What It Means for Our Movement That the NSA is Halting One of Its Worst Surveillance Practices

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NSA’s data center in Utah

The New York Times broke the news Friday that the NSA is ending a surveillance program that has been the subject of years of criticism by civil liberties advocates and members of Congress alike. The news came in waves: a brief snippet from Charlie Savage, then a slightly longer update, then confirmation from the NSA, and then the final version (I assume) from Savage that went up hours after the original.  The NSA is promising to end the practice of collecting Americans’  emails and text exchanges with foreigners that mention key identifiers—like email addresses—that aren’t actually directed to or from the targets of NSA surveillance.  (For my fellow tech policy nerds, we call this “about” surveillance.)

Not only that, but the NSA promises to “delete the vast majority of its upstream internet data to further protect the privacy of U.S. person communications.”

My colleague Kate has a thorough write-up of how to consider this within the larger context of NSA reforms Congress needs to enact, and everyone should go read it. I’m not here to talk about the legal and technical landscape related to this announcement.

I just want to talk about how awesome this moment is.

Continue reading “What It Means for Our Movement That the NSA is Halting One of Its Worst Surveillance Practices”

6 Lessons I Learned in the First 6 Months of Nonprofit Management Consulting

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CC BY-ND 2.0 Deveion Acker

Last October, I offered up a bundle of my ideas, dreams, and experiences, granted it a name and a business bank account, and launched it onto the World Wide Web: Groundwork Consulting.  Groundwork was a way I could formalizing and publicize work I’d been doing for years on the side: working with friends and acquaintances in the nonprofit world to tackle management challenges and think through new opportunities.

Six months later, I realize I’ve been learning a ton about nonprofit management consulting without a lot of chance to reflect on it all. So, here’s a listicle of lessons to commemorate the journey so far:

  1. You can’t change other people. You can only support them in changing themselves. I think this is a lesson I will be blessed to learn again and again in my consulting work. As a management consultant, I can’t make someone change. When talking to a client who has slipped back into a bad pattern, I sometimes wish more than anything that I could just do the work for them. But that’s doesn’t actually help anyone. Only the client can ultimately do the work. My job is just to be a coach, a collaborator, a sounding board, a guide, and a cheerleader in their process. The process can be slow and stumbling at times, but it’s their journey and I need to be present to support it.
  2. My job is to see the best version of my clients. The more I do this work, the more convinced I become that my ultimate work is to believe in the best version of someone else, and reflect that vision back. No matter how down a client may feel on where they are in adopting changes, my job is to keep strong in the belief that they can and will reach their ultimate potential. The world is full of doubters and nay-sayers. But through my consulting work, I get to always believe in the best in others.
  3. Nonprofits are systems whose problems must be viewed holistically. Sometimes a client wants me to help address one small piece of the organization. But no sooner do we begin than all the connected problems and concerns start rearing up, demanding attention. Fixing any one problem requires stepping back and looking at the whole picture.
  4. Changes have to be made one tiny bite at a time. Success helps clients feel optimistic and engaged, and helps them believe in the process. But if they bite off too much, they’re destined to trip up. So my job is to make it easy by drilling down to a single, achievable thing that we can change right now, and then moving on to the next step only once the first change has been mastered.
  5. Relationship problems are the root of many organizational problems. Sometimes nonprofits come to me wanting solutions to what they see as huge organizational problems around structure and strategy. And while it can be useful to get aligned on structure and strategy (and I love hosting those conversations), many of the day-to-day issues boil down to relationship issues. These look like communication problems, unresolved jealousies, hurt feelings, and broken trust. Fixing the relationships makes all the other problems easier to address.
  6. I need to practice what I preach. Even as I have advocated for other people to believe in themselves, practice self-empathy, repair relationships, and adopt big changes by splitting them up into manageable bites, I see countless ways I fall short in these respects. As I look at the next six months, I’m recommitting to holding myself to the same ideals I hold my clients, including making sure that I’m not letting the work run my life. 

I’ve had a lot of other moments of insight along the way, but not all of those lessons fit neatly into a list like this. So I’ll leave it there for now. And if  you’re interested in my nonprofit consulting services or just want to brainstorm about management challenges you’ve been facing lately, drop me a note and let’s chat.

