Publishing my journals from the Colorado Trail

I just finished uploading the last of my trail journals from hiking the Colorado Trail. I included an explanation of why I was publishing a journal in spite of my ambivalence, some thoughts about backpacking as a woman, and an overview of my medical kit.

The daily journals are far more detailed than most people would need or even want to read, so it’s designed primarily for other thru hikers—especially first time thru hikers. The journals include a lot of the nitty-gritty details—yes, including the gross daily realities of backpacking for that long—but it’s the level of information I found valuable before my hike. It’s also a way for me to look back, whenever I want, to remember the trip.

There was a lot about the Colorado Trail that was hard. Many days were deeply physically challenging: nausea, blisters, pain, and often brutal cold. It was also mentally difficult—some moments of fear and self-doubt, and the stress it placed on my relationship.

It was also beautiful. Stark, epic, awe-inspiring, a bit transformative. I was more than a little heart-broken to leave, but I also remember what my partner told me on one of the last days we were hiking: that the trail will always be there, and we have our whole lives to walk it.

Check out the trail journals. 

 

 

Thinking about ledes

If your opening sucks, it doesn’t matter what else you say.

That was the theme for a writing workshop I hosted this week at EFF,  with some help from the ever-amazing Danny O’Brien.

We gathered a group of about 10 folks to discuss ledes on Friday afternoon. For the first 20-30 minutes, we talked about the philosophy of ledes and walked through several articles that demonstrated different approaches. I also created a handy worksheet (copied below in case anybody wants to steal it).

After walking through the basics, I passed out a few paragraphs from a complicated, very technical article and asked people to write the headline and first few sentences. Everybody had to write at least two ledes, then pair up and share them with a partner. Afterwards, we got back together as a group and shared a few.

This is the second time I’ve led a writing workshop specifically focused on ledes, and I personally thought it was a blast. I loved the fact that people actually brought pens, wrote something down, and shared it with the group. So often, writing workshops are about thinking, analyzing, and providing feedback, and that accesses the analytic parts of the brain without engaging the creative side. But there’s something a bit magical and even silly about taking pen to paper and creating something on the spot. And then getting to hear what people wrote—unpolished, a bit messy—is also really exciting for me. I am amazed at the ideas people come up with, and I also love the practice of working creatively and then sharing fearlessly in a welcoming environment.

While we didn’t have enough time for it Friday, I think creativity inspires creativity. One or two people who are willing to think outside the box and then share their writing can inspire others to want to do the same. So ideally, I’d like to do this workshop with enough time to do two rounds of free writing.

The main result of the workshop, I hope, is simply mindfulness. The next time someone from the group sits down to write a blog post, they’ll hopefully remember how vital those first few lines are and then give themselves permission to take a few risks.

My workshop handout:

Ledes are Awesome!

What is it?

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • First couple lines (see examples)

Imagine that you are a director. Your lede is the opening shot in the movie.

What’s the purpose?

  • Convince people to click on the article
    • Intriguing
    • Relatable
    • Alarming
    • Funny
    • Fascinating
    • A topic you care about a lot
  • Convince people to keep reading after the first sentence
  • (Sometimes) Convey all the important stuff in an article, so people get the main gist even if they stop reading
  • Sets the tone for the rest of the article

Why should I care?

In some ways, the lede matters more than any other section in your article. If you don’t get it right, it doesn’t matter what you say later because people won’t click on your article or will abandon it before they get far along.

Also, some people will only EVER see the lede (e.g. skimming Google News results)

Strategies for the process of writing ledes:

  • Write several different ledes (both title and intro text); don’t just go with your first idea.
  • Don’t phone it in.
  • Get creative in a few drafts (you don’t have to use a creative idea, but it helps to get you thinking outside the box to write a few!). Remember: nobody sees your shitty first drafts.
  • Remember: there is no one single “right” way to write a lede!

Some ideas to try:

  • Assertions that may seem unlikely.
  • Narrative moments
  • Powerful quotes
  • A summary of the article—but only if it is a truly amazing summary!
  • A particularly intriguing fact or figure
  • A relatable human

Some things you might want to try to avoid in your lede:

  • A bunch of acronyms
  • Specific names of cases, bills and laws
  • Trying to cram all the details into the first sentence
  • “Last week” and other dated time references
  • Too many facts and figures can be bad (though one really scary fact or figure can be great)
  • A bunch of links

Launching Groundwork

Originally published at Groundwork Consulting.

Hello. I’m proud to unveil my newest project today: Groundwork.

Groundwork is a consulting service I’m offering that’s focused on one of the greatest needs I see in the nonprofit world today: leadership and management training. To address this, I’m offering individual coaching for nonprofit leaders of all sorts, from executive directors to first time managers to individual contributors looking to manage projects better.

Groundwork is the next big step in something I’ve been doing on the side for years: meeting with friends and acquaintances in the nonprofit world, talking through challenges, and supporting them in creating positive changes. In building this consulting service, I’ve developed a series of specific exercises and tools to help nonprofit leaders. My services are a blend of guided exercises and coaching sessions, and they’re designed to empower individuals to be better leaders. I offer sliding scale fees to ensure those who need it most can afford coaching.

Launching Groundwork is motivated by an interest in doing my part to fix a bigger problem. I’ve seen too many examples of nonprofit leaders thrust into extremely challenging management situations with few resources, often juggling too many responsibilities and without anyone they can turn to for useful support. Others have strong organizations, but they’re struggling to grow and improve their impact. While there are plenty of books on organizational management and some great executive coaches out there, almost everything is designed for the for-profit world. Often, these tools don’t translate well to nonprofit challenges, where resources are far thinner, the mandate for impact outweighs the mandate for expansion, and organizational culture is often steeped in a shared value system and ideology.

