Why I’m Suing the US Government

July 21st, 2016

Today I filed a lawsuit against the US government, challenging Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Section 1201 means that you can be sued or prosecuted for accessing, speaking about, and tinkering with digital media and technologies that you have paid for. This violates our First Amendment rights, and I am asking the court to order the federal government to stop enforcing Section 1201.

Before Section 1201, the ownership of ideas was tempered by constitutional protections. Under this law, we had the right to tinker with gadgets that we bought, we had the right to record TV shows on our VCRs, and we had the right to remix songs. Section 1201 built an extra barrier around copyrightable works, restricting our prior ability to explore and create. In order to repair a gadget, we may have to decrypt its firmware; in order to remix a video, we may have to strip HDCP. Whereas we once readily expressed feelings and new ideas through remixes and hardware modifications, now we must first pause and ask: does this violate Section 1201? Especially now that cryptography pervades every aspect of modern life, every creative spark is likewise dampened by the chill of Section 1201.

The act of creation is no longer spontaneous.

Our recent generation of Makers, hackers, and entrepreneurs have developed under the shadow of Section 1201. Like the parable of the frog in the well, their creativity has been confined to a small patch, not realizing how big and blue the sky could be if they could step outside that well. Nascent 1201-free ecosystems outside the US are leading indicators of how far behind the next generation of Americans will be if we keep with the status quo.

Our children deserve better.

I can no longer stand by as a passive witness to this situation. I was born into a 1201-free world, and our future generations deserve that same freedom of thought and expression. I am but one instrument in a large orchestra performing the symphony for freedom, but I hope my small part can remind us that once upon a time, there was a world free of such artificial barriers, and that creativity and expression go hand in hand with the ability to share without fear.

If you want to read more about the lawsuit, please check out the EFF’s press release on the matter.

Countering Lawful Abuses of Digital Surveillance

July 21st, 2016

Completely separate from the Section 1201 lawsuit against the Department of Justice, I’m working with the FPF on a project to counter lawful abuses of digital surveillance. Here’s the abstract:

Front-line journalists are high-value targets, and their enemies will spare no expense to silence them. Unfortunately, journalists can be betrayed by their own tools. Their smartphones are also the perfect tracking device. Because of the precedent set by the US’s “third-party doctrine,” which holds that metadata on such signals enjoys no meaningful legal protection, governments and powerful political institutions are gaining access to comprehensive records of phone emissions unwittingly broadcast by device owners. This leaves journalists, activists, and rights workers in a position of vulnerability. This work aims to give journalists the tools to know when their smart phones are tracking or disclosing their location when the devices are supposed to be in airplane mode. We propose to accomplish this via direct introspection of signals controlling the phone’s radio hardware. The introspection engine will be an open source, user-inspectable and field-verifiable module attached to an existing smart phone that makes no assumptions about the trustability of the phone’s operating system.

You can find out more about the project by reading the white paper at Pubpub.

Name that Ware July 2016

July 12th, 2016

The ware for July 2016 is shown below.

Thanks to Mark Jessop for contributing this wonderful ware. It’s a real work of art on the front side, but google makes it way too easy to identify with a couple part number queries. To make it a smidgen more challenging, I decided to start this month’s competition with just the back side of the board. If the photo above doesn’t give enough clues, I’ll add a photo of the front side as well…

Winner, Name that Ware June 2016

July 12th, 2016

The Ware for June 2016 is an ATS810C by ATS Automation. There’s no information on their website about this particular board, but there’s lots of good ideas in the comments as to what this could be from. However, none of them have me 100% convinced. So I’ll just go with the first answer that generally identified the ware as a stepper motor controller with RS-232 interface by notafile. Congrats, email me for your prize!

Episode 4: Reinventing 35 years of Innovation

June 28th, 2016

Episode 4 is out!

It’s a daunting challenge to document a phenomenon as diverse as Shenzhen, so I don’t envy the task of trying to fit it in four short episodes.

Around 6:11 I start sounding like a China promo clip. This is because as a foreigner, I’m a bit cautious about saying negative things about a country, especially when I’m a guest of that country.

I really love the part at 3:58 where Robin Wu, CEO of Meegopad, reflects on the evolution of the term Shanzhai in China:

I was one of the people who made Shanzhai products. In the past, everyone looked down on Shanzhai products. Now, I think the idea of the maker is the same as Shanzhai. Shanzhai is not about copying. Shanzhai is a spirit.