Your input needed: Questions for panel w/ Eben Moglen, RMS, 4 MEPs

Daniel Pocock daniel at
Sat Jun 29 17:08:21 UTC 2013

Hash: SHA256

On 28/06/13 22:39, Karsten Gerloff wrote:
> Hi everyone,
> on July 9 at the Libre Software Meeting / RMLL in Brussels, we're 
> organising a big panel discussion on "Technology, Power and 
> Freedom":
> After the news about wide-ranging communications surveillance we've
> heard in recent weeks, this topic is arguably even more pressing
> than it was before. But we want to look at the long term:
> What do we need to change in politics and technology today to build
> a better world tomorrow?
> For this discussion we're bringing some of the Free Software 
> movement's leading minds together with the people who represent us 
> in the European Parliament. We're extremely happy to have a list of
> first-rate participants:
> Eben Moglen (Columbia University / Software Freedom Law Center) 
> Richard M Stallman (FSF) Judith Sargentini (MEP Greens/EFA) Marc
> Tarabella (MEP S&D - tbc) Nils Torvalds (MEP ALDE) Ioannis A.
> Tsoukalas (MEP EPP)
> I'd like your input: What should we ask these people? What are your
> most urgent questions on technology and politics?

I can think of various themes, maybe people can work some questions
around these, some of them would even be enough to justify a panel of
their own:

a) crypto-currencies (of which Bitcoin is only one example)

At first glance, it appears like a simple topic, but it is not.
Currency is fundamentally intertwined with concepts of power.  It is
widely speculated that Saddam's decision to price Iraqi oil in EUR
rather than USD (and a similar attitude from Venezuela) prompted the
invasion to hunt for those WMDs that everybody now agrees he never had.

The power of the USD is having far-reaching effects: look at things
like the SWIFT payment system snooping scandal a few years ago, or
more recently the US has been pushing Swiss banks to disclose full
lists of their employees to US regulators.  Many Swiss banks
(previously known for a commitment to privacy) have to operate some
kind of US branch or payment facility for handling US dollars and they
are now finding those arrangements have become indispensable, putting
them under immense pressure to comply with more and more US regulations.

However, the US powers haven't worked that way forever: early
Americans were vigorously opposed to the idea of a central bank.  The
Federal Reserve, as it works today, only came into existence in 1913
after many previous attempts were tried and then discarded:

Should the EUR just copy USD associated behavior, power plays, etc or
is there an opportunity to be more innovative, introducing
crypto-currency concepts in a legal manner without the problems of
central banking?

b) Government communication technology

Why does the European parliament not switch to a secure email scheme,
e.g. PGP?  Rather than using laws to change things, they should seek
to change the way people interact with Government and use that to set
an example.

How can independent Governments extend the same concept to social
media, e.g. dumping Facebook and using a federated platform?

c) the funding gap

Some of Eben's talks have been very accurate and also very motivating,
but the reality is developers need to eat.  As we've heard from Mr
Snowden, the NSA pays quite well whereas many free software developers
feel undervalued or only do experiments in their spare time for
reasons of personal curiosity rather than to make a lasting solution.
 Consequently many open source solutions are not "polished" in such a
way that the general public can or will use them.

The rates I see for open source development often fall far short of
the rates I see doing proprietary work in banks or defense projects.
Amongst those people who have political will or funding capacity, I've
often observed a failure to appreciate the benefit of paying the rates
of premium developers (those who make the most secure and reliable
code) - in some cases there seems to be an attitude that developers
are all the same and should be paid the same.

Things like crowdfunding get a lot of headlines but the reality is that
(a) lots of work is involved in the fundraising/publicity phase and
(b) crowd funding is more like a lottery, projects only succeed there
if they are lucky enough to get promoted in slashdot or mainstream media.

What is the solution?  Can organisations (either government or private
sector) either provide direct funding or facilitate a more effective
crowdfunding effort?  Can this be done without devaluing developers,
e.g. paying market rates rather than asking them to work for charity?

d) public perception

Before the Snowden scandal, a number of people asked me if I was
paranoid (e.g. for promoting ZRTP in Lumicall).  Privacy scandals
happen all the time: just look at the phone hacking in the UK.
Despite all this clear evidence in broad daylight, people are just not
getting the message.

Is it a lost cause?

Or does money need to be invested to educate people?

Or is it better to focus on areas like small business where the owners
can be educated about the value of their data because they have a lot
more to lose?

Why is privacy more of a concern in places like Germany and largely
ignored in places like Australia?

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