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LibraryBox recognized in the 2015 Nominet Trust 100

I’m very happy to announce that The LibraryBox Project has been named among the 2015 NT100 – Nominet Trust’s annual celebration of 100 inspiring ‘tech for good’ ventures from around the world. Among this year’s companies selected for inclusion are Google X’s Project Loon and Open Street Maps…I’m gobsmacked that LibraryBox can be included in a list with those amazing projects.

The included projects all use digital technology to tackle the world’s social problems from lifesaving health tech to knowledge sharing via SMS text messaging.

Following a global call for nominations earlier this year The LibraryBox Project was selected by ten judging partners from the tech and charity world in recognition of our work. The judges included such companies as Comic Relief, Creative England, Facebook, Latimer, Nominet, Oxfam, O2 Telefonica, Salesforce and Society Guardian.

Thank you to everyone involved in The LibraryBox Project, especially Matthias Strubel, without whom it wouldn’t be as amazing as it is. Thanks also to the Kickstarter backers that made the v2.0 possible, and to the Knight Foundation Prototype Grant for enabling the development of the v2.1. If you’d like to learn more about The LibraryBox Project, a good place to start is the talk I did at Harvard Law School for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society earlier this year.

Learn more and and explore the 2015 NT100 here: socialtech.org.uk/nominet-trust-100/2015

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Estonian E-Residency


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On August 26th, 2015, I applied to be a digital citizen of the country of Estonia. On November 18th, 2015, I took the train from Boston to New York City, walked to the Consulate General of Estonia, and I officially became an Estonian E-resident.

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What does that even mean, and why would I do it?

Estonia is one of the very first countries to implement a robust electronic identity card system for their citizens. The ID card is a smart card that has a chip embedded in it that enables a robust public-key encryption implementation that allows the owner of said card to legally sign documents electronically. Estonia has been building out their infrastructure for electronic signatures and digital identity for over a decade, and Estonian citizens can do a vast amount of interaction with their government through this system, including things like the DMV, registering for governmental programs, and even voting in elections. The system is being overseen by Taavi Kotka, the CIO of Estonia and founder of Skype.

The E-Residency program is an extension of this system to non-Estonian citizens. In its current state, the card allows me to open and run a business in Estonia if I would like (completely remotely), to set up a bank account (not completely remotely, but the banks are promising that soon), and to interact with a handful of companies that recognize the card as a legal identity document. While I don’t currently need to do any of these things, I am intrigued by the potential for robust digital identities to conduct business and interact with agencies in the real world, and right now Estonian E-Residency is the only way to do that as an American citizen.

According to the Estonian dashboard that tracks these things, I am one of 443 applicants from the US, but only 239 of us have actually picked up our cards. So somewhere in the US there’s 238 other people that are interested in playing around with this technology.

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Becoming an E-Resident involves applying, paying a 50 Euro processing fee, and if accepted, picking up your E-Residency kit at an Estonian Consulate. The kit comes with your smart card, as well as a USB card reader and instructions for using the two together to interact with online portals securely.

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Once you have these in your possession, you can log in to the Estonia E-Residency portal, use your card for authentication, and access the currently-available services through your browser.

I’m doing this partially because I am very curious about the future of the program, and hope that this might enable some interesting things over the next few years. If I’m honest with myself, it’s also because I read far too much cyberpunk literature as an impressionable youth, and the concept of digital citizens of a physical nation-state thrills the hell out of me.

The other aspect of this program that I find interesting is that they are opening the platform for developers to use their cards as an authentication method. Obviously there isn’t enough uptake for that to be useful yet, but systems like this one may well become standards over the next decade and knowing how to use them now will only be an advantage.

As I find interesting uses for my E-Residency, I’ll post about it here. For now, I’m just happy to be one of the first in the US to have the opportunity to test this authentication and identity platform.

Anonymous Communication on the Web

I wasn’t sure how my previous post would go over, but after some back-and-forth emailing with the reporter on the piece, WTVC asked me to come in for an interview on anonymity and the “deep web”. So I did!

