"Hoodwinking the censors" is an interesting article about
anti-censorship software being developed at the
OpenNet Initiative [Update:
(hat tip: Philipp Lenssen).
I'm going to skip the technical issues of the subject, and take the
article as an opportunity to write a fragment of memoirs applicable
to the "inside view of net-politics" part of the description line
above (note I know at least two people appearing in the article will
be reading this post, both of whom have kindly encouraged me to
continue this blog, which is all the disclaimer necessary!). Namely,
More than a few people view the work of the Citizen Lab, and Psiphon, as important. The ONI as a whole receives funding from several major U.S. foundations that promote peace and democracy, including a recent $3 million from the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. In addition, the Citizen Lab has received money from the New York-based Open Society Institute, which supports human rights projects and whose patron is billionaire George Soros.
At some point in late 2003, early 2004, somewhere in the mix of my winning a DMCA victory, and being turned down in the n'th attempt at getting a policy position, it became clear that if I wanted to seriously continue with Internet freedom activism, I was going to have to set up my own organization. Appoint myself Executive Director of something like "The Center For Censorware Studies". Go after foundation funding for money, maybe do the conference circuit.
I seriously considered it. But it just didn't seem like a workable idea. At the time, I'd gone through draining unemployment from the tech-wreck, and the programming market was finally picking up. Inversely, getting funding seemed like it was going to require a lot of work in competition with organizations which were far better "connected" than I was (Harvard!), so I'd be at an extreme disadvantage.
Sometimes people would suggest working for an existing group in a support role, but that was extremely problematic. Nobody wanted the specialized technical decryption work, it's not cost-effective for its legal risk. For generic programming, they could hire someone much less senior than me. And it wasn't a resume-enhancing job for me either. So, purely as a job, it was hardly a good deal for either side. Compare:
The third member of the Psiphon team, 42-year-old Michael Hull, was hired in January to make the program user-friendly. ... Trained in physics, Hull sold his document encryption company in 2003. "Over the years I've been building commercial, private software to solve problems for corporations," Hull says. "So this is nice because it kind of flips it all around. It's a way to give back while I have a chance."
Good for him. But it's why I sometimes say I regret doing so much
anti-censorship effort, and not taking my chance at the tech IPO goldrush
when money was falling from the skies (or at least it seemed that
way). It seems that in order to do such activism, one has to be (the
following are not exclusive):
1) Professional policy person (lawyer, lobbyist, etc)
2) Institutionally supported (i.e. an academic)
3) Independently wealthy *or* unconcerned with employment
And, sadly, I don't fit any of the categories, or been able to find a functional way to get myself into any of the categories. I've never been able to solve this "business model" problem.