Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

RSF Guide to Anonymous Blogging… and some thoughts on reactions…

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.

3 Responses to “RSF Guide to Anonymous Blogging… and some thoughts on reactions…”

  1. Ingrid says:

    Great post Ethan. I am drafting a post on it. The handbook is a super fantastic idea and a hugely useful resource. Hopefully it will be translated into every language in cyber space and be linked in the sidebar of blogs around the world. The only nitpick I have right now is I would have preferred the title to include words along the lines of “Citizen Journalists” – something from the Second Superpower or Cluetrain Manifesto instead of troublesome sounding “Cyber Dissidents.”)

    Just wanted to share this message with you and your readers, incase you or any of your readers know of someone who is interested in the Volkswagen-Stiftung’s offer of scholarships for a research project about Southern Sudan.

    Here’s the message from Warnews Blogs September 15, 2005:

    Dear All,

    The Volkswagen-Stiftung is sponsoring a research project at the University of Bremen, Germany on “Governance and Social Action in Sudan after the Peace Agreement of 2005: local, national, and regional dimensions” (Politische Steuerung und soziales Handeln im Sudan).

    As part of the research project 10 research scholarships are being offered, which are aimed at applicants from Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

    Attached you find the research proposal and further details about the scholarships.

    Further details can be found on http://www.iwim.uni-bremen.de

    It would be greatly appreciated if you could forward this email to anyone who might be interested in applying for a scholarship.

  2. Ethan says:

    Thanks, Ingrid – both Rebecca and I share your nitpick – “cyberdissidents” isn’t a term that works well for me. Maybe we’ll get it changed in the next edition.

  3. Regarding: “So can’t all these anonymizing techniques be used by terrorist?”

    Possible sound-bite answer – “They’ll already have whatever they need. This is trying to help citizens.”

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  1. WorldChanging: Another World Is Here - Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber Dissidents Reporters Without Borders has produced an excellent Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber Dissidents (pdf), reviewed …
  2. Piercing Pens » Blog Archive » Handbook For Bloggers And Cyber-Dissidents - [...] RSF Guide to Anonymous Blogging… and some thoughts on reactions… [...]

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