We talked for almost an hour, and for some stupid reason I didn’t think to record the interview myself (will not make that mistake again). They did a fine job representing my views, although clearly edited the piece for a specific audience. I’ll admit that I probably got too heavy into the weeds of the details of Tor. They were particularly touchy about my correcting the use of “Deep Web” and “Dark Web” as useful categories. I just kept using anonymity, security, privacy and tried very hard not to fall into using their very fuzzy language to describe something with lots of complexity.

My talking points revolved around how anonymity is a requirement for the freedom of speech in a free society, and that fear-based reports like their last one are actually damaging to how people should react to the world (my example, that they didn’t use, was that instead of worrying about the incredibly rare possibility of child-abduction due to predators on Tor, perhaps parents should be more worried about driving their child to school in the morning, since it was orders of magnitude more dangerous). I suppose we’ll see if there’s any feedback that comes from this as a positive concept.

I’m glad they gave me the chance to come in and talk, and I do hope it’s useful for someone out there in Chattanooga to see that wanting anonymity and privacy online isn’t just something to abet criminal activity. Privacy issues online are something that increasingly everyone should be aware of, because the risks are going to be omnipresent as we continue to move our lives into the digital space.

Deep Dark Web

A local Chattanooga news station, WTVC, ran a story about the Deep Dark Web this week. It is so, so badly done that I felt it necessary to write the producers of the work a letter about it, and decided that I would include both the above link to their story and my response here.

My letter to WTVC

Dear Producers of “Chattanooga Police Explain Dangers Of The Deep And Dark Web”:

I have so very many problems with your Deep/Dark web story from earlier this week, that it may be difficult for me to hit all of the points that I found wrong at best, and massively misleading at worst.

You failed to appropriately delineate any aspects of the technology in the piece, conflating web browsers with protocols, and generally confusing how anonymous communication works on the Internet. You mention Tor (https://www.torproject.org), the network protocol for anonymous routing of communications, but only in the service of the Tor Browser, a web interface that runs on top of said network.

More worrisome, you presented the very worst sort of fear journalism by not only presenting an “expert” in “hacktivism” that came off as little more than a stereotype talking about secret murder games without any sort of proof or questioning. The police officer was almost worse, suggesting that parents might worry if their teenagers had something to hide on their devices….of course teens have things to hide. They are teenagers. It is practically their job to find things which they do not want their parents knowing. Conflating child abduction (an incredibly rare occurrence, as I’m sure you know) with kids use of Snapchat or WhatsApp is just terrible, terrible reporting. It’s fear mongering and false from nearly every angle.

The fact that your “expert” couldn’t think of any reasons that people might want to communicate anonymously with each other is a sign of massive social privilege. Nearly any member of any minority group in the US might have reason to communicate anonymously with others, usually because of a fear of retribution from their immediate family or social circle. Imagine an LGBTQ teen struggling with self-identity in a very conservative area, and how anonymous communication might be important. Imagine how repressive regimes throughout the world make open communication between groups literally a life and death issue.

Or maybe just think about how anonymity of speech is a necessary component of the freedom of speech in the US. You are supposed to be journalists, and defending the anonymity of sources is a primary function of your job. You should know about SecureDrop (https://securedrop.org) and other tools that leverage these technologies to ensure that open communication is a thing that is maintained here in this country.

You are supposed to be better than fear mongering and misunderstanding.

Jason Griffey
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University
http://jasongriffey.net

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TSA Master Keys, Threat Models, and Encryption

Earlier this year, someone noticed that the Washington Post had published a story with the following picture:

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Once that photo was noticed, a few intrepid hackers began a search for higher resolution photos, which weren’t long in coming. From those photos, they reverse-engineered CAD files of the keys, and the results are STL files for the 7 Master Keys that the TSA has for luggage locks in the US. Here are two different Github repos with the downloadable files.

