sort of dark work at the NSA gathering information about crimes against the public on a previously unprecedented scale, I was wearing a hoodie from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It was a parody of the NSA. When I came forward, it was in the very first photograph that was made public of me in Hong Kong, where I was meeting with journalists, to provide them this material, which then I lost access to. Because, I didn’t want to be exploited. I didn’t want to be the person who’s making the choices of what should and should not be made public. I felt this was the role of the fourth estate. This is the proper function; the necessary purpose of press in a free society. To contest the government’s monopoly control of information. As much as it’s wonderful when hackers go out and get this information for us — and as much as I think it is necessary for whistleblowers to share with us the information that we need to know — I wasn’t elected president of disclosure. And I don’t think anyone else is either. This is why the First Amendment is first.

In every free society, the legitimacy of government derives from a single principle; the consent of the governed. But that consent it only meaningful if it’s informed. What happens when we cast votes for politicians who make certain campaign promises, and then, not only do they not deliver on them, they actually expand the surveillance programs that they pledged to terminate. And this is that part of John Perry Barlow’s sincerity that I admired. And this is the reason, ultimately, that led me to many of the choices in life that I have made.

When I was a young man. I was reading his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, and perhaps that may have been that seed of radicalization. I’ve said before that I used to work for the government and now I work for the public. I’m not sure JPB ever had any other allegiance. His love was for all of us. This is why he spent that long life that could have been so comfortable — so frictionless — constantly searching for the next thing. Constantly searching for the next struggle.

He told me on that same day — on that same stage — one of the things that he struggles with, is people who turn away. People who don’t think. People who are so in love with comfort that they forget that struggle is what drives us forward. He shared with me a saying that he says he got from the Navajo, which is the kind of thing that only an interesting guy like him could just pass off as a throwaway comment: “You can’t awaken somebody who’s pretending to be asleep.”

John Perry Barlow woke me up. He raised a message — sounded an alarm, that I think we all heard. He didn’t save the world. None of us can, but perhaps he started the movement that will. I want to thank him for everything that he did for me, for us, for the United States, and for this world. He was an incredible person. He was an inspiration to me and it was an honor to have known him. There is one thing that I I’d like to say from him, which I will keep with me for the rest of my life as I think about what comes next for myself and hopefully those of you in the room as well.

I said, when we’re looking at all of these problems that face the world today, that face our politics today: the partisanship, incivility, the inhumanity, the injustice that fills every conversation and we try to make the people who are in power confront that and fix it and do their jobs. I struggle with the question of how it is that we correct this. What is it that we’re supposed to do, and why is it that they feel so comfortable. And it came down, finally, to this feeling of immunity, of unaccountability, that these powerful institutions all seemed to enjoy. It didn’t matter whether it was the Attorney General breaking the law. It didn’t matter who was the CEO of Citibank breaking the law. They had a different standard behavior. And when they saw the world… when they saw the system… when they saw how much control they had and how little we had they said, “Well what are you going to do about ?”

And he sat, and he thought. Just a long pause on stage in front of so many people which is the kind of thing that only somebody like him could really get away with. I know I personally feel obligation to fill the silence. Then he said “The United States such as it is today exists to look at precisely that claim. “What are you going to do about it? And to answer that question, and to answer it right.”

Ladies and gentlemen the life of John Perry Barlow was an example to everybody. Thank you.

Transcription courtesy of Lisa Rein, co-founder, Aaron Swartz Day.

Edward Snowden “on stage” with (left to right) Trevor Timm, Cory Doctorow, Cindy Cohn, (Brewster Kahle in foreground.)

Why Chelsea Manning and Heather Dewey-Hagborg Speaking Together Yesterday In Ann Arbor Was A Pretty Big Deal

By Lisa Rein

Chelsea Manning had “A conversation with Heather Dewey-Hagborg” – On Thursday, March 15, 2018, at 5:10pm at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

ABOVE: Chelsea looking at her own portraits. BELOW: Chelsea doing the same thing in Frame 11 of the Suppressed Images comic book (at SuppressedImages.net)

This time last year, my friends Chelsea Manning and Heather Hewey-Hagborg were still depending on me in order to communicate effectively; so they could collaborate on their art and research projects together.

