In Praise of Twitter

In December, Twitter received a court order from the Justice Department seeking details on users connected to Wikileaks, an order that came with a gag order forbidding the site from revealing the existence of the order.

Twitter fought that gag order and won the right to tell the account holders about the order, giving them the opportunity to quash it in court.

In today’s post for Wired.com, I propose that this become the standard for the tech industry:

Twitter briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn’t carry it themselves. The company’s action in asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we can only hope that other companies begin to follow.

The decision would be laudatory in almost any situation, and may even be unprecendented by a massive tech firm. The only other gag orders that I can think of that were challenged in court was one served on the Internet Archive, one on a small library, and another served on Nicholas Merrill, the president of the small NYC-based ISP Calyx Internet Access, who spent years resisting a National Security Letter order seeking information about one of his clients.

Even more remarkable, Twitter’s move comes as a litany of companies, including PayPal, Mastercard, VISA, and Bank of America, follow the political winds away from the First Amendment, banning donations to WikiLeaks. And Amazon.com voluntarily threw the site off its hosting platform, even though there’s nothing illegal in publishing classified documents. […]

Twitter deserves recognition for its principled upholding of the spirit of the First Amendment. It’s a shame that PayPal, Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America and the U.S. government all failed — and continue to to fail — at their own versions of that test.

Talking Facebook and Parents with Susannah Baldwin

Late last year, Susannah Baldwin asked me to be on her parenting show on KWMR radio to talk about Facebook. Thankfully, Susannah asked really good questions and kept away from fear mongering to talk clearly about parents, kids, and Facebook.

If you are a parent living in the digital age, it’s worth your time to give her show a listen, and you can find some online at her website, baldwinonair.com.

On Glenn Greenwald Distorting My Words

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent response to Wired’s explanation of why it is not releasing more of the Bradley Manning/Adrian Lamo chat logs in the Wikileaks controversy, he defends himself by unethically cherry-picking and truncating a quote from an e-mail from me, that he says, erroneously, that I explicitly put on the record.

He writes that I said, “I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be.”

That’s true, but there was no period after the word “be”.

Instead, the full sentence was, “I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be, but I think you screwed this up, Glenn, and it’s pretty disappointing that you seemed to let your infatuation with Wikileaks color your analysis.”

Any journalism 101 student will tell you Greenwald’s quote is a clear violation of journalistic ethics.

So in the spirit of openness, here’s the e-mail I sent Greenwald on June 18, 2010, trying to be diplomatic about what I thought was clearly a hatchet job on a very good journalist.

Glenn –

Suffice it to say I’m disappointed by your article, which I find to be warped by your allegiance to Wikileaks, which gets nothing but glowing accolades from you, despite ample evidence that Assange and Wikileaks aren’t acting in good faith.

You make much of Wired not revealing all of the transcripts. […]

Moreover, you go to some lengths to portray Poulsen as some sort of consigliere to Lamos, when what Poulsen has done over the years is simply develop a source.

He wasn’t the only security journalist to have the same relationship. In fact, it was Brian Krebs, formerly of the Washington Post, who got the inside scoop from Lamo about his foray into the NY Times database. Lamos gave him the screenshots, and Krebs then contacted the Times and wrote up the story. http://www.infosecnews.org/hypermail/0202/5510.html (ED. NOTE 12/30/2010: This timeline is not correct – Krebs was on the story simultaneously and had a long relationship with Lamos, but Poulsen published first.)

What exactly is a journalist supposed to do otherwise, when a hacker comes with proof they’ve broken into a company? You make it sound nefarious (strange and complicated, in your words). In fact, it’s exactly what happened with Gawker’s Ryan Tate and the recent vulnerability in AT&T’s iPad interface. Frankly, your characterization of it is slimy.

Intriguingly, you leave out all the attacks from Assange on Poulsen (calling him a manipulator and a snitch). Meanwhile, you ignore all of Assange’s weird attacks on the press any time he doesn’t like a story. Did you read the Mother Jones piece that exposed how Wikileaks fakes its advisory board? Or see Assange’s reaction?

Did you notice that Assange loved the New Yorker profile, until other outlets jumped on the fact that Assange admits that Wikileaks was bootstrapped by spying on the Tor network? Then Assange attacked those outlets and the New Yorker, calling them liars but not saying that Wikileaks didn’t spy on the Tor network. (Which Assange himself all but admitted when he was trying to get support for Wikileaks’ start, writing in an e-mail list that Wikileaks was getting info by spying on Chinese hacker, “when they pull, we pull”) http://cryptome.org/wikileaks/wikileaks-leak2.htm

Then when Assange wanted to drum up donations to Wikileaks after the Manning disclosure, he sent out a blast e-mail pointing to the anonymous Boing Boing comment suggesting that Poulsen was working on behalf of the feds.

And now, thanks to your article, you have commenters saying the same thing.

