‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs accessable to anybody in public space. Everyone is invited to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data. Each dead drop is installed empty except a readme.txt file explaining the project. ‘Dead Drops’ is open to participation. If you want to install a dead drop in your city/neighborhood follow the ‘how to’ instructions and submit the location and pictures.
Now is a good time to establish lines of electronic communication that are not entirely (if at all) reliant on the Internet as it currently exists. Hand delivery of a stack of media is still one of my favorites. At a certain point it the best bit-per-second value known, it has certain privacy features that can’t be beat and it requires very little technical know-how or fancy equipment or money. For all the gnostic freakout of The Matrix, the scene where a disreputable character knocks on Mr. Anderson’s door and passes him a data disc might be the most prophetic.
Learning about cryptography, fidonet and the postal system won’t do anyone any harm. Nothing beats trusted person-to-person connections established in many only-partially overlapping social / professional circles.
Kevin at Grinding asks some questions about the social impediments to a post-scarcity future. He looks at the legislative restraints on P2P file sharing and wonders how that mess will play out when we’re able to copy things in meat-space:
A friend of mine who collects action figures shows me a custom mod of an Optimus Prime Transformer figure. I asked him how much it bugged him to dismantle a classic figure and he smiles and tells me he just scanned the parts he needed of his old one with a 3D scanner and built most of the new one with a 3D Printer. And that’s just one example of how 3D printing is slipping into my everyday life. We’re rapidly approaching the point where duplicating Things for a fraction of the original resources is easy – and by “rapidly approaching” I mean people you know are rapid prototyping and cloning items as we speak. It’s not too much of a jump to think we’re not that far from something resembling nano-assembling – rendering ideas like “original” meaningless. We’re exceedingly close the age where “remix culture” can remix Things with nearly the ease it can remix digital media.
But how will we react? Will we put DRM on food so it can’t be mass produced? Will we attempt to limit access to production engines? Will we allow “market forces” to keep the poor needy while the top 1% don’t even have a concept of need? Will we rush out to buy iMakers that scan the net to ensure anything you’re producing isn’t a component of a copyrighted product or recipe – or that only produce “family safe” products?
One comment at Grinding points to the fact that file sharing continues online unabated. However, ACTA could be a significant blow not only to file trading but to online freedom in general. Meanwhile, in meatspace, grocery stores are dumping bleach on food to thwart dumpster divers. There’s only so much good routing around problems can do before you must confront the fundamental problems.
The Pirate Bay is going on a road trip through Europe, one they hope to end today in a former NATO bunker. After a move from Sweden to the Ukraine, The Pirate Bay has now arrived at CyberBunker, an ISP that can provide them with a facility that can resist a nuclear attack as well as electromagnetic pulse bombs.
After being chased by various anti-piracy groups, The Pirate Bay returned a few hours ago. “Nobody puts The Pirate Bay in a corner,” they say on their frontpage, referencing Patrick Swayze’s famous line in Dirty Dancing. Not in a corner, no, but what about a bunker?
In the context of all the good advancing copyright law can do for us as we move further into the twenty-first century (see “How creativity is being strangled by the law“), I almost shed a tear for Americans this afternoon because of these two bills being rushed into action:
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including “obscene” cartoons and drawings–or face fines of up to $300,000.
That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi. It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user’s account be retained for subsequent police inspection. [cont.]
Page 411 of this 747-page bill is “Section 494(A): CAMPUS-BASED DIGITAL THEFT PREVENTION” wherein the bill’s meaning takes a serious detour from its title. To prevent college students from illegally accessing copyrighted material, the section says all schools shall (when you see the word “shall” in a law, it’s a requirement, not a suggestion):
1) Have “a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property”
2) Have “a plan to explore technology based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity.”
The craziest thing about this is that noncompliant schools would lose all their federal funding, for all their students. No more Pell Grants. No more federal financial aid. No more student loans. This is not just draconian punishment for students who break the law, this punishes all students at that institution even if they did nothing!
Beyond that, both requirements actually work against the point of the bill itself–implementation would likely raise school fees. [cont.]
I won’t name names, but recently I helped out a friend occultist in California review Canadian cities to expatriate to. I sent him a bunch of info on crime, lifestyle, popular job markets, and some ethnic/religious backgrounds to the cities to help him decide which was more his flavour.