On Saturday, Oct 17 2015, while testing the setup of a new 3D printer, I decided to see how easy it would be to use one of these keys on a TSA approved lock. There happened to be a luggage lock laying around the Berkman Fellows room that no one knew the combination of, so I had a test subject within easy reach. Within about 15 minutes, I had a key printed. I spent about 2-3 minutes cleaning it (smoothing edges and picking off rough spots in the printing). Maybe 2 minutes after that, I had the lock open.

This is the perfect illustration of why security that has backdoors for law enforcement isn’t actually security. Once there is an intentionally created hole in your security strategy, you should assume that anyone that you are attempting to prevent accessing your luggage/email/passwords will ALSO have access to your intentionally created security hole. This is the same concept that Cory Doctorow uses in his condemnation of DRM (you can’t lock something up with a key and then give the key to the person you are trying to prevent accessing your thing) as well as the argument against giving backdoor access keys for encryption algorithms to governmental agencies. It is simply impossible to have security, whether that term is used for physical objects, communication, storage of information, or anything else, and also to have holes intentionally added to the system for the benefit of “the good guys”. Once the key exists, anyone can make their own copy of it.

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With government around the world arguing for technology companies to build in “golden keys” for encryption used on phones and other digital devices, we need to be wary of anyone that believes that such access would only be used for good, or only by the right groups.

Why is strong and reliable encryption so important?  I think Bruce Schneier said it most plainly:

If we only use encryption when we’re working with important data, then encryption signals that data’s importance. If only dissidents use encryption in a country, that country’s authorities have an easy way of identifying them. But if everyone uses it all of the time, encryption ceases to be a signal. No one can distinguish simple chatting from deeply private conversation. The government can’t tell the dissidents from the rest of the population. Every time you use encryption, you’re protecting someone who needs to use it to stay alive.

This is why the Library Freedom Project and their work to put Tor Nodes in Libraries is so important. It’s why libraries should be moving all of their services to encrypted channels. In many ways, this isn’t just about protecting our patron’s information (although that is a good and sufficient reason to use these services and to be worried about electronic security).

Encryption is like vaccination…we shouldn’t be driven to do it because it helps us. We should be driven to do it because it helps the world.

There is also an argument for libraries to use and support strong encryption for free speech reasons, but that will take another post and a more subtle argument.

LibraryBox talk at Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Here is the video of my talk as a part of the Luncheon Series from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Titled When Online is Offline: The Case for Hyperlocal Webservers and Networks, it’s a look at the LibraryBox project, what it is, why I think it’s important, and what impact it has had on the world.

The full abstract for the talk is:

The LibraryBox Project (along with other emerging projects like PirateBox, occupy.here, IdeasBox, and others) is an attempt at bridging the divide in delivery of digital information in areas where there is a lack of communications infrastructure or where that infrastructure has been damaged or is overly monitored or controlled. As self-contained, non-connected portable servers, these devices can be used to circumvent governmental firewalls, distribute information in areas of political upheaval, reach the most remote areas to deliver healthcare information, and help recovery efforts after natural disasters.

In this presentation Jason Griffey — founder and principal at Evenly Distributed a technology consulting and creation firm for libraries, museums, education, and other non-profits — gives an overview of the LibraryBox project and its current state, goals and development roadmap, and a discussion of possible next directions and needs.

Innovation & Libraries: LLAMA Thought Leader Webinar Series

I was honored today to be a part of the LLAMA Thought Leader Series for Libraries, talking about innovation. I focused on my own career in libraries, and the aspects of things I’ve done that I considered innovative…efforts and projects that I thought were interesting. The conclusion of the presentation was talking through what the commonalities are in those projects, what I think is necessary for innovation in libraries, and how leadership can support said innovation. If you’re interested in downloading the video or slides, you can find those on the LLAMA website, or watch below.