I’ve seen nonprofits stumble and even fail as a direct result of senior leadership feeling burned-out, spread thin, conflicted, and exhausted. I’ve seen other nonprofits struggle during leadership transitions, with experienced staff members quitting in a mass exodus and the board of directors turning against the ED. I’ve listened to countless managers and directors at nonprofits tell me that they hate their jobs, even though they love the work. I’ve seen employee problems derail organizational effectiveness, and I’ve seen unresolved distrust in the workplace blossom into a toxic environment that then drives off key employees. I’ve seen new managers struggling to earn the trust of a team, address major productivity issues, and establish a new team culture—often with the best of intentions but stumbling execution.`

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s possible—and sometimes it’s even fun—to establish a functional, collaborative, solution-focused organizational culture, and it starts at the top. I’m interested in helping nonprofits become more efficient, impactful, and creative by supporting those who have to make tough decisions, set policies, and steer the ship. I help nonprofits leaders enjoy their jobs and become more effective without sacrificing happiness, health, relationships, and personal productivity in the process.

Great management can save a nonprofit so much time, money, and energy. Retaining the best employees, attracting star performers, identifying and addressing breakdowns in the organization swiftly, fostering a culture of good communication and collaboration—all of these things result from thoughtful leadership practices.

But most nonprofits don’t invest in leadership or management training of any sort. I’ve asked about this, and often heard some version of “It’s too expensive, we don’t budget for that” or “Honestly, I don’t think anything can help us.” Or perhaps saddest of all: “We’d like to, but we couldn’t find any help that really understood our culture and mission. We don’t want some outside consultant coming in and telling us how to do things.”

I understand those concerns. Traditional coaching can be expensive, entrenched problems can seem insurmountable, and for-profit executive coaching services often aren’t in sync with the needs of many nonprofits.

I’m dying to see these problems addressed so that the NGOs I love and support can thrive. That’s why I launched Groundwork: to show that there are ways to foster highly productive, satisfied, value-driven organizations that are nimble enough to face unexpected challenges and have the tools they need to survive leadership changes well.

I think nonprofits can have all of that without having to allocate a huge budget toward leadership development.

If you want to learn more, please contact me. Please also drop me a note if you know somebody who might be a good fit for these services, and please help spread the word by telling friends and acquaintances about Groundwork.

Visit Groundwork Consulting.

Note: This work is a passion of mine. But it’s not my only passion.  To ensure I have time for my other commitments and for a personal life, I’m strictly limiting how many coaching clients I see at a time.

Cashless society

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to be participating in a discussion about a “less cash” society on WBUR Boston’s NRP News Station. It should air at 8 AM Pacific time, noon Eastern. You can call in and ask questions if you’d like! http://www.wbur.org/

The other guest is a Harvard economist who wrote a book proposing society phase out all large bills (over $10) and eventually replace small bills with heavier instruments, like coins. He believes that this will cut down on crime, like international gun and drug trafficking.

I think his proposal is extremely dangerous, especially since digital currencies like Bitcoin don’t yet have anonymity baked in (still looking hopefully at ZCash…). So here are some of the points I’m planning on bringing up:

  • Debit cards and credit cards create a detailed history of our lives, and have far more privacy consequences than cash. The banks generate and hang onto a record of every time you use a payment card, and the cozy relationships between banks and the government mean this data is a honeypot for government agents.
  • It’s not just your purchases that can be exposed by a record of financial transactions. These transactions are time and date stamped, and connected to specific locations. In short, our purchase records create a map of where we are and where we’ve been. It can create a pattern of our typical daily habits, and also demonstrate whenever we deviate from those habits. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with everyone wearing a GPS-enabled bracelet that logged location a few times a day, you shouldn’t be comfortable with everyone being forced to use credit cards.
  • When the banks collect this information on everyone, they can not only piece together a map of your life, they can figure out who was near you, and when.
  • Cash is a fundamental necessity for the unbanked, which include many individuals who are unable to provide the documents that banks require to set up an account such as a government issued ID. Remember, banks claim that under the Patriot Act they cannot provide an account to someone without a physical address. For those who are either sensitive about their address (such as the victim of stalking) or do not have a physical address (such as someone who does not have a home) this means no bank account.
  • Slowly eliminating cash won’t just mean that consumers overwhelmingly use payment cards; merchants will eventually stop accepting cash at all, thinking of it as a small and unnecessary portion of their business. And that’s bad not only because merchants and consumers have to foot the bill for payment card fees but because the small amounts of cash remaining (those hefty <$10 coins) will become obsolete if merchants won’t accept them.
  • Cash is a vital safeguard during emergencies, such as power outages caused by earthquakes or hurricanes.
  • Cash can be a lifeline for domestic violence victims preparing to exit from a dangerous situation. When an abuser has access to one’s digital accounts, available cash can be a lifeline to someone trying to get away and start a new life.
  • We have ample examples of banks abusing the trust of consumers for their own gain. The most recent example is Wells Fargo, where more than 5,000 employees opened over 1,000,000 fake accounts in the names of unwitting consumers. But there are countless examples of banks imposing predatory or unnecessary fees which surprise consumers. For someone living paycheck to paycheck, a $50 fee can be a disaster that means trading off on basic necessities like food or medicine.
  • It’s not just the government that may be interested in bank accounts. Bank accounts can be sought during divorce hearings, child custody battle, and other civil suits — not just to establish how much money someone has but to track where they have been at different moments in time.
  • There are a range of political and social causes that individuals may choose to support, but which they would not want connected to them via a paper trail. The obvious example is the gay rights campaign. When I was in high school in Virginia, I interned at a gay rights organization. This was back in the 90s, when you could lose your job as a teacher in Virginia for being gay. And at the time, many people preferred to make donations in cash. There will always be unpopular social and political causes whose supporters may want the anonymity of cash.
  • Financial institutions have been known to shut down and freeze accounts of individuals who have not been accused of any crime. The obvious example is WikiLeaks, which suffered a huge financial blockade without ever being charged in the United States. But since then, I’ve heard a number of stories of law-abiding websites and individuals who suffered from account freezes and shut downs, including online booksellers, literary archives, and even the Chelsea Manning Support Network (Note: I’m a cofounder of that organization).

