By Lisa Rein.
Audio: Internet Archive
I was lucky enough to get a last minute ticket to see Annalee Newitz interview Cory Doctorow (Science Fiction Author, BoingBoing, Special Advisor for the EFF) and Cindy Cohn (Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation) a few weeks ago in the SF mission to promote McSweeney’s new “The End of Trust” publication – which is now available for pre-order.
Annalee Newitz: “When discussing Social Justice Issues, Corporate Malfesence, The Government Breaking the Law to Look Into Our Private Lives, and I know that at EFF, one of the main responses to these kinds of problems has been litigation. It has been to go to the courts. And I’m curious to hear why you think that is a good tactic because we have many tactics at our disposal. There’s direct action. There’s calling our congress critters. There’s all sorts of ways that we can influence the political process. So, why the law. Why the courts? And how can ordinary people participate?”
Cindy Cohn: “The first reason is that there’s a fundamental constitutional question at the centerpiece regarding how we are going to interact with our technology, that can make all the other questions easier.
The second reason is that all of the direct actions that you might want to take in order to exercise your self-governance and have your voice heard, requires some kind of legal protection, right? And when we talk about “direct action,” the reason that you can do direct action and not end up with a very long jail sentence is because, in the United States, compared to other places around the world, is because the Constitution says you can. All the hackers who EFF represents, who tell us all the things about the security problems and the surveillance – if we don’t get the law right, they’re not going to be able to do that. So, I often say that about EFF that we’re kind of the plumbers of freedom. We’re trying to get the obstacles out of the way, so that all the other things you can do to exercise your rights in the digital world can really flow freely.
And so, I think for both of those reasons, EFF was grounded in the law. But also, at this point, we build technology. We have an action center. We support a lot of people that do a lot of direct action. We support a lot of people that need to protect themselves, that do direct action, and all sorts of other things. So although we are firmly grounded in the law, and that’s my background, the organization has really trying to grown to build a lot of different tools in our toolbox to deal with these problems.
Cory Doctorow: “Yeah. I think it’s easy to forget just how powerful states are. They have a lot of resources. And in a fight where you are trying to say, use cryptography to be free, in a state that is illegitimate. You have to use cryptography and the privacy tools associated with it absolutely perfectly, as do, everyone you communicate with, and never make a mistake.
And when you get tired or distracted, you don’t get to call in another you to spell you off and manage your operational security for you. While you’re distracted or taking care of your kids or dealing with the flu. And your adversary from the state, has three shifts of people that can watch you. Right? And when one of them gets a little tired, and gets screen burn and needs to take 15 minutes off to go to the bathroom, they can swap someone else in.
So in the long run, your ability to use cryptographic tools to defend yourself against an illegitimate state. You’ll always lose, right? Because you need to make one mistake. They have to find one mistake you made. They get to make lots of mistakes provided they can still catch that one mistake you made. And then they get to roll up you and all your friends and take you to jail and torture you and so on.
And so, without a legitimate state, the utility of cryptography is to allow you to just have a space in which you can organize to make your state legitimate. But unless you can attain that kind of democratic accountability. Unless you can attain that kind of legitimacy, you’re always gonna lose…
Larry Lessig, take a drink (audience laughs), is one of the great cyber lawyers, and he devised all the areas in which we can act to change the world into four categories. Four directions. We can do code. We can do law. We can do norms, and we can do markets. And they all feed back into each other. And EFF does all of these things. We sometimes advise businesses who are building up stakeholders for good policy. We sometimes do activist intervention where we try to convince people that they should expect more and demand better.
Link to the Book Excerpt in Wired by Bruce Schneier – “Surveillance Kills Freedom By Killing Experimentation” by Bruce Schneier. From the upcoming “The End of Trust” – now available for pre-order here.
Here is a complete list of authors:
Edward F. Loomis