As we move into an era where identity exists more and more online, and who knows as more transhuman technologies become more mainstream over the next decade. Copyright, essentially communications in general, has become the quiet battleground in the American government. Because these Draconian laws benefit not only the corporations down there, but the right-wing zealous nuts who want the world safe for their Sears-inspired Christian regime, might I suggest you, too, look at moving abroad rather than putting up with the weird Fourth Reich that is bubbling and brewing.
For those of you not caring or fighting your government before it swelters and your personal freedoms are abandoned in favour of a “safe, secure Christian state,” please feel free to inquire with any of us Canadian occultists about which cities might be welcome to you. There’s always South America, Asia, or Europe if you’re thinking more exotic, and I have friends that are always flying down to South Africa to work.
For those of you that decide to fight on your native soil, kudos to you. To the rest of you, if you don’t feel it’s your battle, the world is your oyster. America is not the end-all, be-all of the human experience.
Just a friendly word from Fell. And if there is any interest, perhaps I should put together an Guide to Canada for American Counterculture Expats. Aforementioned Californian seemed to appreciate it and is checking out his city of choice this winter. And I know we’re not exactly 100% sovereign from the U.S.’s influence, but things are nowhere near the psycho state that is growing down there. =]
The future is going to be much more like the extremely distant past. It’s not that technology is going to disappear. It’s that technology is going to be much less obtrusive. I can imagine a future where the entire culture has been shrunk down and downloaded onto a pair of black contact lenses that you implant behind your eyelids. And you’re naked, tattooed, scarified, and wearing your penis sheath and so on. But when you close your eyes, there are menus dangling in mental space. You go into that and have the complete database of the Western Mind.
-Terrence McKenna, Mondo 2000 vol. 1, issue 10, 1993
Whether open only to a few friends, like a dinner party, or to thousands of celebrants, like a Be-In, the party is always ‘open’ because it is not ‘ordered’; it may be planned, but unless it ‘happens’ it’s a failure. The element of spontaneity is crucial.
The essence of the party: face-to-face, a group of humans synergize their efforts to realize mutual desires, whether for good food and cheer, dance, conversation, the arts of life; perhaps even for erotic pleasure, or to create a communal artwork, or to attain the very transport of bliss- in short, a ‘union of egoists’ (as Stirner put it) in its simplest form-or else, in Kropotkin’s terms, a basic biological drive to ‘mutual aid.’
-Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, 1990.
I’m sitting in front of a sound stage in the middle of a horse pasture watching robotic kids shift and rotate to electronic music. A computer thumps out crunchy, mechanical melodies over the funky beats oozing from turntables. Neon drawings float under the black light from the plywood dance floor. Off to the side of the stage, a guy sits cross-legged and meditates. I’ve been up since 6:30 in the morning, it’s 2:30 at night now, I’m freezing, and have no plans of going to bed. Fatigue has given way to fascination. I feel great.
It’s the first night of Phoenix Festival 2002, one of many week long outdoor art and dance festivals to offshoot from Nevada’s Burning Man festival. Although the organizers didn’t have Burning Man in mind when they created the festival – some of them have never even been to Burning Man – the festival has become a refuge for people fed up with Burning Man’s commercialization. The theme of this year’s Phoenix Festival is rebirth, the final stage in the cycle of the phoenix myth. It’s the final Phoenix Festival and the first to acquire the required permits to hold the event. In previous years the festival’s location was announced the night before the event, like many other electronic music parties and festivals. But despite the festivals legit legal standing and increased promotion, the festival remains largely underground. Only about 2,000 people are attending. According to Chris “Fussik” West, who helped organize the festival, this year’s festival attracted a more diverse crowd but didn’t significantly increase the total number of people attending.
Phoenix Festival seems to be a perfect embodiment of Terrence McKenna’s “Archaic Revival” concept and Hakim Bey’s “Temporary Autonomous Zone” idea. McKenna believed we are striving to recover ancient social forms to escape the oppressive nature of modern living. He expected people to return to tribal forms of living, with an emphasis on ritual, organized activity, and ancestor consciousness. He sees everything from New Age-ism, UFOlogy, body modification, and of course raves as manifestations of this tendency.
Bey proposed a complex network of “pirate utopias” where people could be free to do as they pleased without state intervention. Once the state got wise to a temporary autonomous zone, its inhabitants would up and find a new location.