In conclusion: those with the fewest resources –especially the unbanked, the poor, the homeless–can suffer dire consequences at the hands of banking institutions, and won’t have a financial cushion to protect themselves. There are many reasons we need financial privacy, for example to protect ourselves from government intrusion and to support unpopular movements. Finally, the banks have a bad track record. From shutting down the accounts of law-abiding citizens to creating fake accounts to countless other questionable practices, there are lots of reasons people may not want to entrust their hard-earned money to the bureaucratic behemoths of JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

But I’m sure there are a lot of other points I’m missing. What else? What other issues should I bring up tomorrow? Let me know your thoughts. The show is a full hour so I’ve got lots of time.

UPDATE: I got tons of feedback on Facebook and Twitter that I incorporated into my talking points. Thanks all!

The Kafkaesque battle of Soulseek and PayPal

A version of this article was originally published on EFF Deeplinks.

Does your business follow copyright law to the best of its ability? Not good enough. At least that was the case for one long-standing peer-to-peer network, which had its payment processing shut down after more than 14 years of being a loyal PayPal customer.

Soulseek, a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, faced a Kafkaesque battle with PayPal. When its donors were cut off from making payments to Soulseek, the network struggled to figure out what it had done wrong—or even get a response from PayPal to its questions. Thankfully, Soulseek reached out to EFF. We got in touch with Paypal and helped convince them to reinstate the network.

PayPal did the right thing by restoring Soulseek’s account, and we commend them for that. But we’re also concerned: it’s not scalable for EFF to intervene whenever a law-abiding website is shut off from a payment provider (as we have done with an online bookseller and a short story archive). In addition, we think of Soulseek’s situation as indicative of a larger trend of Web censorship, as websites that haven’t violated any laws are choked of funds—a situation that was disastrous for WikiLeaks and is currently tightening a noose around the electronic neck ofBackpage.com.

Soulseek describes itself as “an ad-free, spyware free, just plain free file sharing network for Windows, Mac and Linux.” The passion project of a husband and wife team, Soulseek itself doesn’t host files for users. Instead, users can join the network, connect with one another, and share files directly.

The platform is donation-driven. Without ads or fees, the service relies on the good will of the community to contribute back to keeping Soulseek going. While hardly profitable, this has been enough to keep the servers running and the software updated for many years.

And that was all fine, until the summer of 2015.

Not Granting Pre-approval at This Time

Instead, Roz Arbel, who runs the site with her husband Nir, heard from users who were unable to send in donations using MasterCard. I spoke with Roz in November and she briefed me on what happened. Roz called PayPal, and spoke to a general support agent. Through that agent, Roz learned that PayPal had sent Soulseek a questionnaire because, as Roz reported hearing from the PayPal representative, MasterCard was coming down on PayPal regarding filesharing networks.

Roz hadn’t seen any questionnaire from PayPal, so they sent a new one over. Roz was assured that service would be reinstated within 48 hours after the questionnaire was completed and returned.

Roz and Nir answered the questions promptly (see below for a list of the questions) and sent the questionnaire back. Most of the questions related to copyright infringement and whether the site was taking the necessary precautions to stay on the right side of the law. Soulseek has existed for as long as it has in large part because it has complied with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor provisions. For example, Soulseek has a DMCA agent and a policy of blocking user accounts that get repeated copyright infringement notifications.

A week went by with no word from PayPal. It was now October, and Soulseek had been limping along without donations from MasterCard users. Roz again contacted PayPal. This time she heard from a representative of the company that the questionnaire had been received, but nobody inside PayPal had looked at it. Roz was assured that it would be escalated and dealt with immediately.

Within an hour, Soulseek received an email from PayPal stating that the account was being permanently limited. Funds could be withdrawn, but Soulseek would not be able to receive donations through PayPal. No reasons were provided for this decision. There wasn’t even a phone number.

As Roz and Nir Arbel explained in a blog post,

We have asked repeatedly for an explanation of this behavior, but we have been stonewalled at every turn, and have received only form emails telling us that we needed to be “pre-approved” for an account. When we asked what we need to do to be pre-approved, they emailed back and said that they are “not granting pre-approval at this time.”

After this, Roz reached out to EFF. We were able to connect with PayPal and discuss our concerns about the situation. We were happy that PayPal was willing to reverse its decision.

A Little Bit of SOPA

Payment networks blacklisting those accused of copyright infringement without due process is not a new idea. In fact, we saw something remarkably similar in SOPA, the notorious Internet blacklist bill introduced in 2011:

[A] payment network provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after delivery of a notification under paragraph (4), that are designed to prevent, prohibit, or suspend its service from completing payment transactions involving customers located within the United States and the Internet site, or portion thereof, that is specified in the notification under paragraph (4). (text)

One of the most troublesome aspects of SOPA was that it did not require a neutral magistrate to consider the merits of a case and then rule on whether a site was actually engaged in copyright infringement. Instead, SOPA empowered payment providers to start shutting down websites as soon as they received written notification from a copyright holder.

This was a bogus idea in 2011, and was defeated in the single most powerful Internet protest to date. So Congress knows that the Internet community won’t stomach this type of censorship, and hasn’t dared to move a similar bill since.

Instead we’re seeing this sort of thing: quiet pressure from content holders aimed at putting pieces of SOPA into place without actually passing a bill.

These kinds of actions come with real costs. As Roz said in a phone interview, “It’s drastically reduced the number of donations we receive. It’s free for our users but it’s not free for us…we’re not doing anything wrong. We’re totally above board, and we’ve always tried to be.”

Free Speech On the Line

While the First Amendment imposes strict limitations on how the government can squelch online speech, corporations have more leeway. The argument, of course, is that consumers have choices about the companies they patronize, and companies also have certain First Amendment rights to choose what sorts of customers they want to allow.

When it comes to payment providers, that’s not exactly true.