You mention that you are a fan of Threat Level, but you NEVER mention throughout the story anything of the kind of coverage that Poulsen has done in the last decade. You don’t mention that Threat Level published the NSA docs while they were under court seal. You don’t mention that Poulsen exposed, via a successful FOIA suit, that DHS covered up that its computers got infected with a virus. You don’t mention that he revealed to the world that the FBI has a secret browser vulnerablity. You don’t mention at all the type and kind of coverage that Poulsen is responsible for for over a decade.

That credibility would go a long way to dispelling the slander campaign Wikileaks and its rabid followers are waging against him, for having the audacity to write a story that a leaker had been arrested.

Instead you added to it with insinuations that Kevin is somehow in cahoots with Lamo.

For instance, you make it sound creepy that Poulsen wrote a long profile about Lamo. Huh. Read the story again. Basically, it goes like this. A convicted hacker, now gone legit, calls the police to report a stolen laptop. When the police arrive, instead of focussing on the crime, they 5150 the victim. Lamo contacts Poulsen while in the ward. Poulsen gets the intake sheet, takes his time to develop the story (which could have been made very over the top, COPS THROW EXHACKER CRIME VICTIM IN MENTAL WARD). Lamo gets a diagnosis and new medicine, which oddly helps. Lamo learns something (maybe) about himself. Story is now very interesting, but complicated. Poulsen takes the time to write it well. Then you come along and say it looks fishy.

I appreciate that you spent the time to interview people in the case. But it’s unclear to me where Poulsen crossed any journalistic line. People aren’t *friends* with Lamo. They just end up talking and IMing with him. He used to contact me out of the blue on IM, offering odd leads.

Lamo is clearly starved for attention. Often he gets it by coming up with odd leads. Here he decided to become a rat, and then went on to brag about it. I’m not sure how Poulsen gets tagged or slimed as an informant for reporting it, but Wikileaks managed to do that — and sadly, you helped out.

I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be, but I think you screwed this up, Glenn, and it’s pretty disappointing that you seemed to let your infatuation with Wikileaks color your analysis.

Sincerely,

Ryan Singel

(A snippet of this e-mail going into minutiae has been clipped for readability.)

Additionally, here’s a full, not truncated quote from Glenn Greenwald in that same e-mail thread, about Kevin Poulsen:

“The very idea that I’ve “successfully impugned the reputation of a fucking good journalist” about whom I said: (a) he violated no ethical principle, (b) there was no evidence to suggest he did anything wrong, (c) is someone whose work I’ve admired, and (d) there’s no evidence to question his integrity or good faith — is, to put it mildly, fucking insane.”

So there it is — Glenn Greenwald believes Poulsen has not violated any ethical principle, is someone he admires, and says there’s no evidence he’s done anything wrong or any reason to question his integrity.

Greenwald and I have also had e-mail conversations over the last few days, where I vociferously objected to his slimy, Yuletide Glenn-Beck-esque insinuations about Poulsen. And at no point, did he bring up the e-mail from June, which according to my records of the conversation, includes nothing about whether it is on or off the record.

Stating that I explicitly wanted it on the record is just wrong, and cutting off sentences halfway through to distort the meaning of a sentence wouldn’t pass muster at even a neighborhood weekly. It’s the tactic of FOX News.

It’s especially galling coming from Greenwald, who holds himself up as the the arbiter and scold of the world’s journalistic practices.

Talking Net Neutrality on NPR

NPR’s Talk of the Nation kindly invited me on last week to explain what the net neutrality debate is all about, and what it means for regular net users.

I’m afraid I got a bit too technical, having been used to writing for Wired.com’s tech savvy audience. I learned one thing — which is never mention peer-to-peer on the radio, and I failed to make clear two key points.

1. The openness of the internet has led to astounding innovation, ranging from Yahoo to Google to Facebook to YouTube to Pandora to Craigslist to Skype to the explosion in online publishing. That’s purely a function of the internet being open to all comers and not having a pay any special fees, beyond renting a server and paying for bandwidth.

2. There’s a very complicated debate about what internet service providers (ISPs are the cable or telephone company you pay to connect to the internet) can and cannot do, and choosing wrongly might stifle continued innovation on the net.

3. ISPs have a vested interest in trying to extract as much money as they can and changing the net’s architecture to bring them more profits. They would rather do that than add more infrastructure to handle the growing traffic.

4. Internet traffic is cheap. Time Warner cable spends half the revenue it gets from cable video subscriptions to pay for programming. Time Warner’s internet service pays about 3% of the revenue it gets from subscriptions to pay for delivering your emails and the videos you watch. And the price of that keeps falling.

5. Net neutrality has some simple principles, though they get very thorny when you get into the details. Basically, the idea is that users should be able to use the computers, software and online services of their choice and ISPs should not interfere with that, especially when it offers a service (video cable) that competes with a service you want to use (YouTube).

Anyhow, for those who want to listen, here’s my interview with Tony Cox on NPR.

NPR Marketplace Tech Report Asks About Facebook Groups

American Public Media’s Marketplace Tech Report looked into Facebook groups and the controversy over letting your friends auto-add you to a group, without you having to confirm it, in this October 13, 2010 report.