Phoenix Festival is isolated on private property in rural Washington and people are camped out in tents. Primarily they’ve brought their music equipment, and they’re powering it mostly with biodiesel. Oakes, a guy I picked up in Portland in exchange for a ticket, told me on the way down that the electronic music scene is a community. Oakes’ own plan is to “become so integrated into the scene that I can make a living on it.” He designs and makes clothes, and plans to launch a music journalism career as well. He’s certainly not the first to make a living in the community. There are vendors at the event selling home-made fashions, musical instruments, and food. There are large groups of production companies that throw parties and festivals on a regular basis. DJs and musicians who try to live off their music. Glass blowers. Drug dealers. Homeless drifters relying on the kindness of strangers.
Of course, the community isn’t entirely self-sustaining yet. Most of its members still have to work day jobs. My friend Brian, a long time electronic music community member who told me about Phoenix Festival, makes a living manufacturing circuit boards.
Fussik doesn’t believe that the model the Phoenix Festival is based on can work in the real world, but he does believe that Phoenix Festival is “A safe place for people express themselves in a free area with as few rules as possible.”
FXCannon, the group playing in the stage right now, is from Houston. They work day jobs and spent all their money getting here. They brought a bunch of burned CDs with them to give away, but now they’re selling them to try to make enough money to get home.
Jeff Montgomery, who does a live PA set from his laptop for the group, used to be in an industrial noise group that traded boxes of tapes with other musicians all over the world, and then sold the other musicians’ tapes to make money. When asked about how he feels about peer to peer music trading he said, “I don’t give a fuck. I just want people to hear my music.”
This is a pretty common attitude in the electronic music scene, where cutting and pasting sounds from other musicians’ work is a standard technique. For them intellectual property is a moot concept. The musicians mostly self-publish their albums and live a traveling minstrel lifestyle, depending on donations and day jobs live. The members of FXCannon have day jobs in addition to seeking extra money from gigs and throwing their own parties.
Between sets, conversations often turn to politics. Someone discusses how government officials threw Ralph Nader out of the 2000 presidential debates, essentially meaning the government was using tax payer money to subvert democracy. Others criticize Bush’s foreign policy, or his plans to drill for oil in Alaska.
On the second day of Phoenix Festival the members of FXCannon and I are sitting in an old Ford school bus that has been converted into the tour bus of Aura, a Seattle performance art troupe. Aura will perform tomorrow’s nights “death ritual.” We’re hanging out with a member of a troupe, who makes his living as a glass blower. We talk about the economy and the collapse of Enron, and Jeff points out that the electronic music scene is on the cutting edge of the coming economic change. “We’re going to go back to the way this country was meant to be by the founders. Everyone was meant to have their own business, not to work for megacorporations that own everything,” he says. Here people are founding the new new economy, consisting sustainable personal businesses.
I met a girl from South Carolina, who has a degree in public relations and has she says she’s just been laid off from a job designing circuit boards for MCI and that it’s the best thing that ever happened to her. “I’m on severance for the summer, then I’ll be on unemployment for a year. Then I’ll figure out what to do next,” she said. Oakes is in a similar situation: he’s launching his new career as a cog in the electronic music community wheel while receiving unemployment.
On my last night at the festival before returning to Olympia, WA early for my day job, I watch Aura’s “death” ritual. Fire is twirled, people are entranced by the performance. Fussik says that he and the organizers were never big on the ritual aspect of the festival, but last year they left the ritual out and people missed it. It’s back this year to provide some closure to the series of festivals. Next year Fussik and company will organize a new festival, designed with Burning Man in mind, that he hopefully get away from the rave scene. “We’re sort of the darling of the rave scene right now,” he says, “We want to create a new festival that rips away the facade. With a rave, you’ve gotta have particular elements. So the new festival will be purely a community art and music project, with no myth, no religion.”
Though Fussik sees Phoenix Festival as being a vacation from the real world, rather than a permanent replacement for civilized society, many of its attendees don’t agree. They’ve made electronic music parties a way of life. Phoenix Festival is but one of many other large outdoor gatherings this summer, and many more will occur indoors during the rest of the year. A high tech, nomadic tribal community has emerged and is thriving despite government intervention. Whether they realize it or not, they’ve incorporated Bey’s TAZ model into their organizational process, and are the living embodiment of the Archaic Revival.
There was a time when the name R.U. Sirius was synonymous with cyberculture. His seminal magazine Mondo 2000 predated Wired, and was even more enthusiastic in its wow-gosh sexification of the new geek order. Articles predicting a slick future of nanotech parties and smart drugs were mixed in with batches of fearful predictions of terrorism, economic collapse, draconian copyright enforcement, increased surveillance and invasive advertising. But Sirius didn’t stop there: After the collapse of Mondo, he went on to write for magazines like 21C, Salon and Disinformation, and edited Getting It. He created the Revolution Party, a non-ideological anti-authoritarian political organization (“If even the alternative parties like Libertarian and Green seem a bit rigid to you, consider joining us”), and campaigned for Presidency of the United States. His latest project, The Thresher, is a political magazine.