Payment platforms are currently extremely centralized, creating what in practice is a duopoly. MasterCard and Visa are behemoth payment service providers, able to dictate through their internal policies what types of speech will and won’t be acceptable online. Other payment providers, including smaller entities like PayPal, Stripe, and many of the Bitcoin payment service providers, are bound by their agreements to Visa and MasterCard.

Until another payment alternative gains widespread popularity in processing online payments, websites are beholden to the terms set up by MasterCard and Visa. So the idea of consumer choice is entirely false.

Threats to free expression online can come in many forms, but shutting down or limiting a law-abiding website is censorship. While the situation with Soulseek turned out well in the end, we’re concerned about the many websites we haven’t heard from that may be facing similar problems. It’s time for the payment providers to start erring on the side of supporting legal speech and let courts—not arbitrary corporate policies—decide what content should be censored.

 

Questionnaire from PayPal (provided by Roz Arbel)

  1. Business Overview. Please provide a general overview of your business, identifying all related website URLs or apps, describing the services you offer and how revenue is earned, and indicating how you use or would like to use PayPal’s services. (The terms “you” and “your” refer to your business in the remainder of this questionnaire.)
  2. Typical Usage. Please describe the kinds of files that are most often stored or transferred using your services (indicating, for example, typical file types, sizes, content and/or other relevant attributes) and, to the extent of your knowledge, the typical purposes that your customers have for using your services.
  3. Incentives for Uploaders. Do you offer rewards, cash payments or other incentives to some or all users who upload files? If so, please describe your related practices, including the criteria used to determine the nature and amount of incentives that users are entitled to receive.
  4. Membership Tiers and Benefits. Please describe any membership tiers, subscription plans or service levels that you offer (e.g., “free,” “premium,” etc.), indicating for each any payments required and the main benefits users receive. Are paying users entitled to enhanced benefits related to downloading or otherwise accessing files uploaded by other users, such as faster access speeds, higher allowances for total amount of data accessed, or the reduction/elimination of wait times, captchas or advertising? If so, please describe the related terms.
  5. Forum Codes. Do you offer “forum codes,” “URL codes,” “HTML codes” or other features that facilitate the incorporation of links to uploaded files on third-party websites? If so, please describe such features.
  6. Link Checker. Do you offer users a link checker or other functionality that helps users determine whether links to uploaded files have been disabled. If so, please describe such functionality.
  7. File Deletion. Please describe any practices you employ related to the expiration, purging or other automated deletion of uploaded files. Is the timing of a file’s deletion influenced by the frequency with which it is downloaded or otherwise accessed? If so, please explain.
  8. Information Collection. Do you collect information about the uploaders of files? If so, please describe your related practices, including whether you collect any of the following: name, postal address, email address and IP address.
  9. Repeat Infringement. Please describe any practices you employ to prevent users of your system from uploading copyright infringing files on multiple occasions. Please include information about any technological methods you use to identify repeat infringers, such as methods involving the IP addresses of computers used to upload files. If a policy or other information related to repeat infringement is available on your website, please provide a link.
  10. Copyright Infringement Reports. Please describe your practices related to soliciting, receiving and responding to reports from third parties about copyright-infringing files accessible through your service. If a policy, reporting instructions or other information related to such practices (e.g., a DMCA policy) is available on your website, please provide a link.
  11. Illegal File Reports. Please describe your practices related to soliciting, receiving and responding to reports from third parties about illegal files accessible through your service (other than reports of copyright infringement covered by Item 10 above). If a policy, reporting instructions or other information related to such practices is available on your website, please provide a link.
  12. Monitoring. Do you employ any practices involving the monitoring of uploaded files to identify and remove copyright infringing files or other illegal files? If so, please describe those practices, including any manual review or automated scanning of files performed by your staff or by any third-party firms. Please indicate the names and website URLs of any such third-party firms.
  13. Law Enforcement Cooperation. Please describe your practices with respect to responding to requests or orders from law enforcement, courts or other government bodies, such as information requests, discovery orders, search warrants and subpoenas.
  14. Child Exploitation. Please describe any actions you take if you become aware that a file uploaded to your system involves child exploitation or any sexually-oriented depiction of a minor.
  15. Other Controls. If you employ any processes or controls not otherwise covered in your responses to this questionnaire that are aimed at preventing or otherwise addressing any actual or potential use of your system for the storage or transfer of illegal files or for other illegal activities, please describe them.
  16. Point of Contact. Please identify and provide contact information (including phone number and email address) for a person who will serve as PayPal’s point of contact with respect to our review of your business and any future inquiries or concerns we may have.

How we crowd-sourced transcripts of the entire Manning court martial

Originally published on the Freedom of the Press Foundation site.

On May 9, 2013, we made a bold claim on this website. We promised to crowd-fund enough money to hire independent court reporters to provide transcripts of the entire Manning court martial.

We knew that it was vital that the public have a virtual seat in Chelsea Manning’s trial1.  A public record of the court proceedings could fuel better, more accurate, and more frequent news coverage of the trial and could hold the government to account for its actions during the court martial. The government had forbidden tape recorders or cameras from entering the courtroom, so the only way to get an accurate accounting of the proceedings was sending in someone to take notes by hand.

Paying professional court reporters to transcribe the proceedings seemed like the perfect solution – if it was possible.

We knew it would be hard, but had no idea how hard. At every turn, we faced new obstacles to getting transcripts of the trial. So, finally, here’s the story of what we faced – and all the people who helped us surmount those obstacles.

Where do you even find a court reporter?

The very first problem we faced was finding a court reporter that would work with us. We knew we needed a reputable court reporter/stenographer that could do real-time transcripts and would be familiar with military jargon. But many court reporters rely on military court systems for their livelihood and didn’t want to jeopardize those relationships. In addition, we were asking for an incredibly quick turnaround time in conditions that didn’t allow the court reporters a recorded backup, or the ability to ask for any court participants to slow down or repeat their statements, like most court reporters can. Given the long court hours, this puts a toll on any court reporter, no matter how good.

