Thursday, December 9, 2010

Freedom of speech for some, sometimes

I'm sick at the moment, so this might come across as more of a rant than a well thought out argument.

It seems to me, after reading a lot of recent anti-WikiLeaks news that there is a problem with free societies: They are run by regular people who are generally good at the art of politics and/or administration. There is no barrier in a free society designed to stop people who do not believe in the ideals of that society from rising to the top. In fact, they are often advantaged by not having to care about the society's rules.

Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin, and Julia Gillard, among others, have seized on #cablegate as an opportunity to talk down the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In the case of Gillard, while I find it appalling that someone with so little respect for freedom of speech represents Australia, it is somewhat understandable, as Australia has never had particularly strong protections of our freedom of speech. The high court in fact will only recognise a limited right to freedom of political speech.

But the United States is different. The 1st amendment to their constitution reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
 That's pretty clear to me.

Palin, however, thinks that Assange should be taken down like a terrorist, claiming that he can't be a member of the press and therefore have any freedom. She ignores his personal right to freedom of speech, and the fact that journalists are not defined as people who publish inoffensive puff pieces about what's growing in your fridge. Some Americans have called for him to be tried for treason, failing to notice that treason is a crime committed by a citizen against their own country, and Assange is not American.

Unfortunately, people like Palin and Lieberman just consider government to be a vehicle through which their careers and power can grow. If the U.S. just happened to be a fascist society or a socialist society, they would be exactly the same. They are pushing agendas of convenience; Whatever actions match their whimsical thoughts on a topic should be possible. They don't feel restrained by the fact that their country was founded with explicit protections against what they are trying to do.

I would just like to put out there one more fact that is being glossed over: Despite teams of lawyers working on finding something to charge Assange with, the only reason he is possibly going to be extradited to Sweden is because of what appears to be a smear campaign in the form of a molestation investigation. There is nothing else with which he has been charged or can be said to be suspected of committing. Assange may have committed an act that looks dodgy to some, but without being able to point at a law that has been broken, any attacks against him are unfounded.

I understand that there are others behind WikiLeaks, as there are unsung heroes behind any cause. Assange, however, is the face of WikiLeaks. I consider him to be my hero. Not specifically for releasing the documents of #cablegate etc., which are generally not that interesting, but for highlighting to the world what kind of reactions to expect when freedom of speech is really put to the test. It distinguishes, like nothing else I have seen, the people who actually believe in civil liberties from those who merely don't oppose them until they become inconvenient.

An argument from people who don't understand civil liberties that I really can't stand is "If you haven't done anything wrong, then you shouldn't have anything to hide." It is wrong on so many levels. I won't try to be exhaustive, but:
  1. it ignores the imbalance of power between those who are allowed to see what is being hidden and those whose privacy is being invaded,
  2. it assumes that nobody in power is ever corrupt
  3. it assumes that there is nothing that can legally be done would still want to be kept secret, such as the purchasing of presents, acts taking place in a bedroom/bathroom, or just that some things are just nobody's freaking business, e.g. my best friend, more than a decade after finishing high school, still won't tell me what score he earned. It annoys me, but that's his right.
That said, these are personal rights. Governments should be transparent to their citizens, otherwise there is no way for the citizens to accurately know who to replace come election time. When the U.S. military shot a whole bunch of civilians from a helicopter, because they didn't take the time to properly identify the supposed enemy, that could have remained secret... and nothing would have changed. With that information becoming public, you would expect that there would be some procedural changes, because without them, the civilian head of the military can expect to be replaced at the next election.

I understand that there is a need for operational secrecy in many circumstances, but unless there is a reasonable timeline for everything that the government does to eventually become public, then the government shouldn't be doing it. If the government isn't doing something wrong, then they have nothing to hide. And if they are doing something wrong, then the public needs to know.

Democracy is predicated on people having relevant information on which to base their choice for leaders. Julian Assange has helped highlight areas where information has been incorrectly withheld, and just as importantly, he has highlighted the people who would incorrectly withhold information from the public.

Anyway, it's good to see a groundswell of organisations, including the Pirate Party hosting the #cablegate documents, and for every mirror or payment processor that is shut down, more spring up.

If you really want to help make a difference, then join your local Pirate Party as an alternative that won't dither about civil liberties and only endorse them when convenient.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hung parliaments are good for society

Lots of people have been talking about the likely outcome of the Australian election, which is that we will end up with a hung parliament. I have heard opinions that Australian voters have somehow messed up, and that our country will be somehow crippled. I disagree.