But The Thresher is a print magazine. Sirius hardly goes online anymore, except for research. The truth is, the Godfather of GeekChic has moved on.
K: Have you ever read Patrick Farley’s e-sheep comic? He did this one, this autobiographical comic, where there’s this guy, a parody of you… What he tells the main character, the autobiographical character, is that you made up all the stuff for your magazine.
RU: Actually, I say that all the time in public interviews, “We made it all up.” Which in a sense is true — some of it we made up and some of it we didn’t. Mondo 2000 clearly wasn’t journalism in the conventional sense. It was mostly composed of interviews, very subjective, really dedicated to people speaking in their own voice. It was very playful and very surrealistic. I never really wanted to do journalism — I do now because I have to to make a living. And we do it at Thresher, I guess because it’s become a habit now. To say we made it all up is kind of flippant, but we weren’t concerned with responsibility or credibility. We were more concerned with creating a sense of excitement and energy and a sense of belonging to the next wave of culture. And we were concerned with making people laugh.
K: It seems like rather than inventing things, you brought them together. I mean, you could have Terence McKenna and GWAR in the same issue.
RU: *Laughs* A lot of it definitely didn’t make any sense. We had a great liberty to basically be about technoculture, and at the same time we could run stuff that had nothing to do with the main theme of our magazine, which Wired could never do. When we started Mondo, Eric Gullichsen brought around these Japanese magazines and pointed out that Japanese magazines included everything. They’d have serious political articles, children’s stories, pornography, anything you could possibly imagine… It was every magazine in America and every theme they’d have packed into one magazine and they wouldn’t differentiate. Which to me is sort of ideal.
K: To change the subject somewhat, where do we stand on the war on drugs right now? Is it more or less important than it was, say, two years ago?
RU: It’s all sort of integrated into the war on terror, and there’s a lot of complex connections there. It’s amazing that it’s all happening in Afghanistan, which is sort of a nexus for the drug underground and also turns out to be the nexus for Al Quaeda and the place where America wants to build an oil pipeline and the place where we have our troops and bombs. And all those things converge. Narcopolitics, as much as class, is at the center of politics in our time. I don’t think any of that has changed. You also see this integration in Columbia where they’re fighting over drugs and they’re also fighting against leftists and they’re fighting for their oil interests — it’s still rather the same story. On the positive side of course, Europeans almost uniformly are liberalizing drug laws. I don’t know how things are in Canada… I think Vancouver is pretty liberal.
K: Do you think there’s a potential use for psychedelics in psychotherapy?
RU: Yeah, I’ve always thought it was a useful tool. The great thing about having a guide, rather than doing it on your own or in a party, is that it grants permission to take a pretty walloping, great massive dose and go through changes without having to worry about what kind of incursions might occur during the trip. I think if it could be approved for psychotherapy, that would be a tremendous step in the right direction. There’s basically two schools of thought on ending the drug war. One is the libertarian point of view, which is that it should be legalized because it’s a cognitive liberty, a matter of personal choice. And then there’s the attempt to medicalize the situation… harm reduction and so forth. And while I agree with the libertarian view on that, I think medicalization is more likely to be allowed.
K: You wrote about smart drugs years ago, do you still take any of that stuff?
RU: No, actually I’ve had stomach problems for a number of years. I’ve found that I can’t take most of those drugs. I certainly can’t take them regularly.
K: What did you feel worked for you, though?
RU: Oh I can’t remember of course. DMAE, I remember being one that was interesting. There was one that came in liquid drops, Deprenyl… quite good! Hydergine definitely — if you take it every day — sharpens up your memory. It was very closely related to LSD, actually.
K: Yeah, Albert Hoffman invented both of them didn’t he?
RU: Yeah. They all had a stimulant effect. As far as the studies that all the advocates quoted to prove that they were effective long-term enhancers of cognition, I don’t know. I’m not in a position to judge the quality of those researchers. They definitely functioned as stimulants. And they were much more even in terms of how they would take you through the day than cocaine, or methamphetamines…
K: Or caffeine…
RU: Or caffeine, right.
K: The only one of those [types of drugs] I’ve taken is vassopressin.
RU: Yeah, vassopressin is nice.
K: It worked for me, but every half hour I had to take a couple snorts.