Tony Rolland

Tony Rolland, who connected us with Gore Brothers

We were incredibly thankful when court reporter Tony Rolland (pictured right) approached us and recommended Gore Brothers. They are a professional court reporting firm that serves the larger DC/Baltimore metropolitan area. While other court reporters turned down our business, Gore Brothers understood how important it was to have accurate, timely records available to the public for one of the most important trials in our lifetime. Even though it was a politically contentious issue, Gore Brothers took us on and agreed to send in court reporters.

Working with Gore, we realized that one court reporter wasn’t going to be nearly enough. Instead, Gore brought together a team of 6 court reporters so that there would be continual coverage throughout the many weeks of the trial.

We know that journalists need transcripts quickly in order to write stories about the trial, and so we prioritized speed in getting these transcripts made. That meant two court reporters every day: one covering the morning and one covering the afternoon. By having court reporters only covering half days, we could ensure that we got transcripts edited and live on the website faster – morning sessions would go live at 7 PM in the evening, afternoon sessions would be published early the following morning.

Wait, it costs how much?

The second barrier was funding. We knew that professional court reporters were expensive, but we underestimated how expensive. We originally believed we needed to raise $40,000-$50,000 to cover the entire trial.  But it quickly became apparent that we needed to raise twice that much.

What made this possible? Amazingly, it was individual donors. Over one thousand six hundred people chipped in $10, $20, and $50 because they believed that the Manning trial should be public for the whole world. The average donation was under $100.

We made the platform, but ultimately it was the generosity and faith of individuals making small contributions that made the transcripts possible.

Taking on the U.S. government

Money and a team of top-notch court reporters weren’t the only thing we needed to cover the Manning court martial. We also had to get into the courtroom, and the government made it very difficult for us and many other media organizations to access the trial.

We knew there were strict regulations preventing any electronic equipment in the courtroom, but the media center allowed journalists to bring in laptops as long as they didn’t record or connect to the Internet during the proceedings.

We knew we were far more likely to be allowed to bring stenography equipment into the media center than into the courtroom, so we teamed up with the Verge, the Guardian, and Forbes. Each organization requested a press pass for their reporter and a second press pass for a court reporter to accompany their reporter.

Unfortuantely, each was issued only one press pass, meaning there wasn’t an extra space for our court reporter.

And we weren’t the only ones shut out. Of the 350 media applications the government received, only 70 were granted.

We weren’t ready to give up. With the help of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, we organized a coalition of twenty major media organizations – including the Los Angeles Times, NPR, Fox News, and the New Yorker – and sent a letter to the Army requesting two additional press passes.

We also tried to find someone to lend us a press pass.  We reached out to individual media organizations and also tweeted in hopes that someone would lend us one, with no luck.

I flew out to Fort Meade the weekend before the court martial was scheduled to begin and began approaching journalists who had been granted press passes. Unsurprisingly, almost all of them refused to lend Freedom of the Press Foundation a pass.  Many wanted to help, but they didn’t want to give up their press passes for the first day of a historic trial.

Finally, the night before the trial began, we managed to get one press pass for the first day. Nathan Fuller, a blogger for the Private Manning Support Network2, temporarily loaned us his pass. We are deeply indebted to Nathan for giving up his seat in the media center that day. It’s the only reason we managed to get a transcript of the first day.

After the first few days, the crowd in the media center thinned. We were able to use donated press passes from ARD German Radio, the Verge and Forbes.

During the trial

When court reporters work, they use a computerized stenotype machine to make a quick transcript. They sit close to the judge so that they can hear everything, and have the ability to interrupt proceedings or ask for clarifications in order to get an accurate transcription.  Above all, court reporters make a recording of everything, and double-check their transcripts against the audio recording.

Our court reporters were denied all of these things. They were in a room with the rest of the media, watching a live video feed of the court proceedings. The audio was muffled and difficult to understand at times, and there was no way to interrupt proceedings when things were hard to understand.

Worst of all, they were forbidden recording devices – so there was no way to double-check the accuracy of their notes. Instead, our court reporters simply had to transcribe as quickly as possible, often without breaks for long stretches of time, and try to get every word down accurately.

We also had trouble switching out court reporters midday. The strict rules meant that everyone who wanted in the media center had to be on base by 8 AM. This meant that both of our court reporters had to be on base at 8 AM, even though one didn’t start working until after lunch.  It was not until the defense brought this issue to the judge was our court reporter allowed to show up half way through the day.

Alexa O'Brien

Alexa O’Brien outside the media center at Ft. Meade. Photo by Xeni Jardin.

On more than one occasion, we ran into technical difficulties. Once we even lost a large section of the transcription.  Journalist Alexa O’Brien (pictured left) –whose own meticulous hand-typed transcripts of the trial have been an invaluable service to the public–generously offered to lend us her transcript from that day, for which we are deeply grateful. Her attention to detail is one of the many reasons we awarded Alexa a grant before the trial began.

After the trial

In all, we raised over $100,000 – all from individual contributions.

After fees taken out by credit card processors and our fiscal sponsor, that was about $5,000 more than the total needed to pay for the court reporters.

When we originally announced this campaign, we promised to donate any extra funds to the Manning Support Network. The Support Network has decided to apply half of that money to Chelsea Manning’s legal fees during her appeal and has generously offered to donate the other half back to the Freedom of the Press Foundation so we can continue our work.

You’ve probably noticed that there were a lot of people who went out on a limb to help us – folks like Tony Rolland, Gore Brothers, Nathan Fuller, Alexa O’Brien, Forbes, the Verge, the Guardian, ARD German Radio, the twenty media organizations that signed onto a coalition letter in support of our endeavor, and the hundreds upon hundreds of people who donated to ensure we could cover the costs of the court reporters. It is their generosity and their courage that was responsible for the Manning transcripts being freely available to the public today.