Heather and Chelsea’s collaborations started way back in 2015, when some folks at Paper magazine orchestrated their first collaboration. Using only the good old U.S. mail, Chelsea sent Heather swabs of her DNA and answered a number of powerful questions to start a discussion about DNA and privacy that continues to this day. Boy was it cool being in the middle of that conversation. 🙂

Heather had developed a method for creating portraits of strangers based on DNA, and was speaking around the world, explaining both the wonders of forensic phenotyping, and how the technology is inherently problematic.

Meanwhile, Chelsea, in prison, in 2013 was not being allowed to be photographed or recorded. (After a charismatic Daniel Ellsberg won over the hearts of millions in the 1970s, the Feds sure weren’t going to make that mistake again.)

The way Chelsea’s voice was being silenced angered and, ultimately, intrigued Heather. Perhaps she could turn it around into something anti-oppressive, and utilize this technology to give Chelsea the public face she had been denied, by creating portraits of her, from her DNA.

By the time I came along, they had already completed Stranger Visions and Radical Love – so I had a lot of catching up to do, at first, just to understand Chelsea’s artistic preferences. Chelsea would often have ideas that she had written up, and I would take notes and read them back to Chelsea exactly, so I could convey the information accurately to Heather. Then Heather would write back with her ideas, and I would have to make sure I understood those well enough to explain them to Chelsea the next time we spoke.

3D DNA Portraits from the “Radical Love” exhibit.

 

On November 23, 2016, Heather sent me an excited email with a great idea for “taking some of the writing I have been doing and working with an illustrator to make a comic book or animation bringing things to life.” This would become the Suppressed Images comic book, which tells the story about their friendship and artistic collaborations, and specifically how Chelsea learned it’s important to “Never Shut Up” when someone tries to chill your speech.

Frame 8 from the Suppressed Images comic book at SupressedImages.net. Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Chelsea E. Manning & Shoili Kanungo – Suppressed Images: Frame #8, 2017 – Limited edition poster signed by the artists – 18×24 inches, edition of 100.

Although both Chelsea and I loved the idea, we didn’t think there was enough time to complete the project, and didn’t want to pressure them. But Heather and illustrator Shoili Kanungo worked very very hard to meet their own intense deadlines, in order to finish it in time to be published during President Obama’s last week in office. (When, historically, commutations happen.) As it turned out, it was published in the morning on the same day her commutation was announced. (As the White House announced Chelsea’s commutation in the early afternoon, east coast time.)

This comic book had become our attempt to visualize a reality where Chelsea was commuted – in a world where everyone else had told us that it was impossible. (Now, amazingly, in that same world, everyone acts like it was inevitable 🙂

I was asking different people all over the world to visualize Chelsea out in the regular world with them. Playwrights visualized Chelsea sitting in the audience at their plays. Band members pictured her rocking out at their shows. DJs pictured her dancing to their beats. And now, this comic book literally provided illustrated pictures of the possibilities.

Just one month after the comic book was released — and of course — one month after we had received the good news about Chelsea’s upcoming release — in February, 2017, I got to do it again.

This time, Heather was creating their Probably Chelsea art installation, which premiered in the real world, at the Fridman Gallery in New York City in August 2017.

That project was challenging because I was often describing pretty complex ideas with diagrams, so that Chelsea could recreate them on a piece of paper, think about them, and make decisions.

 

Lisa Rein: My oh my Heather. Looking at these pictures. It’s just so incredible.

I can remember our deciding – against everyone elses opinions – to include your ridiculous hopeful ending: For Chelsea to be out and free and looking at her own portraits.

And yet it came true on the very day the comic book was released. Does any of this last year seem real to you? I’m still in dream land.

Heather Hewey-Hagborg: Yes. I know what you mean. It’s hard to believe that, almost exactly a year ago, I was standing on stage at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor as part of the same Penny Stamps lecture series Chelsea Manning and I are speaking at together today.

This time last year, it really did still fee like a dream. Chelsea was still in prison but we had begun working on the expanded installation – our collaboration on Probably Chelsea – that would mark and celebrate her release. I shared some initial rough ideas with the audience about even at the end of the talk, although they grew and changed in important ways over the next months.

I also described our graphic short story that Chelsea and I wrote together with illustrator Shoili Kanungo which advocated and envisioned her commutation – to the audience – and told them the amazing and miraculous story of publishing the comic on the very morning that Obama actually granted her clemency.

Now I am so incredibly honored, humbled, inspired, and filled with gratitude to be able to stand on the stage together with Chelsea in person to discuss art, technology, and politics — like it’s just totally normal to be here together.

Artists Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea Manning in the summer of 2017.