RU: It was the one that was the most like coke; I think its effect on brain chemistry was compared by Pearson and Shaw as blatantly uhhh…
K: It was definitely, ah… addictive and expensive
RU: I gave some of that to William Gibson once, and he really liked it.
K: It’s funny, now the whole smart drug thing has been written off as snake oil.
RU: Bruce Sterling used to joke about people taking things that didn’t work, but I think I convinced him that they’re stimulants.
K: So they’re just stimulants and not long-term brain enhancers?
RU: It’s hard to know. I was taking them regularly during the Mondo 2000 period in the early nineties, and I was definitely quick. I don’t know if I was wise, but I was just quick.
K: How did The Thresher come about?
RU: Dave Latimer is the publisher, and he kind of liked Tom Frank’s The Baffler, a sort of neo-Marxist political journal out of Chicago that’s gotten a lot of response. He liked that and he liked McSweeney’s, and he liked the whole idea of this rough, sort of intellectual form of publishing. Also, it’s become a trendy thing. And I thought it would be a fun way of organizing materials and expressing ourselves. I’d done the opposite with Mondo 2000, which came to the party way over-dressed. We decided to take it the other direction.
K: It kind of seemed that Mondo 2000 was the stoner geeks goofing off in the back of the class.
K: The Thresher is more serious.
RU: Yeah, it’s pretty serious. The second issue, which is just about to go to press, is actually pretty irreverent and a lot weirder, probably as a result of world events and also as a result of my being too busy on other things to concentrate on it closely. I sort of let it slip through my fingers, and as a result, we’ve unintentionally created a darkly comedic, rather nasty issue that I’m looking forward to seeing. I was actually trying to create a publication initially that was pretty serious and politically pragmatic, and sort of trying to operate on the boundaries between mainstream and alternative views. But we sort of blew that all to hell on the second issue. It’s pretty radical. Conspiracy theory and a radical Islamist who writes in a sort of hip postmodernist style.
K: It seems that The Thresher is still largely about technology, just in a different context. Instead of being emerging or future technology —
RU: In the first issue there was an alternative energy thing and also a biowar thing — actually one of the interviews with [Richard] Preston was actually done for an issue of Mondo 2000 that never came out. So yeah, those kind of obsessions are still there. But I don’t know how much of that’s in the new issue, I think it may not be. I had actually considered making number two a technology issue, but again, world events pushed us in another direction.
K: What’s the status of the Revolution Party?
RU: Well, we still have a discussion group [on Yahoo!] but we haven’t really done anything. I feel like it’s time to rethink a lot of things… Not necessarily to renounce where you’ve been before but… I kind of feel like I am (and we are) in a cultural and political, certainly economic and maybe even technological place of standing still. And for me, it’s a great moment to take a deep breath and not immediately presume to be able to come out with a lot of opinions…
We’re questioning not just what’s next, but what it means to be human and what sort of real value it has. A few years ago, I wrote that we’re at a point where we’re thrilled with technology, and we’re disappointed with human beings. At this point I’m not sure that we’re very thrilled with technology anymore.
K: Do you have any idea of how to get control? Was that what the Revolution party was about?
RU: Control and powerlessness are two different things, of course. We shouldn’t expect control but we should expect some kind of power over our lives, government, et cetera… One of the main ideas [behind the Revolution Party] was that people of counter-cultural sensibilities could actually organize and become a political force. Sort of a countervailing force to the Christian Coalition.
K: What can we do to have some sort of effect on our lives and comfort?
RU: I don’t know. I don’t see much point in any of the strategies that people currently employ. I think that the apparatus that we have, in terms of democracy and free speech, is probably as good as it’s going to get — we just have to find a way back to real power within the democratic apparatus that’s been captured by money and so forth.
K: What about blogs, where you’ve got giant decentralized conversations going on between different people?
RU: Yeah, that’s definitely a value.
K: But it seems discussion can only go so far.
RU: Yeah, discussion needs to lead to action. I don’t know if you follow Douglas Rushkoff’s mailing list or not, but he just sent out an email saying that we should act as if we’ve already won. But I think if we’ve already won, we should be able to find ways of supporting each other, and we should have an alternative place to find quality health care, and make a living, and have a home. And we’re so far away from that. We’re just talking. We have this vast information matrix through which we can sort of form these temporary autonomous zones for our mental activities, but I don’t see how it is going to extend beyond that. We can get people out to protest or whatever, and that has a certain amount of effect. But in terms of livingry, in terms of people going into a space together and changing the way we live and consume energy — I’m not saying that can’t happen, I’m just saying that I can’t see how we’re getting there right now.