I think that a hung parliament is the best outcome in this election, if it eventuates, and I have been hoping for just this to happen. Here's why:

Unless you live in Julia Gillard's electorate, or Tony Abbott's electorate, then no matter what the major parties tell us, you are not voting for Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott. People vote for someone to represent the interests of their electorate, and those of the state, and those of the country. It is a corruption that has led to the situation where people vote for a political party instead of a representative. That corruption is bloc voting.

Let's say that there is a faction in the Labor party that is just over half the size of the party. And let's say that just over half of that faction votes against supporting gay marriage. That faction becomes bound to vote against gay marriage. Sorry Penny Wong. Anyway, now that faction votes within the Labor caucus to oppose gay marriage, which binds the whole party. So, now Labor has to vote against gay marriage. And let's now assume that Labor has just over half the parliament. Because Labor votes with one voice, just over one eighth of the parliament has managed to force through their policy, without even asking the rest of the MPs what they think. This might be an extreme case (though due to the opaque nature of negotiations, we don't really know), but it highlights the issue: A small minority of MPs can force through a policy that binds all of Australia, even though the issue is not core to the electorates or even the party they claim to represent.

So now that no party has a majority in either house of parliament, the bloc voting can only work up to the level of the party, and neither party can pass legislation without the help of a few independents. These independents get elected, despite not having a major party name associated with them, because they work to represent the interests of their electorates. Hopefully, and I may be a bit idealistic here, these independents will require more than "because we told you so" as a reason to pass legislation. Legislation will still be passed, but there will have to be more deliberation, which should help to filter out crap like Internet censorship and the ACTA treaty.

It could even lead to individual MPs taking the same kind of stand that the independents get by default. Kate Lundy might grow the metaphorical balls to vote against Internet censorship or Penny Wong might realise that it's a matter of conscience to redefine marriage to mean something that wouldn't cause Alan Turing to kill himself.

As for who should be Prime Minister, that ill-defined face of the country, well, it's obvious really. Same as everything else, if the bloc voting can be broken, then all the MPs just have an internal election. If I remember correctly, ministers are a real position, according to our constitution, but the PM is not. The PM, if one must exist, should just be an ephemeral position. Whoever has the confidence of the parliament, for a time and for a task, is PM. Things should be expected to change, without the need for knives or tears. This system would result in an understanding that would prevent such complaints like "I voted for Rudd to be PM. I don't want Gillard," because the recognition would return that people only vote for their own representative, rather than a party or a PM.

Anyway, I am making chicken soup for a sick wife, so enough rambling from me...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Attorney-General Plans Full Assault on Privacy

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has expanded his plans to accede to the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention. He now wants to track every contact we make, whether by phone or by email, and store it all for years.

Many people might be ok with the prospect of having the government able to peer in on who they know and communicate with. They might feel that nothing can really be determined from a bit of meta-data. They should look at Palantir Technologies. Palantir's software makes it easy for agents to draw conclusions from the most unstructured data. From sexual persuasion to political affiliation, software that governments worldwide are currently using can easily unveil many of your lawful secrets.

Here's the tally board for the current government:
Maybe if the government introduced all these policies slowly, it would be more like boiling a frog, and we wouldn't notice. As it stands, every few weeks sees another major incursion in to the privacy of every Australian. At this rate, it will only be another month or two until the government introduces plans for a national id card system, against which all data will be logged, from the above-mentioned, to expenditure data, to TV viewing habits and library borrowings.

In the world of George Orwell's dystopic 1984, the size of a secret microphone was about the size of a fist. Back in the real world, a secret microphone could be invisible to the naked eye. We need to be more vigilant than ever to protect against exploitation by possibly well-intentioned, though definitely power-hungry, moves by politicians to control how we live our lives.

If you read this, and you're fed up with the constant incursions into our rights to privacy and freedom of speech, the Vote Pirate Party at the next election (assuming we are registered in time, which should be the case).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The weather!

I just have to say, the weather at the rally today was beautiful.
Right now, about an hour after it finished, the BOM is showing the heaviest rain possible to represent on the weather radar.
Very fortunate.

Anti-censorship rally follow-up

So, I've just arrived home from the rally, and it went very well.
There were speakers from all the organisations mentioned in the previous post, plus some concerned parents and other citizens who just wanted to voice their concern about the "filter."

