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Podcast: ‘Cybersecurity’ begins with integrity, not surveillance


Here's a reading (MP3) of a recent Guardian column, 'Cybersecurity' begins with integrity, not surveillance, in which I suggest that the reason to oppose mass surveillance is independent of whether it "works" or not -- the reason to oppose mass surveillance is that mass surveillance is an inherently immoral act:

The Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman and I presented an introductory session at SXSW before Edward Snowden's appearance, and he made a thought-provoking comparison between surveillance and torture. Some of the opponents of torture argue against it on the ground that torture produces low-quality intelligence. If you torture someone long enough, you can probably get him to admit to anything, but that's exactly why evidence from torture isn't useful.

But Gellman pointed out that there are circumstances in which torture almost certainly would work. If you have a locked safe – or a locked phone – and you want to get the combination out of someone, all you need is some wire-cutters, a branding iron, some pliers, and a howling void where your conscience should be.

The "instrumental" argument against torture – that it doesn't work – invites the conclusion that on those occasions where torture would work, there's nothing wrong with using it. But the primary reason not to torture isn't its efficacy or lack thereof: it's that torture is barbaric. It is immoral. It is wrong. It rots societies from the inside out.

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Little Brother challenged in Florida high school


For the first time, one of my books has been challenged. The students at Booker T Washington High in Pensacola, Florida were to be assigned Little Brother for their summer One School/One Book read. At the last instant -- and over the objections of the head of the English department and the chief librarian -- the principal reversed the previous approval and seems to have cancelled the One School/One Book program outright. My amazing publishers, Tor Books, have volunteered to send 200 copies to the school for the students to read, and I'll participate in a videoconference with the students in the coming school year. Read all about it on Boing Boing.

Humble Ebook Bundle adds Lawful Interception audio, From Hell Companion, Too Cool To Be Forgotten


The latest Humble Ebook Bundle has added four new titles: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, the From Hell Companion (review), Too Cool to Be Forgotten (review); and my audiobook for Lawful Interception, the sequel to Little Brother and Homeland. They join a stellar lineup of other comics, novels and ebooks with work by Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin, Ed Piskor, Nate Powell, Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias Buckell and Terry Goodkind.

Name your price for them -- all DRM free, and you can contribute to charity when you buy!

Humble Ebook Bundle

Podcast: How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance


Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Locus column, How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance, in which I describe the way that I've explained the Snowden affair to my six-year-old:

So I explained to my daughter that there was a man who was a spy, who discovered that the spies he worked for were breaking the law and spying on everyone, capturing all their e-mails and texts and video-chats and web-clicks. My daughter has figured out how to use a laptop, phone, or tablet to peck out a message to her grandparents (autocomplete and spell-check actually make typing into an educational experience for kids, who can choose their words from drop-down lists that get better as they key in letters); she’s also used to videoconferencing with relatives around the world. So when I told her that the spies were spying on everything, she had some context for it.

Right away, we were off to the races. ‘‘How can they listen to everyone at once?’’ ‘‘How can they read all those messages?’’ ‘‘How many spies are there?’’ I told her about submarine fiber-optic taps, prismatic beam-splitters, and mass databases. Again, she had a surprising amount of context for this, having encountered digital devices whose capacity was full – as when we couldn’t load more videos onto a tablet – and whose capacities could be expanded with additional storage.

Then I talked about not reading everything in realtime, and using text-search to pick potentially significant messages out of the stream. When I explained the spies were looking for ‘‘bad words’’ in the flow, she wanted to know if I meant swear words (she’s very interested in this subject). No, I said, I mean words like ‘‘bank robbery’’ (we haven’t really talked about terrorism yet – maybe next time

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

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Clarion SF/F writeathon: write, sponsor writers, help a new generation


Once again, it's time for the Clarion Writers Workshop writeathon - we need writers and sponsors to help fund the Clarion Workshop, the respected, long-running science fiction writers' bootcamp. A writeathon is just what is sounds like: a fundraiser where writers ask their friends to sponsor their writing. I'm writing 1,000 words a day, five days a week, on UTOPIA (working tile), a novel for adults: you can sponsor me here. (Disclosure: I'm proud to volunteer as a board member for the 501(c)3 nonprofit Clarion Foundation)

Podcast (FIXED): Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart

Note: This is a fixed version of this week's podcast; I accidentally uploaded an older podcast under this headline.

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Guardian column, Firefox's adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart, a close analysis of the terrible news that Mozilla has opted to add closed source DRM to its flagship Firefox browser:

The decision to produce systems that treat internet users as untrusted adversaries to be controlled by their computers was clearly taken out of a sense of desperation and inevitability.

It’s clear that Mozilla plans to do everything it can to mitigate the harms from its DRM strategy and to attempt to reverse the trend that brought it to this pass.