K: What else are you working on?
RU: I’m writing a book called Counter Cultures Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House, a history book about 15 different cultures that were anti-authoritarian and accepted a philosophy of constant change — what Nietzsche called transubstantiation. I’m doing that for Villard, which is a subsidy of Random House. I’ve never written a history book before, and it’s taking all of my time. It’s a very complicated project…
I’m really kind of boring right now. Studying history, right now I’m studying Sufism. I’m advancing through the years in this book and trying to get up to the stuff that I already know, which would begin with the Enlightenment… the Age of Reason.
K: How far are you into the book?
RU: I’ve finished almost half of it. I had to turn in half of it to get the rest of the advance, and they’re way pleased with what I have so far. So that’s good news, that I’m not wasting my time and this thing will go to print. It should be done in about a year, so it will be a year and a quarter before anyone sees it.
K: What do you do online these days?
RU: I do a lot of my research online, for the book, and also for various journalistic assignments I have. I just finished a piece on Michael Ruppert for Rolling Stone. He’s the 9/11 conspiracy guy, he’s sort of become the most famous person presenting evidence, supposed evidence, that the Bush administration knew what was going to happen, even in a more precise manner than we know now. That he knew exactly what was going to happen and allowed it to happen for a political advantage. Anyway, in relevance to your question, I use the web for research on something like that.
K: More for work than for fun then?
RU: Yeah, more for work than for fun. I’m not really participating in a lot of discussion groups; sometimes I still go on The WELL and let myself get sucked into conversation there. And I don’t use multimedia at home, because all I have [is a 1999 iBook]… it just doesn’t really do multimedia adequately. I got to enjoy the peer-to-peer music and all that while working at the Getting It office and I miss that.
K: Do you have any favourite blogs or porn sites?
RU: It’s been a while since I’ve been on the blogs…
K: So you don’t keep up with them?
RU: Well, I used to, but I’ve sort of fallen off now. I can’t remember the names now, but there were some people I really liked. MetaFilter? I think was it MetaFilter? I thought that was good. And one run by Jorn Borger the name of which escapes me [Robot Wisdom]. But no, I haven’t been following the blogs lately. Like I said I’ve been so busy working on research. I’ve been following conspiracy sites primarily because of my work for Rolling Stone.
K: Lately there’s been a lot of talk about a return to the old days of the internet, a return to the non-profit spirit. At the same time, there are a lot of new startups and venture capital is finally being pumped back into the net. This might not really be your field anymore, but do you feel that the internet and business can ever be separate again, or do you feel that it’s going to go back to its non-profit roots?
RU: People are going to try to form businesses there — some of them are going to fail and some of them are going to succeed — but the sense that this is some sort of agora that you pump yourself in and everything turns into gold… there was never any logic to it whatsoever, and I don’t think we’re going to return to that. But the business is there, and people are using it for other purposes; politics, creativity, porn, communication… it’s all going to go on there at once. That’s good. I think community and experimentation was the dominant mythology in the early nineties and then business in the late nineties, and now there isn’t one… There’s no zeitgeist now.
K: In terms of what you’ve written about, you’ve basically gone from psychedelics, to technology, to tabloid stuff, to politics. So was that a natural process of one thing leading to another?
RU: Well, I was actually very political when I was younger. I was a member of the Yippies in my early adulthood, and was editor of an underground newspaper — a Yippie newspaper in Binghamton, New York. So I started off writing about politics, and by the time I got to Mondo in 1989 it was just a different way of approaching what we thought at that time was the progressive revolutionary thing. In some ways the politics were kind of hidden in Mondo 2000. It was odd because we were interpreted as being libertarians by some people, whereas we were the type of people who would tend to glamorize the Weather Underground or something like that. But we did take sort of an experimentalist, “let the cards fall where they may” stance and up-front claimed to be politically irresponsible. That was sort of our pose.
K: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, politics and history, what would you be doing?
RU: I’d like to take a long slow ride across America and talk to people out there beyond the San Francisco bay area and see what people are thinking about.
K: Have you ever thought about relocating?
RU: I’ve thought about it from time to time. If I did relocate it would probably just be to go to New York City because my fiance’s relatives live there. But I do think it would be fun to live in a small town out in the middle of nowhere.
(Originally published at http://www.shift.com/content/web/387/1.html July, 2002)
As government surveillance increases, many people are turning to encryption to protect their privacy. After the 9/11 attacks, many governments have expanded their surveillance powers, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Snoopers may not understand encrypted communications.
