Glenn Greenwald versus Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell on whether Andrew Joseph Stack is a terrorist and his suicide note

I happened to see the 2010-02-18 Rachel Maddow show and the 2010-02-25 Democracy Now!. Both discussed Andrew Joseph Stack III, the man who flew his plane into Building I of the Echelon office complex in Austin, Texas which killed Stack and IRS manager Vernon Hunter. Stack left a suicide note (local copy) published on his website. These shows covered Stack in a remarkably different way which is telling about the power to frame an issue.
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Eben Moglen’s talk on Freedom in “The Cloud”

Prof. Eben Moglen, head of the Software Freedom Law Center, gives another must-not-miss talk on software freedom with hosted services (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other third-party services run on behalf of their users), colloquially known as “the cloud” (a purposefully vague reference to hosting services somewhere else, a virtual place that contains your data). What are the social and civic consequences of letting these services watch as you place your information (email, calendaring, private chats, etc.) into these services? How do we in the free software movement rise to the challenge of services users don’t control?

This recording comes to us courtesy of the Internet Society New York chapter The recordings are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Speech

Download Audio: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

Download Video: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

Q&A

Audio: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

Video: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

When Moglen talks about what your server should do, he talks about the kinds of services you should be free to host yourself. I’m reminded of how useful it might be to control your file sharing yourself without placing your faith in those who are untrustworthy by default.

Update 2010-02-10: The Software Freedom Law Center posted highlights from Eben Moglen’s talk.

Sita Sings the Blues vs. Ink: How licensing treats us differently

Sita Sings the Blues” is an independently produced movie that is widely legally copied on the Internet. Writer/director/producer Nina Paley released “Sita” under a license that allows sharing (and far more, actually, but the details of how much more are beside the point of this article). Sita is also for sale on her store and anyone may download the movie from countless sources online (including locally—DVD ISO). The Internet Archive lists over 153,000 downloads from their site alone.

You can also download the soundtrack online and share it with anyone you choose (not all the tracks are sharable, but that’s not Nina Paley’s fault, the copyright holder for some music is not willing to share).

“Ink” is an independently produced movie that is widely illicitly copied on the Internet. Ink stands out because unlike chiefs of more famous movie studios, Ink’s writer/director Jamin Winans and producer Kiowa K. Winans wrote to TorrentFreak to thank them for promoting the movie and to say that the illicit sharing has made the movie far more popular, including increasing sales of home video copies.

But how do these movie makers treat you, the audience?
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Remote control of your computer with non-free software is unwise

Introduction

BitTorrent is the most popular filesharing protocol on the Internet today. BitTorrent users typically obtain pieces of the data they want and share pieces of the same data with others. By cooperating in this fashion, almost everyone who wants a copy of the data gets what they want.

There are many programs one can use to share data using the BitTorrent protocol. Many are free software—one can inspect, share, and modify the program to suit one’s needs. uTorrent is a popular non-free (or proprietary) BitTorrent client. Like any proprietary program, exactly what the uTorrent program does when it runs is not clearly known to anyone except its developers. uTorrent became popular because it is a zero-cost, small, and quick program which requires little computing power. Many BitTorrent clients allow web-based control: one can set up Transmission (a free software BitTorrent client) to host a web-based control panel that lets users remotely control Transmission. With some savvy, one could set up one’s computer at home to run Transmission all the time and use this web-based remote control to keep track of and control Transmission from anywhere on the Internet.

The next version of uTorrent is due out soon; codenamed “Falcon”, an article on torrentfreak.com glowingly describes this version because this version of uTorrent offers a different kind of web-based control panel: users can control their copy of uTorrent by logging into the Falcon website and controlling their copy of uTorrent from this website.

Freedom and privacy

What’s the difference? The difference is who has access to your computer and who has access to data on what you’re sharing.
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A free software conference or an open source conference?

linux.conf.au describes itself as a “conference about Open Source Software, including Linux that brings together the world’s community of Linux enthusiasts who contribute to the Linux operating system“. The description is apt because it clearly states how focused on the “open source” philosophy that conference is. Their views and conclusions would differ if they focused more on software freedom instead. “Free software” and “open source” are terms expressing different values and different values give rise to different conclusions.