LR: I remember the morning we heard the news, on January 17, 2017.

HDH: For me, on the east coast, it was in the early afternoon 🙂 The comic went live early morning my time and I heard about the commutation that afternoon.The announcement of Chelsea’s commutation was one of the most jubilant and overwhelmingly emotional moments of my life, and certainly my artistic career. It was incredibly meaningful to me.

LR: It also felt important the whole time you guys were working on that comic book too. It was an incredible experience for me, as a historian and archivist, to not just meet or read about, but actually be the conduit that worked between you guys on those projects (Suppressed Images and Probably Chelsea).

HDH: Looking back, it was, and is, such a dark time. After Trump in the U.S. and brexit in Europe, Chelsea’s commutation was like a beacon of hope; a way of showing us how important it is to really incant the future you want to see, and how the power of words can be used to make the changes you want.

Of course her release was the result of a lot of different things coming together — and the comic we wrote, anticipating, asking for her release, felt like this little sprinkle of magic potion that catalyzed this reaction. To revisit that today is such a powerful reminder that positive change is really possible.

Below, Chelsea signs one of the limited edition prints from the Probably Chelsea exhibit. A limited number of prints are still available.

Chelsea signs one of the Limited edition poster signed by the artists (Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Chelsea E. Manning & Shoili Kanungo) – Suppressed Images: Frame #8, 2017 –  18×24 inches, edition of 100.

 

John Perry Barlow Through the Lens of Lisa Rein’s Archival Memories

John Perry Barlow at the San Francisco Aaron Swartz Memorial

John Perry Barlow was a close collaborator and dear friend, since the first day I met him, in 2002. He was extremely encouraging, spoke at many of the events I organized, and was there for me generally, as I followed the breadcrumbs of my archival adventures. First as Dr. Timothy Leary’s Digital Librarian, next as the co-founder of Aaron Swartz Day, and most recently, as Chelsea Manning’s Archivist.

Barlow was a very exciting person to work with. In the beginning, there wasn’t much pressure during our meetings, while he answered questions about Dr. Timothy Leary, who he had a close and very interesting — albeit sometimes strained — relationship with. He was helping me fill in the little details between the overlapping stories I had heard from others. I often showed up with a box of artifacts from whichever specific time period I wanted to discuss that day. Although the lives of psychedelic folks in the 1960s and 1970s are often portrayed as footloose and fancy free, their real lives weren’t really like that most of the time (except when they really really were :).

I would often ask him to confirm specific facts for me, and would end up hearing completely different stories that took place around the time period in question. Being Dr. Leary’s Digital Librarian, I liked to know the story behind every artifact. Since I wasn’t alive yet, much less there, when a lot of things took place, my job, most of the time, amounted to collecting and comparing notes from everyone I could find who was there.

I would often get conflicting stories about how certain events played out, and I was usually hoping that John Perry’s account of events could break the tie. Unfortunately, his accounts did no such thing. More often than not, he would say that something different altogether had taken place, making it so the only thing I knew for sure was that the “official” story was wonky. Nevertheless, it was always quite amusing hearing his take on famous figures — Dr. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Baba Ram Dass, Bobby Weir, Jerry Garcia -— or hear him tell (and re-tell) the story of forming the Electronic Frontier Foundation with Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore.

These last few years, as things became more intense around my work, if I stopped by for anything, he would literally drop everything (give or take an hour 🙂 to see me and help me figure out what I needed, and quickly. Often, it seemed as if he was dealing with two or three other critical situations at the same time, and I felt quite honored to be included in his circle of intensity.

Barlow at the Leary reunion

In 2009, I worked with the Leary Estate to put on a family reunion and party for close friends. John Perry Barlow was there, and said a few words:

From that talk:

And, this archive…”will attempt to tell a complex story from a number of different points of view”… and will attempt to encapsulate Timothy Leary, who was truly the most paradoxical and vexing and inspiring and maddening of human beings. He probably had more to do with introducing people to the spiritual matter than practically anybody who wasn’t born in the desert someplace, and yet he was, for much of his life, a profoundly anti-spiritual man.

 

He was a very loving man, who introduced a lot of people to a greater depth of love…

 

I think it’s really important to decode this guy. He was one of my friends. I knew him from ’65 until he died, pretty continuously, and I loved him dearly. But it’s important to take him apart, and figure out who he really was, ’cause you can learn a lot about America, from learning a lot about Timothy Leary.”

 

 

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