Julien Pain, point man on Internet issues at Reporters Sans Frontières, has spearheaded creation of an amazing new resource, the Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents. It’s a beautifully produced print and online resource, useful for anyone who’s less interested in blogging to make money or get a book deal and more interested in doing original, independent online journalism in countries where press freedoms are restricted. Julien has allowed us to put a preview copy on Global Voices – you’re welcome to download and peruse it – it will be offically launched on RSF’s site tomorrow morning. My colleage, Rebecca Mackinnon, has an excellent review of the book featured on Global Voices today.
With the help of lots of online friends, I wrote a guide to anonymous blogging which is available on the Global Voices wiki and which is reproduced in the RSF guide. It’s a work in progress, and I hope that at some point soon, the world will stop spinning long enough that I can update it with screenshots and some new thoughts on avoiding “timing attacks” which might let government-controlled ISPs identify a user by tracking the timestamps of her postings. Still, I’m thrilled that the chapter I’ve written, imperfect though it is, has been translated into five languages and will be widely distributed to people who need it.
Talking with a number of bloggers around the globe who’ve articulated a need for strong anonymity, I’m developing a bit more affection for the “cypherpunks” I’ve encountered through the years. I generally have very little sympathy for folks living in mostly free nations like the USA who are convinced that the government/big corporations/multilateral organizations are reading their email/tapping their phones/watching their every move. While this level of paranoia is probably inappropriate for folks living in the USA, it’s often appropriate for people living in states with a persistent interest in muzzling a free press, and the tools and theories developed by the cyberparanoid are very useful when considering how to blog safely from Zimbabwe or Sudan.
I was talking to a reporter friend about press freedoms, anonymity and blogging the other day and he asked the (predictable, but absolutely valid) question, “So can’t all these anonymizing techniques be used by terrorist?” This is a question I’m getting with increasing frequency, especially as media organizations realize that there’s an insatiable appetite for “Terrorists are using the Internet” stories.
The simple answer is “Yes, terrorists can and will find ways use online anonymity techniques to claim responsibility for attacks and disseminate information.” I don’t believe, however, that the appropriate reaction to this is to hide information on anonymous blogging from the world. Security through obscurity is a pretty feeble form of security. The techniques I and others are writing about in the RSF guide are well documented and widely known within the Internet security community. Smart terrorists can find these techniques by searching the web, academic papers and textbooks. Obscuring these techniques in the hopes that the dumber terrorists don’t find them means that they’re difficult to find for the people who need them: independent journalists, human rights activists and dissidents in nations that restrict speech.
I predict that more than a few readers of RSF’s guide will disagree and I’m preparing for articles and blogposts that question whether RSF made the right move in publishing this guide. They did, and I’m proud to be a part of it.