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Tor, Libraries, and the Department of Homeland Security

During an appearance on the LITA Top Technology Trends panel in 2014, I was discussing privacy of patron data, and mentioned that I thought it was a good idea for libraries to run Tor nodes on library servers. So when the Library Freedom Project launched their Tor in Libraries project, I was totally behind them…I even did a Tor workshop for Librarians for their workshop at ALA Annual in San Francisco.

If you aren’t familiar with Tor, I recommend reading the Wikipedia article. The TL:DR version is that Tor is a protocol and a network that is currently the best mechanism that we have for accessing information on the Internet anonymously. There are a few ways that one can use Tor, ranging from using an operating system that routes all your Internet traffic over the Tor network to just using the Tor browser, which just anonymizes your web traffic.

The way that Tor anonymizes your traffic is through a combination of encryption and blind routing,  When you initially connect to the Tor network, the connection is encrypted in much the same way that the connection to your bank would be, via a public key encryption system. When you make a request for a website through the network, the Tor protocol bounces the request from one network node to the next, encrypting the traffic at every hop. Once the traffic gets a couple of hops away from the originating computer, it’s impossible to know where the request came from. Eventually the traffic exits the Tor network, back onto the regular old Internet, and gathers what you asked for, then reverses the process to get back to you.

The result is that, under ideal conditions, it is completely impossible to track or trace what’s being transmitted via Tor. For Tor to continue to operate, it needs two sorts of nodes….relay nodes that act as the “bouncing” nodes for inside the network, and exit nodes that are the places where the traffic goes out of the encrypted Tor network and back onto the regular Internet. You need both, although a ratio of more relay nodes to fewer exit nodes is fine. The traffic that goes across relay nodes is completely anonymous…from the perspective of both the network and the individual server, it is just a random string of binary code. Only at the exit nodes does the traffic decrypt, and thus exit nodes bear the brunt of all of the requests going across the network. The traffic for the broader network all has to squeeze itself through exit nodes, and the fewer exit nodes there are, the easier it is for them to be monitored…although you can’t tell where the requests for the information came from without advanced knowledge.

So why am I talking about Tor? Because I wanted to set up the story that broke last week about the first library in the US to publicly go live with a Tor relay (a middle relay) getting pressured by their local police to turn it off. The police were, in turn, pressured by the US Department of Homeland Security. From the original article on the event:

In July, the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the first library in the country to become part of the anonymous Web surfing service Tor. The library allowed Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library, thus masking users’ locations.

Soon after state authorities received an email about it from an agent at the Department of Homeland Security.

“The Department of Homeland Security got in touch with our Police Department,” said Sean Fleming, the library director of the Lebanon Public Libraries.

After a meeting at which local police and city officials discussed how Tor could be exploited by criminals, the library pulled the plug on the project.

“Right now we’re on pause,” said Fleming. “We really weren’t anticipating that there would be any controversy at all.”

He said that the library board of trustees will vote on whether to turn the service back on at its meeting on Sept. 15.

That’s tomorrow, for those keeping track at home.

Why do I think that libraries should be running Tor nodes? I had a long discussion about this on Twitter recently, but let me use the freedom of more than 140 characters to try and talk through my thinking on this. Tor is, currently, the best option that people have for anonymous speech on the Internet. It is possible to create accounts without using your real name, it’s possible to use wifi at coffeeshops and your local library to prevent your IP from being recorded…but for real anonymity of network traffic, nothing beats using Tor.

Anonymous speech is important because it is a necessary component of the freedom of speech. The US Supreme Court has ruled again and again that the right to anonymous speech is a protected part of the First Amendment, saying in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission:

Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority…It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation…at the hand of an intolerant society.

Libraries have been concerned over time with the Freedom to Read, but to doubt the role of the library in the Freedom of Speech in the US is to fundamentally misunderstand the Library (and possibly speech itself). Speech is a necessary precursor to Reading, as creation is a necessary precursor to consumption. Libraries are and should be cornerstones of free expression in the United States, and have worked to provide access to the tools of speech for years and years.

