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Open Gates – My FCC Testimony

On Tuesday, December 15, 2009, I testified at an FCC workshop entitled “Speech, Democratic Engagement and the Open Internet.” Video of the hearing is embedded below and available on YouTube. The moderator introduces me at 58:27, and my roughly 6 minute remarks begin at 59:07. The Q&A that begins at 1:26:18 (My answers are at 1:28:00-1:29:29 and 1:41:20-1:43:31).

My message was that an open internet is necessary for the political participation of all people of all shapes, sizes, races and income in the future. My full opening statement with references is below.

One Love. One II.

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Civil rights groups must support Net Neutrality

Civil rights are fundamentally about protecting fairness, equality, and freedom for all people. Net neutrality is about protecting fairness, equality and freedom for all online data. From a values perspective, these two concepts are functionally equivalent.

Values aren’t everything

Unfortunately, these shared values are not convincing enough for some civil rights organizations. The Broadband Opportunity Coalition (which, ironically, has no website) consists of the National Urban League, the Asian American Justice Center, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, and other groups that argue for fairness and equality every day.

Well, every day they’re not talking about net neutrality. On their off days, they “question” the impact of net neutrality in letters to the FCC:

If the history of civil rights in America teaches us anything, it is that facially neutral laws and regulations are not always applied neutrally to the constituencies we represent. We certainly don’t want that to happen to Internet regulation too, and we’re very concerned that, despite your very best intentions, some aspects of net neutrality might not turn out to be neutral as applied to our constituencies.

They don’t come out and say it, but this is setting the table for their rejection of fair content distribution online.

Neutral networks lead to empowered communities

The truth is network neutrality is critical to ensuring equal access to the Internet, its content, and the empowerment that comes with that. Without network neutrality protection, ISPs and telecom companies will have free reign to discriminate against the distribution of content created by minority producers. This will make the Internet just like other mass media channels in which the authentic voices of people of color have been marginalized.

Fairness, equality, and freedom must be protected on and offline.

The pros and cons of worldwide net activism

I also posted this at the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate. I serve as Senior Policy Analyst for Technology for the Institute.

As new tools of civic and civil protest evolve – as in Iran, where protesters are using social networks to keep the rest of the world apprised of the response to that country’s recently held elections – they present both new opportunities and new challenges for freedom of speech.

Protesting using Twitter

Protesting using Twitter

Twitter has been singled out as the key communication platform for protesters and those watching them since last week’s election. It has enabled people around the globe to read real time accounts of the happenings.

It has also enabled people around the globe to participate in the protest in ways some have never seen before.

Such armchair activism has included setting up proxy servers to help Iranian tweeters get around government blockades of the site.

Another example was the attempted DDOS attacks on Iranian web servers from abroad (DDoS stands for Denial of Service, a method of hacking that involves sending lots of web requests every second with the hopes of overloading a web server and rendering a website unusable/unavailable).

Principally, the inclusion of non-Iranians in these protest efforts is a good thing. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. However, these particular actions raise serious ethical and legal questions that must be thought through.

As interested activists and citizens, we must be prudent in our actions to ensure they help more than hurt.

For instance, are we comfortable with the idea of private citizens using private networks to engage in network “warfare”?

By doing so, do we make our civilian network infrastructure a valid target to an adversary? What risks are associated with a group of private citizens sending an unintended message to a potential adversary in the form of a coordinated network disruption?

Perhaps we are, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Earlier this year, Russia basically did this to Georgia, and caught a lot of flack for it. This sets a precedent that is dangerous, especially if we don’t understand its consequences.

Another question: if the attacks were actually successful, wouldn’t we be destroying the only portals we have into the very place we’re so interested in?

After all, foreign journalists have been banned from covering the demonstration, and many have been jailed and/or beaten. To choke off an authentic supply of information would be strategically foolish.

Technology is an increasingly powerful and important part of our society and our culture. As it expands to touch more parts of our lives, we must be ever-mindful of its drawbacks as well as its benefits.

One Love. One II.

The SuperSpade is Everywhere – on the Kindle, the iPhone, and everywhere else

The SuperSpade is everywhere.

The SuperSpade is everywhere.