Encryption codes a message so that it cannot be understood by anyone other than the intended recipient. This can be done by talking in code over the telephone or by mathematically encrypting data over the Internet. Strong encryption usually refers to virtually unbreakable military-strength data encryption. It is used outside of the military primarily for private messaging, securing purchases online, online identity verification, and transmitting sensitive doctor-patient information.
PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is the standard for Internet encryption. PGP works by creating both a public key and a private key. The public key is available to anyone, while the private key is kept a secret. The public key is used to encrypt a message and the private key is then used to decode it. PGP’s security comes from the difficulty in factoring very large numbers. Until a more efficient way to factor numbers is found, cracking a PGP encrypted message is virtually impossible. It is frequently pointed out that ‘pretty good’ is an understatement about the privacy offered by PGP. The only way an outside party could decrypt a message would be to somehow acquire the private key from the user or try every possible key (which would take about 100 million years with modern technology according to MIT mathematician Roger Schroeppel). For more information on PGP security read the PGP Attacks FAQ.
New Legislative Powers
In the United Kingdom the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIP) of 2000 makes it a crime to withhold encryption keys from the government (punishable by up to seven years jail). The United States has a history of trying to limit civilian use of military-strength encryption. Legislation was proposed to require government back doors be built into encryption software during the Clinton administration. These proposals failed due to commercial opposition and protests that encryption bans simply would not work. Public outrage over post-9/11 legislation, ostensibly for “homeland defense”, has created greater awareness of encryption techniques. Government and law enforcement agencies, consequently, have a renewed interest in limiting access of encryption to the general public.
Encryption’s opponents contend that sacrificing some privacy is necessary to insure national security. “[Encryption makers] have as much at risk as we have at risk as a nation, and they should understand that as a matter of citizenship, they have an obligation [to provide the government back door access to encryption products],” Sen. Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) said in a floor speech after the 9/11 attacks. Gregg was pursuing legislation that would require government backdoors to be built into all encryption software, but suddenly changed his mind according to Wired News.
The Clipper Chip
Strong encryption’s security is compromised by the backdoor system proposed during the mid-1990s. The system, known as the Clipper Chip would transmit keys to law enforcement agencies so that they could acquire keys to unlock encrypted messages. Unfortunately, when the government’s copy of a key is transmitted to “key banks” it risks being intercepted. Additionally, key banks themselves could become targets of terrorist hackers. See the Clipper section of the RSA’s Cryptography FAQ for more information. The material that terrorists could possibly intercept through government backdoors includes credit card numbers that could be used to fund terrorist acts and personal information that could be used for identity theft. “Having a good, strong crypto infrastructure in our country is part of what we need to combat terrorism,” PGP creator Philip Zimmermann told Reuters news agency.
In addition to the security issues presented by government backdoors is the question as to whether backdoors would do any good for law enforcement agencies. “. . . It [a law banning strong crypto] doesn’t prevent terrorists from getting their crypto from somewhere else,” James Lewis (director for the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC) pointed out in a Zdnet News interview.
DoJ v Zimmerman and PGP
The controversy began in 1991 when Philip Zimmerman created PGP. The software was capable of encrypting files and e-mails through the use of state of the art patented encryption algorithms. Zimmerman’s friend Kelly Goen distributed the software by uploading it from his laptop to various Internet newsgroups and dial-up bulletin board systems from pay phones with an acoustic coupler. Steve Levy’s book Crypto (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001) reveals that Goen was very caught up in the drama of distributing the software. Levy quotes computer activist Jim Warren saying Goen “. . . wanted to get as many copies scattered as widely as possible around the nation before the government could get an injunction to stop him.”
Even though Goen was careful to only upload the software to US-based software, Zimmerman spent the next five years involved in a legal battle with the US Department of Justice for violating export regulations on encryption software. In spite of this (or because of it) PGP became the standard for encrypting electronic data. In 1996 the Justice Department dropped the case and PGP was sold to Network Associates who is trying to sell the rights to another company.
PGP is available for all major operating systems and is easy to use. It has also spawned a non-patented clone called GPG (Gnu Privacy Guard). Zimmerman now working for HushMail, a free Web-based e-mail service with built-in PGP encryption.
Encryption: A Guide to Possibilities
If backdoors in software or RIP-esque key on demand laws become an international standard, there are ways to get around them. One-time pads and deniable encryption such as steganography would still be able ensure privacy.