Here is the speech that I presented at the rally:
My name is David Crafti. I am president of Pirate Party Australia and a software architect by trade.
I’d like to give you my take on Senator Conroy’s censorship plans. I’m sure that you will have already heard some of what I have to say today, but I hope to bring a new perspective to the issue.
The government states the aim of its Internet censorship program is to protect the nation’s children from mental harm.
I, and Pirate Party Australia, believe that nobody is better placed to protect your children from mental harm than you, their parents.
Personal filtering software, such as NetNanny, has been widely available at little cost for over a decade, allowing you fine-grained control over what can be viewed on your own computers.
For those of you with young children, I would encourage you to use this software. For all the previous government’s faults, they subsidised this type of software for anyone who wanted it.
We also recommend that children be taught about basic Internet safety from an early age.
Pirate Party Australia wants to see international cooperation, following due process of law, to investigate the actual abuses that lead to the creation of material that is considered illegal.
What won’t protect children, or anyone for that matter, is stopping everyone from finding information on subjects deemed unacceptable by the government of the day, such as graffiti or euthanasia.
What won’t protect your children, is bringing them up in a world where they are taught that doing the right thing is not the free choice of a good person, but the only action that can occur, due to boundaries set up by a group of unelected blacklist administrators.
The scope of the filter is currently claimed to restrict Refused Classification material, which is already more than the initially-claimed scope. Who wouldn’t be concerned that this censorship list could be expanded further and further?
Senator Conroy himself has stated that he is in talks with Google to filter YouTube. He claims that he knows that it’s possible because Google already does it for China.
He wants Australia to be censored like China?!
What this will teach children is to find ways to exploit the system wherever loopholes are found.
Their family- and society-taught morality will be replaced by rigid boundaries defined in secret.
Any civil libertarians out there will automatically see the problem with this, but it seems obvious to me that the Australian Christian Lobby, or ACL, who has pushed so hard for this filter, should also see the problem with this:
A person is not good, based solely on their actions. An element of choice must be involved.
If people are not given the choice to do wrong, then they are not given the choice to do right. If they are not given the choice to do right, then they cannot be good people. They’re merely robots.
If the ACL wants to create a society of good people, they should oppose the filter and support education, to teach people why accessing certain material is wrong, so they can make the right decision for themselves.
I’m an IT expert, so I know that the current filter plans are a joke.
I’m personally not that concerned about the immediate effects of the proposed filter, because I know I could get around it easily if I want, and I don’t know of anything that the filter would block that I would really want to access, anyway.
My main concern stems from the fact that it establishes a framework upon which more censorship can be built, which will further erode our rights to privacy and freedom of speech.
Version 1 might be a flimsy joke in practice, but the authority and ability will exist to create a more effective version down the line.
To those who support the current Labor government generally, keep in mind that when a version of the filter exists that is not a joke, you don’t know who will be in government.
Will it be Liberal? Will it be Labor? Will it be some new party that exists in 50 years time? We just don’t know.
While the current government might be implementing this censorship scheme with the best of intentions, who can predict what the intentions of future governments might be?
What happens when the secret filter list starts silently including political websites? You won’t even know, so how can you protest?
Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and modern-day China and Iran all began their strangleholds on their populations by limiting freedom of communication in some way. If we are ever unfortunate enough to have a government like one of those thrust upon us, let’s not hand them the tools to oppress us!
The only way to stop this from creeping in scope is to stop it dead in its tracks.
There is no good censorship!
Thank you

Anyway, it has just started hailing massively here, so I'm going to go and unplug some stuff.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Anti-censorship event on March 6th!

Hi everybody,

The planning for the Melbourne event is going along well. It has been endorsed by EFA, and it will have speakers from:
  • EFA
  • The Greens
  • Australian Sex Party
  • Exit International
  • A couple of socialist groups, and...
  • Pirate Party Australia
Crap! What have I gotten myself in for. I have to write a speech... And deliver it. This will be my first public, real-world speech as president of Pirate Party Australia.
I'm sure I can write something decent, but the delivery makes me somewhat nervous. Nothing for it, but to push on through. I've taken a day off work to ensure I have enough time to put together something decent.

Anyway, come along for a laugh (at me), and to learn about the censorship issue, if you don't know about it already.

Also, some progress is being made on swag, but we have to get the artwork to be perfect for the manufacturer. It feels like it should be easier.

Also, during o-week, I went to Monash Clayton on one of the days on the spur of the moment. Thanks to Steve for letting me take leave with little notice. I was hoping to be able to pick up whatever permits I needed to hand out information an sign up members, but they were sold out, and the permits are apparently expensive. I tried to come up with loopholes that would allow me to hand out information, and eventually settled on trying to find a group who would let me put my information on display at their stall. Most groups said no, but then one group not only said yes, they also let me sit with them and sign up people. I got 17 members, which is not bad for a few hours in meat space. We are now only about 80 memberships away from being able to register.

That'll do for now.

Actually, check out the blog of one of the organisers for a great story.