Despite the high-profile gaffe of someone adding Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to the NAMBLA group, I explain why Facebook isn’t likely to move to requiring confirmations and why Groups is a very smart decision for the company.

Marketplace Tech Report from October 13, 2010 mp3.

Photo: Mark Zuckerberg speaking at Startup School in 2009. Credit: Mathieu Thouvenin/Flickr Creative Commons licensed.

Fuck All of Us for the Mosque Debate

The controversy over the planned mosque in lower Manhattan, blocks from the site of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, led me to go back to re-watch Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, the first movie to try deal with the emotional reverberations of that terrible day of loss and suffering.

In that underrated movie, Edward Norton plays (a bit too heavily) a convicted drug dealer in his last day before heading off to a seven-year stint in prison. The brilliance of the set-up is the genuine sadness felt by his friends, his girlfriend and his father — none of whom are morally admirable — for the loss of Norton, who’s likewise a morally flawed human. There’s a subtle and subversive message there that undermines our natural inclination to turn all the 9/11 victims retroactively into angels. The point is simple — even if some of the people who died in the World Trade Center were assholes — and probably there were a fair share — the loss of them remains deeply sad.

And just as importantly, the point is that same urge for moral simplicity is just as wrong when people try to use it now to justify opposing a mosque several blocks away from the WTC (a site further away than at least two strip clubs). Conservatives who oppose government encroachment on religion and property rights are calling on the local bureaucracy to stop the mosque. Even Roger Pilon, a Cato Institute libertarian, got in on the conservative culture-war game, whining, like a 19-year old, newly minted feminist at a liberal arts school, about “sensitivity to the feelings of others.”

Hell, if Ted Olson, whose wife Barbara died on one of the hijacked planes, knows enough not to oppose the mosque, what the fuck is your excuse?

Fuck that. And fuck all of the opportunists and know-nothings going on about a mosque in New York City.

The urge to have an enemy and to believe you are on the right side in a worldwide struggle is a powerful one. You could ask the dead, fundamentalist hijackers about that one. But the mosque will fit in with strip clubs, shoe shine guys, over-priced vendors of crappy Statue of Liberty snow globes, immigrant-run corner stores, Starbucks, gay porn shops and Cuban restaurants extorting $25 a person for brunch. Because that’s the way NYC, and the best of this country, rolls.

So fuck all the “hard-hats” who say they won’t build the mosque, fuck the fat-bellied, privileged-but-whiny Midwesterners who don’t live anywhere near a city that’s likely a future target for fundamentalist crazies, fuck the ratings-craving, intellectually dishonest Fox News network for pushing this shit as if it were a real issue, and fuck all of you all for feeding the Islamic terrorist dogs. From where I’m standing, it looks like you want to hand them recruiting material, just so you’ll have something to bitch about at your next barbecue in suburbia, which will never ever be a target for al Qaeda.

Fuck Obama for not having the courage to come out and say, “Build the damn mosque, show the world how inclusive we are, and let’s get back to real issues.” Fuck Russell Simmons for not having the brains to know that al Qaeda was responsible for the first WTC bombing.

Fuck all the people just want something to hate, and man, is it easy to say that a mosque built on Ground Zero is a slap in the face, when in fact, it’s as God damn American as you are. Fuck you for not seeing that the right-wing is prone to blowing up federal buildings and shooting abortion doctors, channelling the same ideological shit that al Qaeda does.

Fuck all you mosque opponents.

If you were as angry as I am that the Bush administration fucked up finding, capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, or you were pissed that the war in Afghanistan wasn’t left to become a quagmire in desert, so that Cheney and Bush could one up Bush’s father, I might give you a pass. But you aren’t. You make excuses for them, since they channeled the same cowboy machismo that gives you a hard-on when you re-watch Top Gun for the 100th time.

Fuck you.

And fuck us as a country for not having learned jack-shit after 9/11. To his credit, George Bush did make it clear that he didn’t blame all Muslims — even as his Justice administration managed to make the Muslim community feel like targets, rather than a resource. But what did they call on us to do? Go shopping.

We had the chance to become a better people and a better country and instead we learned how to make better unmanned aircraft that can drop Hellfire missiles on compounds we suspect harbor terrorists, but often just house women and children.

And what about the issues that al Qaeda and its ilk exploits to gain new converts? The Palestinian issue is just as screwed as it’s ever been, in no small part because the government remains perpetually afraid to tell the Israeli rightists to go fuck themselves when the time is right. Kashmir is still screwed, while Somalia remains a nightmare.

There’s a fine saying, “If you want a friend, feed any animal.”

And from what I can tell, the right in this country wants a weird friendship with the movement that led to 9/11, because they keep feeding them. Me, I want to starve those cave-dwelling, fundamentalist monkeys.

To which I can only say, channeling Spike Lee’s hatred/love poem to New York: Fuck all of you and fuck us all. We got the country and discourse we deserve, and the humans incinerated on 9/11 died for nothing, thanks to us.