Note: this was originally published on Groundwork.

Standing on Top of a Cliff

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I love She Explores, a podcast about women in the outdoors. The host, Gale Straub, is sincere, grounded, and insightful, and she approaches the podcast with curiosity and compassion. Listening to the podcast makes me feel calm, like I walked around the lake near my house.

Recently, Straub tackled a particularly complex and sensitive topic: mental illness and the outdoors. She interviewed people who suffer from anxiety and depression, and many talked about how going out into wilderness helped them.

Straub interviewed Sonya Pevzner, who offered a description of what it’s like to have anxiety. I think it’s one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard. She said:

Anxiety feels like you’re standing on top of a cliff. And you’re about to go cliff jumping, and so you’re clipped into your harness. And you’re about to jump, and then at the last minute you remember that you might not have secured all of your harness properly and that you might fall to your death. You’re 99% certain that you secured the harness, but there’s that little seed of doubt. And then right before you’re about to jump, you’re like Oh my god I could die. That’s what anxiety feels like.

But you’re, you know, sitting on the couch thinking about something you have to do or wondering about something you have to do or even you’re going into work or you’re traveling. Anything that you’re doing, when you’re anxious about it, is just horribly exacerbated. And even though you know you did everything right—you locked the door, you turned the stove off, you nailed the interview—you know there’s nothing to actually worry about. If you objectively look at it, you know there’s little cause for anxiety, but your mind turns it into this life or death situation. And it’s so hard to be objective when you are in that space.

Listen to the entire podcast.

DogVacay Is Good for Dog Sitting, Lousy for Privacy

DogVacay is a website where people who love dogs can offer dog sitting services. I know because I love dogs but can’t have one right now because of travel and career commitments. So sometimes I host dogs for friends or through DogVacay. I love all the dogs who have visited me through the site, even the ones that were a tiny bit neurotic.

What don’t I love? DogVacay’s privacy practices.

Yesterday, I got an email from Nextdoor.com. It asked me to “verify my email address.”
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I didn’t remember visiting nextdoor.com, or signing up for an account. So I ignored the email.

Later that morning, I started getting emails from Nextdoor. They were updates from people in my neighborhood who were posting to Nextdoor.

It appeared that somehow—for reasons I couldn’t understand—somebody had set up an account for me on Nextdoor. So I visited Nextdoor and reset the password associated with my email address, then emailed Nextdoor to try to find out what was going on.

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Nextdoor replied a few hours later:

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Oh, betrayal. Could DogVacay—a site that had only brought me joy in the past—really have shared (sold??) its account data with Nextdoor without so much as notifying the users?

I popped over to DogVacay’s privacy policy. The answer was probably yes.

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Personally, I think it’s utterly unreasonable for DogVacay to take my account information and use it to sign me up for a different website without telling me. I think the folks at DogVacay should have realized that, if I’d wanted an account on Nextdoor, it was well within my abilities to go set one up.

I also think Nextdoor should have held DogVacay to a higher standard, and not accepted the new accounts unless 1. DogVacay had notified its users and 2. Users affirmatively consented to it. At the very least, Nextdoor shouldn’t have kept sending me email when I hadn’t signed up for an account or verified my email address.

DogVacay, do better. Your business exists because of dog sitters who entrust you with their data, and Rover.com is waiting in the wings.

UPDATE (January 20, 2016 at 2:15 PM)

I emailed my concerns to DogVacay, offered to talk to them, and sent them a copy of this blog post. I got two emails from them. The first at 10:45 AM with the subject line “Exclusive: Grow your business on Nextdoor for free.”

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Note that there’s no language like “We set up an account for you on another site.”

The second email came at 1:19 PM, from a customer service rep:

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Then there was a coupon code for $50.

 

 

Looking Back on 6 Years of Fighting for Chelsea Manning

Follow me on Twitter @RaineyReitman

President Obama announced that he would commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence today. Instead of spending another 28 brutal years in a military prison for men, she’ll walk free in just a few months.

Chelsea inspired me, and her actions forever changed my life. I remember watching the Apache helicopter video of American soldiers gunning down unarmed people in Iraq, including a Reuters journalist and two children. It fundamentally changed how I saw America’s overseas wars.