  • 1.Shortly after the trial concluded, Chelsea Manning publicly acknowledge that she identifies as a woman and prefers the name “Chelsea” to “Bradley.” We respect this decision and will use it going forward when possible. However, in the transcripts her name is still written as “Bradley” for historical accuracy.
  • 2.Disclosure: I am a steering committee member of the Private Manning Support Network, and also a proud co-founder.

The cost of censorship in libraries

A version of this was originally published on EFF Deeplinks.

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the enforcement of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which brought new levels of Internet censorship to libraries across the country. CIPA was signed into law in 2000 and found constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. The law is supposed to encourage public libraries and schools to filter child pornography and obscene or “harmful to minors” images from the library’s Internet connection in exchange for continued federal funding. Unfortunately, as Deborah Caldwell-Stone explains in Filtering and the First Amendment, aggressive interpretations of this law have resulted in extensive and unnecessary censorship in libraries, often because libraries go beyond the legal requirements of CIPA when implementing content filters. As a result, students and library patrons across the country are routinely and unnecessarily blocked from accessing constitutionally protected websites.

First, libraries don’t actually have to comply with CIPA, which only applies to libraries that accept e-rate discounts or Library Services and Technology Act grants for Internet access; libraries that turn down this funding need not comply with the law. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in San Jose has successfully fought initiatives to install Internet filters, even at the cost of certain federal funds.

For institutions it does cover, CIPA has three requirements: that schools and public libraries adopt a written policy that includes an Internet filter, that they hold a public meeting before the policy is enacted, and that the Internet filtering is enforced when the computers are used. As Caldwell-Stone explains, the Internet policy must include a few things, specifically:

Schools and libraries subject to CIPA must certify that the institution has adopted an internet safety policy that includes use of a “technology protection measure”—filtering or blocking software—to keep adults from accessing images online that are obscene or child pornography. The filtering software must also block minors’ access to images that are “harmful to minors,” that is, sexually explicit images that adults have a legal right to access but lacking any serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

According to CIPA, libraries must place filters on all the computers owned by the library, though the filter can be turned off upon request. Schools that are covered by CIPA have some additional requirements (see text of CIPA).

What should not be censored under CIPA? Even a casual reading of the law makes it clear that only images, not text or entire websites, are legally required to be blocked. Libraries are not required to filter content simply because it is sexual in nature (sexual content isn’t necessarily obscene; it may have serious literary, educational, or artistic value, for example). Libraries aren’t required to block social networking sites, political sites, sites advocating for LGBTQ issues, or sites that explore controversial issues like genocide or gun laws or WikiLeaks.

But unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening on the ground. Libraries across the country are routinely overblocking content, censoring far more than is necessary under the law. This means library patrons are cut off from whole swaths of the World Wide Web, hampering their access to knowledge.

Problems with CIPA

After 10 years of CIPA, we now know that the law is widely misunderstood and used as an excuse for censorship. Here are a few of the main problems:

Library filters block constitutionally protected content. Library filters often block many sites that aren’t pornographic or obscene in nature. This may happen because the filters aren’t very accurate at detecting certain types of content or it may happen because the libraries set the filters to block content that should be accessible (filters typically have a range of options that can be manually adjusted during setup). As a result, filters have been known to block LGBTQ-themed sites, websites for art museums, information on teen smoking, Second Amendment advocacy sites, and sites about role playing games.

Filters don’t actually effectively block obscene content. CIPA’s objective is to prevent certain harmful and obscene material from being accessed from libraries and schools. But filters aren’t perfect. In addition to blocking legitimate content, filters can fail to block certain content that is obscene. Testing and analysis (PDF) of several available filtering technologies conducted by the San Jose public library in 2008 found that filters don’t work:

In all four filters tested, image filtering had a low rate of accuracy. Many images of an adult sexual nature were displayed on web pages accessed by the testers, and additionally the image search results pages and most of those images’ full-size versions and/or parent sites could be accessed as well. Because of the ability of image search engines (like Google Images and Yahoo Image Search) to display thumbnails which often aren’t treated as “real” images by the filtering programs, image filtering is a problem for the filtering software’s AI. Images of an adult sexual nature from image search engines, pages with images of an adult sexual nature but “fake” innocent text, or images of an adult sexual nature posted to social sites like Craigslist were consistently displayed in all four filter tests.

The deficiency of filters was emphasized by the very public failure of Homesafe, a network-level filter that was offered by one of Britain’s largest Internet providers. The filter was designed to block adult content on the network level, but in late 2011 it was revealed that the filter failed to block Pornhub, which offers thousands of free explicit videos and is ranked as the third largest pornography provider on the web.

Kids are under-prepared for the open web. One of the harmful side effects of CIPA is that many kids who rely on schools and libraries for Internet access are prevented from experiencing the unfiltered web.  While in the short -term this supposedly protects children from accessing harmful content, it also robs kids of the chance to learn skills necessary to navigate the web as a whole. When websites such as social networking sites, political advocacy sites, and LGBTQ-themed sites are censored from the Internet experience of young adults, we are failing to empower our children with the skills they need to use good judgment, common sense, and basic precautions when browsing the web. Rather than employing overly stringent filters to censor the Web, libraries and schools should educate students to protect themselves online.

We don’t know exactly what’s being blocked. Among the many problematic issues with Internet filters in libraries is the lack of transparency around what’s filtered. There’s no solid documentation of which libraries are filtering what specific websites. Part of this stems from libraries not being transparent about their decision to voluntarily block more content than required by law. Additionally, most filtering technology companies closely guard their algorithms for blocking sites, claiming trade secrecy. Because we don’t have a comprehensive list of what’s getting blocked, it’s difficult to judge whether some filters are more speech-friendly than others or whether some libraries have set their filters to censor more content than they should.

