Cory Doctorow—Linux Guru?
alias tortunnel='ssh -o ProxyCommand="/usr/bin/connect ↪-S localhost:9050 %h %p" -f -N -C -l username ↪-L5002:255.255.255.255:25 -L5003:255.255.255.255:110 ↪-L5555:localhost:5555 255.255.255.255'
DS: One of the things I run into with GPG or with encrypted IMs or SELinux, which ships with almost every distribution now, is that they're all commonly available, most of them are easy to use, and the vast majority of people don't. Why?
CD: Yeah. We undervalue our privacy because the cost of losing it is so far in the future, and again very speculative, so we tend to assume that because it doesn't cost us anything to lose our privacy today, it won't cost us anything to lose our privacy tomorrow, and that's generally a bad bet. So we don't worry about encrypting our hard drives until we lose our laptops—oh, and that's the other thing I do. I encrypt my hard drive, and I also just figured out how to use Cryptix with SD cards as well.
DS: So, tell us a bit about Little Brother. What's it about, why the title, and how does it tie in to your other advocacy?
CD: Little Brother is a novel about hacker kids in the Bay Area who, after a terrorist attack that blows up the Bay Bridge, decide that there are worse things than terrorist attacks, which, after all, end. Those things include the authoritarian responses to terrorists, which have no end, which only expand and expand. When you're fighting a threat as big and nebulous as terrorism, there's virtually no security measure that can't be justified. And so they find themselves caught inside an ever-tightening noose of control and surveillance, and they decide that they're going to fight back. They do so by doing three things: they use technology to take control of their technology, so they jailbreak all of their tools and use them to build free, encrypted wireless networks that they can communicate in secrecy with. The second thing they do is get better at understanding the statistics of rare occurrences so that they can control the debate. So they start to investigate how, when you try to stop a very rare occurrence with a security measure, the majority of things you end up stopping won't be the rare occurrence because the rare occurrence happens so rarely. So they start to show how automated surveillance and automated systems of suspicion and control disproportionately punish innocent people and rarely if ever catch guilty people.
DS: Yeah, you're actually having this problem in London now, aren't you?
CD: Oh, well, absolutely. We've got massive surveillance networks here, but it's in the US as well. You've got the hundreds of pages of no-fly-list names. People who are so dangerous that they can't be allowed to get on an airplane but so innocent that we can't think of anything to charge them with....And then, finally, they get involved in electoral politics, because no change endures unless it can be cemented into place and shellacked over with law. You might be able to convert this year's government to the cause, but...in order to make it endure, you have to make it into a law that every government that comes afterward has to abide by. And so for these three measures, they end up changing society and changing the whole world.
The novel is very explicitly didactic. Every chapter has instructions and information necessary to build technology that can help you fight the war on the war on terror. So, from setting up your own TOR node, to building a pinhole camera detector, to disabling an RFID tag, it's in the book. We did a series of “instructables”—little how-tos for building this stuff with kids that can be used as science-fair projects or home projects, and people have taken some of this stuff to heart. There's a notional Linux distro in the book called Paranoid Linux that's kind of an amalgam of all the different security-conscious Linux distros out there, and there are people trying to build a Linux distro based on Paranoid Linux, which is pretty exciting.
DS: Thank you very much for the interview Cory.
Dan Sawyer is the founder of ArtisticWhispers Productions (www.artisticwhispers.com), a small audio/video studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been an enthusiastic advocate for free and open-source software since the late 1990s, when he founded the Blenderwars filmmaking community (www.blenderwars.com). He currently is the host of “The Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour”, a cultural commentary podcast, and “Sculpting God”, a science-fiction anthology podcast. Author contact information is available at www.jdsawyer.net.