I believed strongly that this video belonged in the public. People who elect our government had a right to see what was being done in our name. They had a right to decide for themselves if they agreed with our foreign policies. The day it was published by Wikileaks, I sent it to pretty much everyone I knew.

In late May 2010, Manning was detained. Sometime around June 10th or 11th, word leaked out to the press that an Army analyst named “Bradley Manning” was being charged with leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. On June 11th, an anarchist in Bratislava named Mike Gogulski put up a blog post on BradleyManning.org—a domain he had just registered—linking to the Apache helicopter video. On June 13th, he put out a blog post asking for volunteers.

He said he needed writers:

“We need people writing on-topic, current material on an ongoing basis. Articles could be published here either under your name or pseudonymously, and material already published elsewhere is welcome.”

I decided to send an email.

At the time, just sending that first email seemed scary. Manning was being labeled a traitor, and I was living in the military-heavy town of San Diego and thinking I might one day apply for a job at the Federal Trade Commission. I thought getting involved with Manning’s campaign might land me on some government watch list, or hurt future career opportunities.

Instead, I was swept up, and the campaign we built together over the coming weeks, months, and years took over my life.

My friend Charles Langley, who was the first person I talked to about wanting to do something about Chelsea Manning, said at the time that he feared I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I replied that life was about biting off more than you can chew.

Today, looking back over the beauty, mess, and weirdness of the last six and a half years, I still believe it. Life is definitely about biting off more than you can chew.

It boggles the mind to think how far we came with the Chelsea Manning Support Network. In some ways, we were squaring off against the United States government itself, with its seemingly infinite resources. As the trial dragged on for years, we had to fundraise for every dollar to cover legal fees, buy supplies to send mailings, and pay a pittance to a small group of overworked, dedicated, wonderful organizers who used every scrap of bravery and creativity imaginable to advance the public’s knowledge of Chelsea Manning.

That campaign included billboards, flash mobs, banner drops, rallies, viral videos, and one full page ad in the New York Times. I remember working late in the night to help craft a letter to propose Chelsea Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize, stepping onto a soap box with a bullhorn for the first time in my life, waking up to calls from supporters in other time zones, and sitting in a court room furiously scribbling notes during Chelsea’s pretrial hearing and court martial. 

Even as I continued my work with the Chelsea Manning Support Network, I shifted more of my energy to the Freedom of the Press Foundation over the last few years, where I continued working to raise awareness about Chelsea. We brought the world Chelsea’s voice in court, leaked anonymously to us, and we also launched a crowd-funding campaign to send court reporters to document Chelsea’s entire court martial. Between the two organizations, we covered the overwhelming majority of Chelsea’s legal fees.

Working on the Chelsea Manning campaign, I learned to believe in the transformative power of hope. And also the importance of clear delegation, well-run conference calls, and getting good photos at public events. 

I also learned that heroes are fictional. No matter how awe-inspiring someone seems on paper, we’re all human. In many ways, I appreciated Chelsea even more as I got to know her over the last year, and discovered that she was funny, sensitive, gentle, and deeply intelligent—not someone to put on a pedestal, but someone to trust and talk to as a friend.

I wish that we had won Chelsea’s freedom in court. I wish that she’d received a sentence of time served at her court martial, and that she could have walked out of prison free years ago. As Trevor and I wrote earlier today, “Whistleblowers acting in the public interest should not be beholden to the president’s whims. Instead, fair laws should ensure strong protections for whistleblowers who shed light on human rights abuses, war crimes, corruption, and government deception.”

Even as Chelsea Manning prepares to leave prison, many others await justice. Among them is Edward Snowden, a young man who responsibly disclosed documents about intelligence abuses and has been in exile for years as a result. His campaign—which is far prettier and better organized than anything we ever made for the Chelsea Manning Support Network—is at PardonSnowden.org.

The last 6 years, I’ve been continually inspired by not just Chelsea, but the dedicated group of people working—often with no appreciation—in defense of Chelsea Manning. There are too many to name, but I have to acknowledge a few who have every right to celebrate today. Above all, Jeff Paterson, Project Director of Courage to Resist. I truly believe no one on earth handles a crisis better than Jeff, which is lucky since we had more than our fair share.  Also, David Coombs, Chelsea’s first attorney, who gave everything to her case for many years.