Content blocking goes against the ethical obligations of librarians. Librarians play an important role is preserving free speech online — a role we recognized with our 2000 Pioneer Award honoring librarians everywhere. The American Library Association has codified the ethical obligations involved in its code of ethics: “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”

What can be done: fighting back against censorship in libraries

If you are concerned about the harmful ramifications of Internet censorship in libraries, you can help fight back:

Speak to your library. Find out if your library has a policy regarding censorship and ask to see it. Voice your concerns about the harmful ramifications of filters in libraries, and explain that filters are never 100% accurate.

Attend the public event. Every library that is seeking to institute a new censorship policy under CIPA is required to have an open meeting to solicit public feedback. Attend the meeting and let the library know that you think your community will benefit from an uncensored Internet.

Ask to have the filter removed. As a library patron, you may find online content blocked that obviously should not be – such as anatomy sites necessary for research.  If this happens to you, don’t ignore it and try to find an alternate source. Tell the librarians on staff what happened and ask to have the filter removed so you can access the legitimate content. Every time you speak out for your rights to access content, you’re making the librarian aware that the filters are blocking too much.  This not only helps prompt libraries to revisit filtering policies, it helps ensure libraries are familiar with the process of removing filters upon request.

Celebrate 404 Day with EFF. Next April 4, EFF will join several partners around the country to raise awareness of library Internet censorship. Mark your calendar now and stay turned for more information. Want to host an anti-censorship event in your school or community on that day? Email parker@eff.org and we can help.

Ethiopian blogger will face 18 years in prison

This was originally published on EFF Deeplinks.

Ethiopian Constitution

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice.”

Yesterday, the Ethiopian Supreme Court upheld the conviction and extreme sentence of award-winning online journalist Eskinder Nega, who now faces 18 years in prison.  Nega was arrested in September 2011 and charged with “terrorism” under a vague law in Ethiopia that has been used to target online journalists and political dissenters. His trial and appeal faced repeated delays, while international human rights and free expression groups continued to criticize his imprisonment and punishment. EFF, PEN America, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and others campaigned for his release, and a United Nations panel found his conviction to be in violation of international law.

Ethiopian Constitution

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice.”

Mohamed Keita of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling “The persecution of Eskinder and other journalists is the hallmark of a regime fearful of the opinions of its citizens.”

Eskinder Nega came to the United States for college, studying at American University before returning to Ethiopia to become a journalist. He founded four newspapers—all of which were shut down by the Ethiopian government—and has been jailed repeatedly for his outspoken articles.  His journalism license revoked, Nega moved to the digital world, becoming a blogger and using online platforms to discuss the political situation on the ground in Ethiopia. While many journalists in Ethiopia have been silenced or fled the country to protect their lives and the lives of their family members, Eskinder Nega refused to leave or stop writing. His courage and dedication as a journalist have made him an international symbol of press freedom and the power of the Internet to maintain free speech in repressive conditions.

Eskinder Nega wrote passionately about the opportunity for Ethiopia to embrace human rights and free expression.  In one blog post, he wrote:

Tyranny is in retreat everywhere. It has lost one of its two last great bastions, the Arab world. The momentum is now on the side freedom. Freedom is partial to no race. Freedom has no religion. Freedom favors no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries. Inevitably, freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia.

Eskinder Nega’s writings have provided a window into the realities of life on the ground in Ethiopia and served as inspiration for people in Ethiopia and around the world. His continued imprisonment denies the world of a unique and powerful journalistic voice from an area of the world that is hungry for accurate, fair, and multifaceted reporting.

It is time for Washington to speak up. The U.S. government has cultivated tight political ties with Ethiopia, and continues to nurture that intimate relationship, even as Ethiopia shuts down Internet freedom and intimidates its own online citizens. It can and should use its political influence with Ethiopia to champion the cause of bloggers wrongfully imprisoned. Nega’s case is emblematic of a larger problem: Ethiopia’s ongoing pattern of prosecuting journalists and political dissenters, imprisoning those who challenge the status quo, and using threats and technology to restrict its citizens’ liberty and free expression in the process. The United States’ ongoing silence in the face of such human rights abuses by a close ally is damning and shameful.

On losing Aaron Swartz

Like many of you, I’ve been reeling for the last two days over Aaron’s death.  I learned about it at 4 in the morning on Saturday, when I checked my messages during a restless night.  And then throughout the day, seeing the way friends and family processed his death, in long emails and beautiful memorial posts.

The thing about suicide is that it seems tragic but it also seems preventable.  I toy with it again and again in my head, unable to let it rest, unable to turn away from it, wondering: what could we have done differently? What could I have done differently?

I will always regret not doing more for Aaron when he was here. More to show him how deeply he affected my life and the lives of dozens if not hundreds of digital rights activists, the way he made the Internet a better place for millions of people. I will always deeply regret not rushing to his aid in whatever way possible when he was under a legal attack that could have sent him to prison for decades. And I regret that I never told him how inspired and impressed I was by his work to bring the public access to knowledge, how vital he was to the movement and to our successes. That I thought he was brave, a trait that so many other smart and ethical people lack.

We get so busy working, fighting one unending and difficult battle after another, that we forget to turn and thank the people bringing up the left flank. And now Aaron’s gone and it’s like a light has gone out, a force of energy and creativity and brilliance.

We should have had another fifty years of Aaron Swartz. We should have had another fifty years of his creativity and his commitment to justice, another fifty years of being inspired and impressed and delighted by everything he did.

There’s another piece of this – the piece where I roll up my sleeves and figure out what productive thing I can take away from this, where I commit myself to doing more good in the world to make up for all the good Aaron won’t be doing. Where I promise myself that I’ll never turn away from doing the right thing just because I’m busy, and I start working to fix the broken system that was used against Aaron. And that piece will come, but it will have to come tomorrow, because today all I have is layers and layers of grief.

Updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Originally published on EFF Deeplinks blog.

Yesterday was a watershed moment in the fight for electronic privacy: the Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly passed an amendment that mandates the government get a probable cause warrant before reading our emails. The battle isn’t over — the reform, championed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), still needs to pass the rest of the Senate and the House, and be signed by the President to become a law. But yesterday, thanks to thousands of people speaking out, we were able to begin the process of overhauling our archaic privacy laws into alignment with modern technology.