David Crafti

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Melbourne Anti-censorship Event on March 6th

I accidentally got myself in the middle of a fight between several factions trying to organise some kind of anti-censorship events across Australia on March 6th. I promoted a Melbourne event that was being advertised as a protest, when most factions, including one that has some Pirate Party members, had decided to go for an informal picnic or barbecue approach.

It was my own fault that I didn't know about the change of direction that some of the groups had taken, as I hadn't read the emails (they'd been filtered out of my inbox automatically). Once I'd realised my mistake, and caught up on my reading, and worked through the aggressive abuse that was hurled my way for my mistake (very productive, that was), I started trying to calm things down.

I won't be naming names or organisations in this post, despite my aim for transparency, as things committed via email and facebook tend to escalate well beyond where they would go over phone or in person, and I think that it has pretty much been a case of frustration boiling over for everyone involved in organising these events.

Anyway, so I started getting involved in working on compromises for the Melbourne and Perth events, as the organisers of those had started organising protests due to the lack of any other events being planned, and not having been told about the picnic plans of the organising groups from the other states.

I started with email, but quickly realised that it would be an ineffective means of communication to really make good arguments that would be heard. So I picked up the phone, and pretty soon, the Perth organiser had compromised on some the the plans for the Perth event, to a point where the other states' groups should have been happy. They weren't.

Then I got involved in the Melbourne planning, getting compromises and format changes so that other than not actually having a picnic, the format seemed to be almost the same as the other states. All the people I have spoken to from Melbourne and Perth have seemed to be nice, reasonable people (though I've only spoken to one organiser from Perth). I was pretty proud of myself about getting these compromises, I must say. I felt like a real deal-maker, and all it took was speaking calmly, having logical arguments and being polite: almost the opposite of most online communication conducted between strangers.

But no matter what I have managed to do to get Melbourne and Perth to compromise on their formats, issues kept coming up with the organisers from the other states either not believing me about the format changes, or just not listening. No matter what I promised about the events, old quotes and badly-written zdnet articles kept being used, over and over to imply that Perth and Melbourne were going to have angry street protests, which was not, and is not, at all the case.

It has resulted in the Melbourne event being ignored by the other groups, and without the endorsement of these other groups, the word is not being put out there effectively. I'm really quite mad about how obstructionist these groups have been. There are a lot of details that I just can't go into here, mostly because if I start, I won't be able to stop.

And to top it all off, the groups from the other states, which had the "perfect" plan about how these events should be run now seem to be imploding, with nothing to show for all their fighting and arguments.

Anyway, the details of the Melbourne Anti-censorship event can be seen on Facebook. At this stage, it is still going ahead, with or without the endorsement of these factions. And no matter what, there will not be a street protest.

I'm going to take a step back from the organising, I think (which I've only helped with a bit so far anyway), as it's not a Pirate Party event and I don't want keep stepping on people's toes.

There will probably be people who are angry at me for even writing this piece, despite so many of the details not being mentioned, though if I am to be transparent in my role within Pirate Party Australia, it's not all going to be pretty, and the mistakes aren't all going to be mine.

Disclaimer: Some of what I have written about is based on rumour, and the state of things is likely to change frequently, as it has been for the last week, so if I have said anything wrong, it is unintentional, and if you plan on quoting me, you'd better get decent confirmation and make sure that your quotes are accurate at the time of printing them. I'm looking at you, zdnet.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Attempting to increase transparency

Hello out there,

I'm going to start using this blog to give updates on what it is I'm doing for Pirate Party Australia. I'm not yet sure of the scope, as to whether I will just stick with my actions, or whether (and how much) I will go into my thought process, so we'll see how it turns out. I'll also talk about some of the work that other people are doing, when relevant to the running of the party, but my main purpose of this is to increase transparency in the office of President of the party, and to communicate with everyone about what I am doing, as that has been a major (deserved) criticism of my leadership so far, and now that I know about it, I want to rectify the situation going forward.