Rubberhose: Rubberhose is a UNIX-clone software package from the United Kingdom. Rubberhose allows users to hide data on their hard drives. According to the Rubberhose site: “If someone grabs your Rubberhose-encrypted hard drive, he or she will know there is encrypted material on it, but not how much — thus allowing you to hide the existence of some of your data.” This is advantageous in the RIP-model. If a corrupt government seizes a hard drive, it would be possible for the user to only give away the keys to certain non-offensive data (such as a file named “Mom’s Secret Cookie Recipe”). Of course, this would be of little use in the backdoor model because use of encryption without backdoors would be illegal.
Steganography: Steganography is the practice of secretly embedding data into other data so that it doesn’t appear that communication has occurred. This could be done non-technically, for example, by using code words in the classified ads section of a newspaper. Software such as OutGuess hides messages in seemingly random portions of other files such as images or sounds. According to the OutGuess site: “OutGuess preserves statistics based on frequency counts. As a result, no known statistical test is able to detect the presence of steganographic content.” The drawback is that the recipient must have a key to unlock the hidden information, and that key must somehow be transmitted. One of the major advantages is that a message can be posted in public if the recipient knows what to look for, thus making it difficult for others to detect that communication has even occurred. Your recipient could agree, for example, to communicate through popular files on the Gnutella network. Imagine a group of hackers communicating through Britney Spears publicity photos.
One-time Pads: One-time pads are a form of un-breakable encryption through the use of random numbers. In a plain text message, a different random number represents each character each time it is used. Only someone with the key can decipher it because all possible values for the random numbers are equal. The only way to break this code would be to acquire a copy of the key. The problem is that two parties communicating through this method must have a secure way to transmit keys. The other problem is that the key can be longer than the message itself. The advantage to this method is that it does not require a computer, only a way to generate random numbers.
Whether it’s an embarrassing note about your sex life or your secret recipe for banana pudding, everyone has something they would rather other people not see. The recent increases in government-permitted surveillance make encryption useful to everyone, not just paranoid nuts.
PGP International The home of Pretty Good Privacy, the de-facto standard for Internet-enabled digital encryption. Features news, manuals and downloads.
Electronic Frontier Foundation “The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was created to defend our rights to think, speak, and share our ideas, thoughts, and needs using new technologies, such as the Internet and the World Wide Web. EFF is the first to identify threats to our basic rights online and to advocate on behalf of free expression in the digital age.”
Philip Zimmerman Philip Zimmerman created PGP. This site includes his PGP writings, Senate testimony, news, consultancy services and an extensive links collection.
RSA Cryptography FAQ RSA Laboratories have created an extensive FAQ on cryptography’s history, the major cryptosystems, techniques and applications, and real-world cases. Highly recommended.
One-time Pad FAQ A quick guide to one-time pads, explaining how this cryptosystem works, distribution methods and sources of randomness.
GnuPG An open source encryption standard. The site includes an extensive FAQ, the GNU Privacy Handbook and more. “GnuPG stands for GNU Privacy Guard and is GNU’s tool for secure communication and data storage. It can be used to encrypt data and to create digital signatures. It includes an advanced key management facility and is compliant with the proposed OpenPGP Internet standard as described in RFC 2440.”
HushMail Free encrypted Web-based e-mail. “HushMail eliminates the risk of leaving unencrypted files on Web servers. HushMail messages, and their attachments, are encrypted using OpenPGP standard algorithms.”
Freenet Project Freenet is a peer-to-peer (P2P) publishing network that enables you to publish encrypted documents. Ian Clarke’s system has been used by grassroots political groups and individuals to publish controversial information.
Rubberhose “Rubberhose transparently and deniably encrypts disk data, minimising the effectiveness of warrants, coersive interrogations and other compulsive mechanims, such as U.K RIP legislation. Rubberhose differs from conventional disk encryption systems in that it has an advanced modular architecture, self-test suite, is more secure, portable, utilises information hiding (steganography/deniable cryptography), works with any file system and has source freely available.” [Update: Interesting historical sidenote, this now discontinued project was created by Julian Assange, see also: Wikipedia entry for Ruberhose]
OutGuess “OutGuess is a universal steganographic tool that allows the insertion of hidden information into the redundant bits of data sources. The nature of the data source is irrelevant to the core of OutGuess. The program relies on data specific handlers that will extract redundant bits and write them back after modification. In this version the PNM and JPEG image formats are supported.”
(This article originally appeared at http://www.disinfo.com/archive/pages/dossier/id2007/pg1/ January 31, 2002)