So many people spent years fighting to raise awareness about Chelsea’s case. These include (in no order whatsoever) Daniel Ellsberg, Mike Gogulski (OMG Mike did this really just happen really?), Emma Cape, Trevor Timm, Alexa O’Brien, Evan Greer, Chase Strangio, Nancy Hollander, the amazing individual who is too private for me to name publicly but knows how much I value them, Gerry Condon, David Solnit, Kevin Zeese, Michael Thurman, Charlotte Sheasby-Coleman, Logan Price, Jonathan Matthew Smucker, Owen Wiltshire, Nathan Fuller, Melissa Keith, Farah Muhsin, Gary Virginia, Leez, Martin MacKerel, and the rest of Get Up Street Theater, Bob Meola, and Michael Moore. I know I’m forgetting a ton of names, and I’m sorry, but it’s late and I’m still dizzy with gratitude. There were also stellar journalists covering this case, and while I can’t name them all, Glenn Greenwald, Kevin Gosztola, Denver Nicks, and Charlie Savage were especially dedicated to ensuring the public understood this case.

Many organizations other than the Chelsea Manning Support Network  and Freedom of the Press Foundation fought hard to ensure justice for Chelsea, including Courage to Resist, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, ACLU, EFF (my full time job), and Amnesty International. I know there are many others, these are just the few I worked with most closely.

Also, a huge shout-out to those who spoke out for Chelsea Manning in our celebrity video, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Roger Waters, Oliver Stone, Phil Donahue, Alice Walker, Tom Morello, Matt Taibbi, Peter Sarsgaard, Angela Davis, Moby, Molly Crabapple, Tim DeChristopher, LT Dan Choi, Bishop George Packard, Russell Brand, Allan Nairn, Chris Hedges, Wallace Shawn, Adhaf Soueif and Josh Stieber.

And finally, a special thanks to Michael Ratner, a tireless advocate for Chelsea Manning until his death. I know he would have been proud to be here today.

Follow me on Twitter.

2 interviews for Chelsea Manning campaign

As you may have read, we’re shutting down the Chelsea Manning Support Network. I’ve been processing a lot around this, and will likely write more about it. But for now, I’m just gathering up a few of the old campaign materials and copying them here for archival purposes.

Here are two interviews I did for Chelsea Manning advocacy that I particularly liked. The first, with Tech Crunch, was right before Chelsea changed her name. The second, with Swirl, was after.

Swirl Episode 6- Chelsea Manning, Rainey Reitman, Transgender Law Center from The Michelle Meow Show on Vimeo.

EFF’s full page ad in Wired

This week, you can buy a copy of Wired Magazine’s January edition and see the EFF ad in it. It’s a full page letter to the tech community, urging them to safeguard user data now in light of incoming President Donald Trump’s positions on surveillance and censorship.

This ad was a big lift for me and others at EFF—from figuring out where we would place it, negotiating with Conde Nast’s marketing team, and then working internally with EFF’s legal and graphics team to finalize the ad. I’m really proud of the final version.

Check out the full campaign page.

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Text of the ad:

To the Technology Community:
Your threat model just changed.

Incoming President Donald Trump made campaign promises that, if carried out, threaten the free web and the rights of millions of people. He has praised attempts to undermine digital security, supported mass surveillance, and threatened net neutrality. He promised to identify and deport millions of your friends and neighbors, track people based on their religious beliefs, and suppress freedom of the press.

And he wants to use your servers to do it.

Today, we are calling on the technology community to unite with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in securing our networks against this threat.

Encrypt: Use HTTPS and end-to-end encryption for every user transaction, communication, and activity by default.

Delete: Scrub your logs. You cannot be made to surrender data you do not have.

Reveal: If you get a government request to monitor users or censor speech, tell the world.

Resist: Fight for user rights in court, on Capitol Hill, and beyond.

When you stand with users, we’ll stand with you. EFF has fought for the rights of technology creators and users for 26 years, through four different presidential administrations. As a nonpartisan nonprofit, we combine litigation, activism, and software development to defend civil liberties in the digital world.

The future of our democracy depends on an Internet that is free from censorship and government surveillance. Together we can ensure that technology created to connect and uplift people worldwide is not conscripted into a tool of oppression. Join us in defending users.