For the Department of Homeland Security to use the boogie-man of “bad things happen on Tor” as a lever to get the relay turned off is the worst sort of fear mongering. Any tool can be a weapon, and any communications mechanism can and probably will be used to enable illegal activity. There is enormously more illegal activity on the open Internet, and yet libraries everywhere provide open and robust access to the Internet via both terminal and wifi. To paint Tor as a haven for thieves and drugs and child pornography is to misunderstand not only the Tor network but to, in my opinion, to mistake the forest for the trees. Yes, tools can be used for immoral and illegal things. But that does not make the tool either immoral nor illegal.

The only rational explanation for the DHS pressuring the library to shut down their Tor relay node is that the DHS doesn’t want individuals, including US citizens, to have more robust mechanisms for anonymous speech. Per the US Supreme Court’s rulings on the links between anonymity and freedom of speech, this indicates to me that the DHS is actively attempting to prevent free and open speech on the Internet.

That is not ok with me, and it absolutely should not be ok with libraries.  

If you have made it this far, please visit the EFF’s Take Action page on this effort and sign.

EgoPost: Two articles about me

This was my first week as a Berkman Fellow, and there were a couple of articles that came out about my time here. The first was a very kind article by my Alma Mater, the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science. The second was from Berkman themselves, an interview with me about what I’m working on while here.

From the UNC-SILS article:

“I’m most excited about connecting with the people associated with the Berkman Center, and by extension the library community in the Boston area,” Griffey said. “Berkman has a history of supporting the mission of libraries, but I’m really excited about the opportunity to spread the word about the amazing work that libraries are doing and make connections between them and the other fellows. I’m also looking forward to finding people to collaborate with on my own project, and see what new voices and minds can bring to it.”

and from Berkman:

“I am interested in the rise over the last several years of what I am calling the “hyperlocal webserver”. A number of projects are attempting to provide access to digital resources  to users through the use of inexpensive, low-powered offgrid and offline webservers, including my own open source project LibraryBox. Others in this space include PirateBox, the RACHEL project servers, occupy.here, The IDEAS Box project, the OLPC project’s School Server, and many more. These projects have in common that all are designed to allow for local connectivity without access to the broader Internet. The power of localized digital delivery is only now being realized, especially in areas where there is insufficient infrastructure to support the demand for information access.

My interest is in the potential for these technologies (and possibly others) to allow for shadow networks to arise quickly where needed and wanted. The ever-shrinking costs of hardware capable of supporting these sorts of hyperlocal micronetworks drive the overhead for building one down to trivial amounts, but the technical knowledge needed to set up and manage one is still more than the average Internet user can handle. I want to reach out to the projects above, hardware makers, UX designers, and network engineers to try and develop a process and project that makes it as easy as possible for anyone to create or assist in community-based networks that allow for digital sharing and communication even when offline or offgrid. I am interested in what happens when communities are given the tools that can allow for unmediated and uncontrolled sharing and communication, and what sort of emergent behaviors and services might arise from those tools.”

LLAMA Thought Leader Webinar

On Wednesday, Sept 16, I will be doing a webinar for the Library Leadership & Management Association, known in library circles as LLAMA. This particular webinar is part of a series called the LLAMA Thought Leaders, which has been host to a ton of amazing librarians that I look up to: Ben Bizzle, Susan Hildreth, Barbara Stripling, Sari Feldman, with fantastic upcoming episodes with Rebecca Smith Aldrich, Steve Teeri, Tod Colegrove and Tara Radniecki. I’m honored to be included in such brilliant company.

I will be talking about innovation in library technology and leadership, and how I’ve managed to carve out the career I’ve had, from leading the technology team at at academic library,  running a successful open source project like LibraryBox, building a new way to understand how our patrons use our buildings and resources with Measure the Future, and now as a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. I’ll be taking questions from the audience and I hope to have a great conversation with the attendees. Come and ask me questions!

Register and join me! 12noon until 1pm Central Daylight Time (1pm Eastern, 10am Pacific) on September 16th.