The free software movement is primarily concerned with building and defending software freedom—the freedom to run, share, and modify published computer software. This is an ethical consideration borne out of considering how we ought to treat one another using computers and software. The open source movement pushes aside software freedom and pursues attracting business to the open source development methodology. To that end they concern themselves primarily with speaking to programmers who can help business develop its software. These concerns share some common ground but they can reach polar opposite responses to practical questions as the aforementioned essay illustrates:

It is remarkable that such different philosophical views can so often motivate different people to participate in the same projects. Nonetheless, there are situations where these fundamentally different views lead to very different actions.

The idea of open source is that allowing users to change and redistribute the software will make it more powerful and reliable. But this is not guaranteed. Developers of proprietary software are not necessarily incompetent. Sometimes they produce a program that is powerful and reliable, even though it does not respect the users’ freedom. Free software activists and open source enthusiasts will react very differently to that.

A pure open source enthusiast, one that is not at all influenced by the ideals of free software, will say, “I am surprised you were able to make the program work so well without using our development model, but you did. How can I get a copy?” This attitude will reward schemes that take away our freedom, leading to its loss.

The free software activist will say, “Your program is very attractive, but I value my freedom more. So I reject your program. Instead I will support a project to develop a free replacement.” If we value our freedom, we can act to maintain and defend it.

If linux.conf.au were more concerned with teaching people about software freedom they’d recognize that the Linux kernel is a part of an operating system, not the whole thing. If you have only the Linux kernel on your computer you don’t have all the software you need to do things people expect a modern computer to do such as browse the web, compute in spreadsheets, and play movies. The Linux kernel allows an operating system to share computer hardware resources harmoniously so Linux is an important part of an operating system (for instance, a GNU/Linux system or a Busybox/Linux system as one might use on their home computer or Internet router) but we should give credit where credit is due. Calling attention to the name “GNU” helps draw attention to the cause of freedom and cooperation.

linux.conf.au hosts many talks and broadcasts them online in live streams. Apparently the live streaming is an opportunity for the online audience to install some non-free software, Microsoft’s Silverlight, via the conference’s live stream webpages. This year, linux.conf.au is hosting a talk by Robert O’Callahan, a hacker for Mozilla (makers of Firefox) who is giving a talk on “why open video is important for free software“; an important topic for free software activists everywhere. Viewers are given a mixed message when talks like these are streamed via patent-encumbered protocols over a proprietary program instead of the protocols and software O’Callahan will likely cover. A message rooted in freedom is subtly undermined when free and proprietary are presented as equals. Other conferences around the world have no problem streaming their talks in formats one can play with unencumbered free software (Debian’s conference, a very large Brazilian conference). The technology O’Callahan describes is viable today but if “unencumbered baseline codecs are critical for the Web and for the free software community” one wonders why this approach is not used exclusively to publish these live streams. Viewers/listeners to the online stream should be directed to install a free software browser which supports playing Ogg Vorbis+Theora not directed to install proprietary software.

Laying bare the myth of Obama’s beneficial presidency

How good can a president be when he continues the hated acts of his predecessor? How valuable can that president’s support be when they challenge the predecessor’s wrongdoing but remain virtually silent about continuing the same bad policies?

Glenn Greenwald on Bill Moyer’s Journal in a web exclusive (video, transcript) had this to say about President Obama’s continuation of rounding up people around the world and locking them up for as long as we like.

[O]ne of the principle controversies of the Bush Administration, one of the defining aspects of their radicalism, was the idea that we can take human beings who we don’t capture on a battlefield, who we simply abduct and pick up, who we suspect of engaging in terrorism and put them into cages for years or decades without having to charge them with any crime.

That — simply based on executive authority — the ability to point to someone and say, “This is a terrorist,” then justifies the elimination of all due process and putting them into prison forever. Obama, several months ago, said that he not only believes in that power, but wanted Congress to enact a statute that would permanently enshrine this theory of law into Presidential power.

He gave up on that because there was going to be difficulty in terms of getting the bill that he wanted passed through the Congress. So, instead what he did was he embraced the Bush/Cheney justification as to why the President can do that, which is that the Congress implicitly authorized it.