So, recently:
  • iiNet won their court case against AFACT, which was great. We worked on preparing press releases a week in advance, for either outcome, just in case. I wasn't too happy about the fact that they were both sent out to our media contacts the night before, which led to some professional embarassment, however mistakes happen and it was hardly disasterous. The Founder and Secretary, Rodney Serkowski got to do a bit for SBS, complete with dramatic shots of him walking down the street from the courthouse, however we're not sure if it ended up making it to air, which is a shame if it didn't. I did a couple of interviews in the leadup, one for zdnet and another for AFP (not the police).
  • I was woken up at 7am yesterday by Sarah Dingle, who was looking for confirmation of protests being planned for 8am. I hadn't heard of anything, so I got on IRC and Google and started to do some research and found out about Operation Titstorm. Operation Titstorm turned out to be a planned DDOS attack on Australian government servers, perpetrated by Anonymous, a group set up to protest against Scientology. They have a strong focus on anti-censorship issues in general, but their methods are not always the most productive or legal. I spoke to Sarah again shortly after and filled her in on what I learned, which resulted in my being interviewed that morning on ABC's Radio National. The interview can be found at I spoke about what I assumed to be their methods and that Pirate Party Australia doesn't endorse them, and then spoke about some general censorship and copyright-related issues that I believe has led to the frustration they feel, which has been expressed poorly.
  • In a contentious move, I did an interview this morning with Australia Live TV. The issue itself wasn't with the organisation conducting the interview, so much as a perception that we didn't know enough about the subject matter (the $1.5M Nintendo settlement) to speak authoritatively. I believed that I had the required information to speak in generalities about the case and to then move the conversation onto general policy discussion, so I made the decision to go ahead with the interview. It can be found at, and I think it went very well, though I need to work on using a more impressive interview voice, rather than sounding like a software engineer, which I am.
  • I've also done some other interviews such as for Great Southern Stand and Radio Adelaide. The Radio Adelaide one caused a fair amount of tension with the SA branch of the party. I intended to tell the SA members about it as I received the request by phone on a Friday afternoon and couldn't remember the name of the station afterwards (being a Melbournian), and got no email confirmation, so I ended up doing the interview when I should have put in more effort to pass it off to the SA branch so they could handle it. It's a pretty weak excuse, I know, but that's what happened. It was a decent interview, but I effectively denied the SA branch from being able to speak about more local issues and events. It wasn't intended, but it happened, so I'm sorry.
  • One of my main goals has been to get our store up and running, as a political campaign costs a lot of money, and that is felt even more when working without federal funding, and working to protect civil liberties and to reform copyrights and patents, which is an uphill battle all the way. The store sounds simple in theory. In fact the technical side of things has been handled by our IT team brilliantly. A request is made for what should be a complex system, and they plug a few things together, patch the kernel, and stuff starts working. Much of the delay has come from finding a decent supplier and getting the artwork together. I should have organised artwork long ago, but I didn't, so that is the current hold-up. I didn't put enough thought into it in advance that we would need to get precise imagery done that would be appropriate for the items we want to sell. We have really talented graphic designers, but there's no point them just doing anything if they don't know if it will be appropriate. So I've given better specs now, and I hope to get the store open soon. It will be through this store that we will allow people to redeem swag that they have effectively pre-bought as part of the deal for donating $50+ (including membership fee) when signing up. I'm not really sure how to handle distribution at this point, but I know that I want to batch up orders on the store so that we can place orders with our supplier based on approximately known requirements for our stock. This will prevent us getting a whole heap of XL t-shirts for example when everyone is a medium. Initially, it has been suggested that we get a volunteer in each state to act as a distribution centre for orders placed in their state. This probably won't scale, but it seems reasonable to do this for a while until we have data to suggest a better plan. I'm also running a bit of a survey to decide on which artwork is preferred by members to be turned into posters to stock in the store. Send me a message or comment if you want to know the procedure for voting.
  • Communication procedures have been pretty weak within the party so far, so there is a lot of wasted effort spent coordinating instead of doing. Brendan Molloy has come up with a good procedure document that will need to be supplemented with a code of conduct soon, but for now, it helps to clarify some definite procedures for things like approval of press releases, as well as requirements to lead committees and requests for funding. This document will go into effect shortly, once any issues that people might find are discussed and ironed out.
  • I plan on running a Reflection Meeting, similar to how we do them at my workplace. I will invite all the members of committees, though any general members are welcome to join us, so email me or add a comment if you want to attend. The procedure I intend to follow is that we will go through the participants one at a time to list something that they think is either good, bad or an idea. We will keep going until there is nothing left. I will then compile the list of items and get people to vote on what they think are the most important goods, bads and ideas.
    The purpose is to get everyone to look within at how we are all working together as a party. It should allow people to vent about issues, think about what we have achieved and give us a set things to work towards to move forward in our agenda as a party. It will be at 7pm on Tuesday 23rd of Feb, so as I said, contact me if you want to take part.
Sorry for the big blocks of text. Hopefully I'll do more frequent, smaller updates moving forward.
I think this will do for now. I haven't been sleeping much lately, so I'm off to get my languorous 6 hours.
Please send me an email (my full name @ hint: I have no middle name) or leave a comment if you have any feedback or enquiries.

Thanks for reading.