Just a quick note today about ways Brandon and I are making The SuperSpade available to you in as many ways as possible:

Last but not least, we’ll soon be rolling out an email newsletter where subscribers will receive great insider benefits like:

  • Tips on how you can be an effective activist and get involved at the local and national level
  • Additional in-depth analysis on issues and events
  • Connections to other online activists and bloggers working on issues impacting people of color
  • A chance to have your voice heard on The SuperSpade
  • Much more…

There will be another announcement when the email newsletter is up and running.

Stay tuned and stay connected.

One Love. One II.

Photo Credit: lennbob on Flickr

Interview: Why Early Voting is Both Important and Revolutionary

On Monday, I was interviewed as part of a small series on Politics and Technology by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine. We talked at length about early voting, why it’s such a big issue this election, what are the types of good & bad things that we can do with early voting data, and ways that people can find out early voting information with tools like Know How To Vote.

I’m looking forward to talking with Jeff again about Politics and Technology soon.

Enjoy.

One Love. One II.

The New NAACP: Upload 2 Uplift

Upload 2 Uplift: NAACP Voter Registration ToolYesterday afternoon, I participated in a call with new NAACP President & CEO Ben Jealousheld a press conference with Black bloggers and members of the Black press to kick off his tenure and discuss his top 2 priorities: helping Hurricane Ike survivors and ensuring full participation in the upcoming election.

NAACP and Hurricane Ike

According to Jealous, the NAACP National Office sent 3 of its staff people to do two things:

  1. Ensure fairness in the distribution of aid
  2. Ensure the sins of Katrina are not repeated

They’ve got their work cut out for them, and Jealous actually told us something else disturbing about the lead-up to the storm:

Some poor communities complained to the NAACP that they were not adequately warned of the storm, its seriousness, or the voluntary/mandatory evacuations. This is because the warnings happened almost exclusively on TV, and these people had no TV.

People with questions in the state and out of state can call the NAACP Command Center, which is at their Texas State Conference, at (512) 322-9547.It is a travesty that the NAACP’s Command Center is set up before FEMA’s.

Making sure peoplve vote

While Jealous is working to make sure that folks in the wake of Ike get proper aid and electrical power, he and the NAACP are working hard to make sure that those folks’ electoral power is also fully restored and available. The rights of voters in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina was a major issue, and I actually marched in support of the re-enfranchisement of those voters. Upload 2 Upift: NAACP Registering People to Vote

In what Jealous called “a sign of things to come,” he announced Upload 2 Uplift, a website that gives people the ability to do 2 things:

  1. Register themselves to vote online, or print out registration forms that they can mail in
  2. Register their friends and contacts to vote

#2 is very important, and it’s this “social voter registration” capability that really sets this tool apart from other online voter registration tools. Many  people know they have friends that are not registered to vote. If you know that person’s email address, you can give them a very simple way to register quickly online. Additionally, the system will send people reminders by email and/or text message to let them know when to vote and where to vote, if they want it too. Pretty cool.

A great start

This was a good meeting for Jealous, and he demonstrated a new way of thinking about the NAACP and about advocacy & civic engagement. By including Black bloggers in his first press conference, Ben Jealous showed that blogging and other forms of new and online media will be an important part of the NAACP’s strategy going forward. By creating its first real online tool, the NAACP shows that technology and the Internet will be important parts of their strategy going forward. I am looking forward to see what they do with this momentum.

One Love. One II.

Barack Obama on Technology and Net Neutrality

Barack Obama will be giving a talk at Googleplex in Mountain View, CA today, in which he will lay out a comprehensive, 5-point technology policy:

  • Ensure the full and free exchange of information among Americans through an open Internet and diverse media outlets.
  • Create a transparent and connected democracy.
  • Encourage the deployment of a modern communications infrastructure.
  • Employ technology and innovation to solve our nation’s most pressing problems, including reducing the costs of health care, encouraging the development of new clean energy sources, and improving public safety.
  • Improve America’s competitiveness.

The full text of the handout to be used this evening is here.

The most important piece of this is the second point of creating a “transparent and connected democracy.” Making government data and information available in standard, accessible formats is a brain-dead simple solution to the problem of not knowing how to access government information. The appointment of a US CTO is a good strategy because it would mandate someone with technical knowledge and experience actually make technology decisions [instead of people like Ted Stevens].

My hope is that other candidates will lay out thoughtful, progressive approaches to technology policy so that we can use this as another differentiator.

One Love. One II.