It was a big win for us, even if it was only the first step in the process of reforming privacy law to keep the government out of our inboxes. So we’re dedicating this EFFector to the battle to reform outdated privacy law: what the government can get, what the law ought to be, and what we’re doing to fix the gaping loopholes that leave users vulnerable to government snooping.

The Fourth Amendment and Electronic Privacy

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable government searches and seizures. In practical terms, this means that law enforcement has to get a warrant — demonstrating to a judge that it has probable cause to believe it will find evidence of a crime — in order to search a place or seize an item. In deciding whether the Fourth Amendment applies, courts always look to see whether people have both a subjective expectation of privacy in the place to be searched, and whether society would recognize that expectation of privacy as reasonable. The Supreme Court made this point clear in a landmark 1967 case, Katz v. United States, when it ruled that a warrantless wiretap of a public payphone violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Third Party Doctrine, or How the Supreme Court Got Us Into This Mess

In 1979, the Supreme Court created a crack in our Fourth Amendment protections. In Smith v. Maryland, the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment didn’t protect the privacy of the numbers we dialed on our phones because we had voluntarily shared those numbers with the phone company when we dialed them. This principle — known as the Third Party Doctrine — basically suggests that when we share data with a communications service provider like a telephone company or an email provider, we know our data is being handed to someone else and so we can’t reasonably expect it to be private anymore.

The government took this small opening created by Smith v. Maryland and blew it wide open. It argued that this narrow 1979 decision about phone dialing applied to the vast amount of data we now share with online service providers — everything from email to cell phone location records to social media. This is bogus and dangerous. When we hand an email message to Gmail to deliver on our behalf, we do so with an intention that our private communications will be respected and kept in strict confidence, and that no human being or computer will review the message other than the intended recipient. But the government argues that because we handed our communications to a service provider, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t require them to
get a warrant before snooping around our inbox.

Luckily, the courts are beginning to agree with us. In a leading case where EFF participated as amicus, United States v. Warshak, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us that people had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their email, even if it is stored with a service provider, and therefore the government needed a search warrant to access it. And in the recent Supreme Court case, United States v. Jones, Justice Sotomayor said that she thought the Third Party Doctrine was outdated, while she and four other Justices — including Justice Alito — raised concerns about the information gathered by our
cellphones.

The Eighties Were Good for a Lot of Things — But Not Sustainable Email Privacy Law

It’s not just the Constitution, however. Congress has made clear that certain forms of data are protected by federal statute as well. Following the Katz decision, Congress passed the Wiretap Act in 1968, supplementing the strong Fourth Amendment privacy protections in phone conversations by enacting a comprehensive set of federal statutes. These statutes were designed to ensure that law enforcement has a compelling reason before intercepting phone calls.

And as electronic communication started to become more prevalent, Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in 1986 that somewhat improved the privacy rights around certain electronic communications. But as it reflects the technology of 1986, ECPA has aged poorly. It doesn’t address documents stored in the cloud, information revealing our personal associations, or the vast quantities of location data our mobile devices collect on us everyday. And, as a result of loopholes in the law, the Department of Justice, citing ECPA, has argued that it has a right to access emails without a warrant as soon as they are 180 days old, or have been opened and left on the server.

We think that 180-day limit and a distinction between opened and unopened email is arbitrary and wrong. As the Washington Post said in an editorial earlier this week, “If you left a letter on your desk for 180 days, you wouldn’t imagine that the police could then swoop in and read it without your permission, or a judge’s.”

That’s why this week’s vote was so important: it was a critical first step in updating ECPA to evolve with the modern technologies we use today, and to close archaic loopholes that give government too much access with not enough judicial oversight.

What EFF and Activists Like You Are Doing

We’re taking a two-prong approach.

First, we’re fighting for the Fourth Amendment in the courts. We practice impact litigation, taking on clients pro-bono in cases where we believe we can create positive legal precedent around digital privacy and government surveillance. We also submit amicus briefs in cases where we don’t have a direct client, such as in the Warshak and Jones cases noted above. In Warshak we argued that the government could only access emails stored on an ISP with a search warrant, notwithstanding the third party doctrine. And in Jones, we argued the government’s attachment of a GPS tracking device to a car for 28 days was a Fourth Amendment “search,” meaning a warrant was required. The Court agreed with us in both cases, and
as a result privacy protections are stronger now than in the past. And we’ve filed many more amicus briefs this past year, arguing for a search warrant requirement in cases involving cell phone location records [PDF], GPS devices, and home video surveillance.

Second, we’re creating a movement of engaged Internet users and rallying them to demand the government stay out of our email. Yesterday’s win was a result of the tens of thousands of concerned individuals who signed our petition to Congress calling for ECPA reform and who spoke out in other ways. We’re also teaming up with advocacy groups, web companies, start-ups, and venture capitalists in demanding ECPA reform through the Digital Due Process coalition. And we recently joined other advocacy groups in launching VanishingRights.com.

What aren’t we doing? Compromising. Unfortunately often the pressure in DC inside politics is to trade off one important right against another. We don’t think that’s EFF’s role. Instead, we’re advocating for what’s best for the Internet and Internet users, and while we are flexible, we aren’t willing to horse trade with your privacy and due process.

Want to read more about ECPA and our work to reform it? Check out these links:

Take action: Don’t let privacy law get stuck in 1986

Attempt to Modernize Digital Privacy Law Passes the Senate Judiciary Committee

ECPA and the Mire of DC Politics: We Shouldn’t Have to Trade Video Privacy to Get Common-Sense Protections of our Email

Don’t be a Petraeus: A Tutorial on Anonymous Email Accounts

Reform to Require Warrant for Private Online Messages Up for Vote, but Down on Privacy

When Will Our Email Betray Us? An Email Privacy Primer in Light of the Petraeus Saga