And so, we’re continuing our scheme of indefinite lawless detention, free of due process, free of any charges of any kind. Where we can pick up people anywhere around the world and put them into cages. He’s actively defending that power in Afghanistan, by saying that people who we abduct far away from the battlefield, far away from Afghanistan, and then ship to Afghanistan and imprison at Bagram have no rights even to habeas corpus, which the Supreme Court said at least that Guantanamo detainees have.

And so, that’s just one example where for years liberals yelled and screamed vehemently that Bush was subverting the Constitution and degrading the American culture, political culture, by asserting this power. And yet, here you have Barack Obama not just refusing or taking his time undoing it, but himself actively defending and advocating it. And there’s very little outcry. And that repeats itself in terms of the state secrets privilege. And the effort to block accountability for torture victims. And a whole variety of other powers that Bush and Cheney asserted to great controversy.

Glenn Greenwald

The Left has profoundly mischaracterized Obama’s campaign promise to end the use of Guantanamo Bay: during the campaign this was widely celebrated as a reason to vote for Obama. But even if that prison is destroyed and never to be used again, the US maintains a system of prisons around the world (some unknown to us, I can only guess). It’s reasonable to believe that in those other prisons the US tortures (whether directly or by proxy hardly matters) and detains people indefinitely. Shifting the site of illegal unethical behavior is not the same as ceasing that behavior.

Obama’s support for your civil liberties is profoundly lacking. You’ll recall his administrations support of the telecommunications corporations’ illegal wiretapping which surpassed the Bush administration.

I hope that by the time Obama’s first term is over we can look at his presidency and name a dozen seriously beneficial things he has done for the US (ideally, 12 things John McCain would have been unlikely to do). Not being Bush isn’t good enough.

gNewSense 2.3 released

Congratulations to the gNewSense GNU/Linux hackers for putting out another release!

If you’re looking for a fully-free software GNU/Linux distribution for your Intel-compatible personal computer (most are such computers), download this disc image and give gNewSense a try. gNewSense is a complete operating system based on the GNU OS and the Linux kernel. gNewSense most closely resembles the Ubuntu GNU/Linux system but gNewSense is fully free software out of the box, no special install needed so you are free to inspect, run, share, and modify the software should you wish to.

You can download the software here or from the gNewSense website. The complete source code is available as well (locally or from the gNewSense website).

First time burning a CD? No problem, here’s some help on how to do it and verify the results.

If you wish to verify your download, here’s the relevant MD5SUM data:

897d81b3c2493b4779dea45d6b7f041c gnewsense-livecd-deltah-i386-2.3.iso
5b031d62952de343666ffd40d4ceda05 gnewsense-cdsource-deltah-i386-2.3.tar

If you’ve already got gNewSense and you want to update to this release, you should be able to use the normal update mechanism.

Orwellian control over users is the reason DRM exists

Summary

Recently Amazon Kindle users who purchased copies of George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm lost those novels when the publisher changed their mind about publishing electronic copies via Amazon’s portable reading device known as the “Kindle” (more deservedly known as the Amazon Swindle). These works are in the public domain in Australia but that doesn’t address the real issue at hand—the power DRM gives publishers and what that means in your life.

The publishers and DRM controllers inadvertently did us all a great favor: they gave us a low-cost wake-up call to the reality of DRM. Some of us were wise enough to never get involved with DRM in the first place, so we get an opportunity to educate others about what DRM really means. If you were raised on valuing technical glitz over valuing freedom and community, you may have acquired some DRM-encumbered media or device. You get a chance to think about issues of freedom and power. You can learn what the shift from traditional media really means and how digital media doesn’t have to deny users their freedom.

The underlying theme

What made this possible? How could one’s purchases simply vanish? This never happens with books, so why should it happen with e-Books?

DRM (more appropriately known as “Digital Restrictions Management”) is the key to understanding the loss of freedom and transfer of power. DRM is the technical means whereby a publisher can control what media a computing device has on it, or when a user is permitted to view/read/hear (experience, for short) that media.

This control is permanent for the lifetime of the device. So even after the device and the media are sold to the user, even if the device and media are sold again to another user (at a garage sale, for example), the publisher remains in control. Whatever the computing device is capable of doing, DRM can curtail the reader’s freedom to do that activity.

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