Like many of Mozilla’s longtime supporters, I hold it to a high standard. It is not a for-profit. It’s a social enterprise with a mission to empower and free its users.

I understand that Apple, Microsoft and Google are for-profit entities that have demonstrated repeatedly that their profitability trumps their customers’ rights, and I fault them for this. But it’s not unreasonable to hold mission-driven nonprofits to a higher standard than their commercial counterparts.

Mozilla says it’s doing everything it can to reduce the harm from what it sees as an inevitable decision. As a Mozilla supporter, contributor and user, I want it to do more.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

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Podcast: Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Guardian column, Firefox's adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart, a close analysis of the terrible news that Mozilla has opted to add closed source DRM to its flagship Firefox browser:

The decision to produce systems that treat internet users as untrusted adversaries to be controlled by their computers was clearly taken out of a sense of desperation and inevitability.

It’s clear that Mozilla plans to do everything it can to mitigate the harms from its DRM strategy and to attempt to reverse the trend that brought it to this pass.

Like many of Mozilla’s longtime supporters, I hold it to a high standard. It is not a for-profit. It’s a social enterprise with a mission to empower and free its users.

I understand that Apple, Microsoft and Google are for-profit entities that have demonstrated repeatedly that their profitability trumps their customers’ rights, and I fault them for this. But it’s not unreasonable to hold mission-driven nonprofits to a higher standard than their commercial counterparts.

Mozilla says it’s doing everything it can to reduce the harm from what it sees as an inevitable decision. As a Mozilla supporter, contributor and user, I want it to do more.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

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Coming to SLC

I'm delighted to announced that I'll be the guest of honor at Salt Lake City's Westercon 67 this July -- Westercon being the annual convention for science fiction fandom west of the Mississippi. There's quite a fantastic roster of other guests as well! See you 44 days in SLC!

Makers: the Japanese fan-trans

Haruka Tsubota has undertaken a Japanese fan-translation of my novel Makers. It's available as Epub and Mobi, and licensed CC-BY-NC-SA.

Mozilla breaks our hearts, adds DRM to Firefox


For months, I've been following the story that the Mozilla project was set to add closed source Digital Rights Management technology to its free/open browser Firefox, and today they've made the announcement, which I've covered in depth for The Guardian. Mozilla made the decision out of fear that the organization would haemorrhage users and become irrelevant if it couldn't support Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Video, and other services that only work in browsers that treat their users as untrustable adversaries.

They've gone to great -- even unprecedented -- lengths to minimize the ways in which this DRM can attack Firefox users. But I think there's more that they can, and should, do. I also am skeptical of their claim that it was DRM or irrelevance, though I think they were sincere in making it. I think they hate that it's come to this and that no one there is happy about it.

I could not be more heartsick at this turn of events.

We need to turn the tide on DRM, because there is no place in post-Snowden, post-Heartbleed world for technology that tries to hide things from its owners. DRM has special protection under the law that makes it a crime to tell people if there are flaws in their DRM-locked systems -- so every DRM system is potentially a reservoir of long-lived vulnerabilities that can be exploited by identity thieves, spies, and voyeurs.

It’s clear that Mozilla isn’t happy about this turn of events, and in our conversations, people there characterised it as something they’d been driven to by the entertainment companies and the complicity of the commercial browser vendors, who have enthusiastically sold out their users’ integrity and security.

Mitchell Baker, the executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation, told me that “this is not a happy day for the web” and “it’s not in line with the values that we’re trying to build. This does not match our value set.”

But both she and Gal were adamant that they felt that they had no choice but to add DRM if they were going to continue Mozilla’s overall mission of keeping the web free and open.

I am sceptical about this claim. I don't doubt that it’s sincerely made, but I found the case for it weak. When I pressed Gal for evidence that without Netflix Firefox users would switch away, he cited the huge volume of internet traffic generated by Netflix streams.

There's no question that Netflix video and other video streams account for an appreciable slice of the internet’s overall traffic. But video streams are also the bulkiest files to transfer. That video streams use a lot of bytes isn't a surprise.

When a charitable nonprofit like Mozilla makes a shift as substantial as this one – installing closed-source software designed to treat computer users as untrusted adversaries – you’d expect there to be a data-driven research story behind it, meticulously documenting the proposition that without DRM irrelevance is inevitable. The large number of bytes being shifted by Netflix is a poor proxy for that detailed picture.

There are other ways in which Mozilla’s DRM is better for user freedom than its commercial competitors’. While the commercial browsers’ DRM assigns unique identifiers to users that can be used to spy on viewing habits across multiple video providers and sessions, the Mozilla DRM uses different identifiers for different services.

Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart

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