government

Government in the context of civic media work is any form of civil authority at any level from local to national and international. It can refer to entities that are elected or appointed. The term also includes the processes involved in government: deliberation, voting, election campaigns, and making policy.

HOPE X: Themes and Reflections


Image by Willow Brugh.

Over the weekend, I attended HOPE X, the 10th Hackers on Planet Earth conference, organized by 2600 Magazine. HOPE is my favorite hacker conference, and a strong contender for my favorite conference overall, because although content is tech-heavy, it's not really about technology. HOPE is a conference by and for those interested in the hacker ethos of free information, understanding the world, and empowerment to fix what is broken— including keynote speakers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. So HOPE is a great place to think about the intersection of technology, journalism, and activism. Throughout the conference, I noticed several recurring themes.

Code Is Not Enough

HOPE X: Hacking Money

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Finn Brunton

Begins by saying money is something that you can, and should, hack on. He speculates that the theme of the next century will be "infrastructural struggles for autonomy." Infrastructural: low level standards, licenses, etc. rather than wars. Autonomy: self-government, decentralization, etc. He sees money as one of the primary theaters where this will happen.

What is money? A puzzle. Cowry shell fossils from the Indian Ocean were found in West Africa. How did they get there? They were traded as money. They were an integral part of the West African slave trade. You can't use them for anything with them once you have them, except for use them as jewelry. But jewelry is a high bandwidth signal of social status, used to cement social bonds. We can think of it like a page rank. They represent power, power that can be traded.

The Knights Hospitaller in Malta were granted the right to mint money. They funded military operations by minting coins that could later be redeemed for silver when the fighting was done.

HOPE X: Ask the EFF - This Year On the Internet

Liveblogged at HOPE X. The speakers have cautioned that this talk is not legal advice.


Nate Cardozo, Attorney
Kurt Opsahl, Attorney
Adi Kamdar, Activist
Peter Eckersley, Technology Projects Director
Eva Galperin, Global Policy Analyst

It's been a busy year at the EFF. They've been focusing a lot on the national security space over the last year.

Kurt Opsahl works on NSA cases. Jewel v. NSA has been going on since 2008, related to AT&T's involvement with NSA wiretapping. First Unitarian v. NSA is focused on the right of association, and your right to anonymity in who you associate with. Just earlier this week, the EFF and ACLU joined Smith v. Obama. Kurt also works on a case arguing that National Security Letters are unconstitutional and is defending the decision against appeal.

HOPE X: Bless the Cops, and Keep Them Far Away From Us

Livebglogged at HOPE X.

Alex Muentz

Hackers are in the media, but not well understood. Why do hackers expose problems and break things? Hackers are consumer protectors, like Ralph Nader, or Upton Sinclair. Hackers are presented as folk heroes, folk devils, plain criminals, and/or national security threats. The State is using the moral panic over hacking to show force and require new powers.

Most criminals don't get caught. The hackers who are doing public-facing consumer protection are easy targets for prosecution, and receive more.

18 USC 1030/CFAA Bans unauthorized or 'excess of authorized' access to a 'protected computer.' Obtaining information, causing damage, furthering fraud, or procuring others to do so. Results in criminal and civil penalties. The law has no First Amendment or self defense exceptions.

HOPE X: Can You Patent Software?

Can You Patent Software?

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Ed Ryan, Patent Attorney

Will be talking about the Alice v. CLS Bank decision. So can you patent software? Short answer: yes.

In the US, the power to issue patents comes from the Constitution, and is meant to encourage innovation. Patents involve a trade: you get a monopoly on making something for a limited amount of time, but you have to tell us how you made it. It's common wisdom that patents are good, but Ed asks if that really holds up for software.

He argues that being secretive over ideas in tech is wasteful and that the main benefit of software patents is to allow people to talk about their ideas without the need for secrecy.

Software is usually patented as a "process" or a "machine." However, laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas can't be patented. When you patent the basic building blocks of an industry, you in effect own that industry. Software patents go against the long-held ideals of sharing in open source.

The Open Web and Participation

Live blogged by Rahul Bhargava and Matt Stempeck Monday, June 23, 2014 - 3:45pm

The Internet lowers coordination costs, making it easier for groups of people to cooperate and work together. Despite this, it's often been hard to apply the lessons of online cooperation to the world of civics. A set of exciting new projects and initiatives offers hope for what's possible and a clearer sense of the challenges of using the web to participate in offline social change.

[Peer economy] Recap: Transportation licensing hearing in Cambridge

This last Tuesday, the Cambridge Licensing Commission held a hearing to discuss regulations concerning unregistered cabs, including transportation network companies (think Uber, Lyft, SideCar—peer-to-peer platforms that offer private point-to-point car service) and rogue cabs (not registered with the city and not participants with a TNC). A proposal—Regulations for Smartphone Technology for Taxicabs and Limousines—served as grounding for the discussion around how to regulate private transportation and/or update the definition of private transportation. An alert went out over email to the Media Lab community, and I attended the hearing. As the only ML community member who attended the hearing in full, I sent back a report. I've been encouraged to share it here. It has been slightly altered to provide links and to make it coherent outside of the Media Lab community.

[Peer Economy] Keep it real to catalyze the sharing economy

Last week, I was in San Francisco as a panelist and plenary speaker at the inaugural SHARE conference. The event was organized by Peers (a research partner in January) and SOCAP, and I spoke about the future of work. I also gave a lightning talk at the closing plenary. All of the plenary speakers had to bookend their lightning talk with "--- catalyze the sharing economy." I took advantage of this five-minute window to urge thoughtful discussion. This is the script that I more or less adhered to: 

I’ve been at MIT for the last few years researching peer-to-peer marketplaces. When I got the prompt for this talk, “BLANK will catalyze the sharing economy,” I had lots of different reactions. But in the five minutes I have, I want to say that straight talk is what will catalyze the sharing economy.

Hawaii Proposes the First Civic Crowdfunding Legislation

Hawaii has become the first state to propose a bill supporting civic crowdfunding, as it seeks to raise funds for the maintenance and repair of local schools.

HB2631 outlines a pilot program in which two maintenance projects at Hawaii schools are selected for public crowdfunding campaigns.

Trip Report: Connecting with Belo Horizonte, Brazil

I just returned from a fascinating week in Belo Horizonte (Brazil)!  The trip was organized by the Office of Strategic Priorities (@escritorio_gov) of the State of Minas Gerais (they are members of the MIT Media Lab).  The Escritorio joined the Media Lab to think harder about fostering innovation and empowering their citizens.  Following those themes, we worked together and planned an agenda that focused on four main activities:

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