LibrePlanet 2015

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MIT, March 21, 2015

Libre Planet is a two-day event; I was only able to attend on Saturday.

Opening Keynote

Richard Stallman

The TPMs (Trusted Platform Modules) sold for today's PCs have never been made to work for DRM. For the moment, TPM's uses seem legitimate. No one has ever made remote attestation work, so it seems harmless for DRM purposes.

There are many paths of distraction. One example are companies who want to "improve patent quality", rather than getting rid of software patents altogether. We think this is a waste of time. We must demand that software developers not be in danger of being sued over software patents.

There are three-year exemptions to the DMCA. Many people are lobbying for more exemptions, rather than getting rid of DRM altogether. We should launch a campaign on getting an exemption for everything.

Free hardware designs. Designs are works, so it makes sense to ask if those works are free. GPLv3 is as good a free hardware license as you're going to find. Is it wrong to reject non-free hardware? There are no non-free laptop designs; if we rejected them, we'd be sunk. Once you've changed a free hardware design, there's no way to compile and run it. Increasingly, though, hardware is designed to be malicious; for example, Motorola smart watches that won't allow you to change the software. That piece of hardware is a deliberate attack on freedom.

Most smartphones are malicious. The modem chip can remotely turn on the phone as a listening device.

Cars also have processors that check signatures. You're not allowed to replace the software. Can you replace a control system, like you used to be able to replace an engine?

Reverse engineering is desperately needed, especially for systems on a chip. Brazil publishes a non-free program for filing tax returns. There's a group of people who publish a free version, and update it every year.

DRM has started coming back, via anti-social streaming services. If you don't have a copy of (say) a song, you can't share it.

Releasing software without a license is a harmful practice. Without a free software license, it's not free. Each source file should say which license it's release under.

Question: Any comments on systemd?

No. It's free software, and that seems very ethical.

Regarding cell phones, get a one-way pager. Instead of having someone call your cell phone, ask them to page you instead. Then, you can decide when to turn on your cell phone and call them back.

Question: What about net neutrality?

Net neutrality regulates ISPs. The rules are good, but they fail to tell ISPs that they can't monitor what you're doing.

I'm not an anarchist. We need a government. Many plutocrats attack the government by criticizing what it does. As a result, we have laws that benefit plutocrats.

Sometimes, stubbornness is what's required above all else.

Question: What about people who claim that the GPL isn't free. Realize that pressure is fueled by companies who take our code and put it in proprietary software. Insist on copylefting your code. What does the GPL restrict people from doing? It keeps them from restricting other peoples rights.

TAFTA, CETA, TISA: Traps and Threats to Free Software Everywhere

Marianne Corvellec, Jonathan Le Lous was founded in France. We have 3600 members, and three full-time staff. We're one of the main free software groups in Europe.

In Europe, software can be copyrighted, but not patented. US patent laws are not applicable in the EU. We have software patent makers vs law makers. We'd like more independence from American software companies, like Microsoft. We don't have patent wars in Europe, but there are lobbyists pushing for software patents. ACTA is a big threat for us.

CETA is the "Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement". TAFTA is the "Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement", also called TTIP. These treaties are very similar to ACTA, which was rejected in 2012. The TAFTA text is very secret, and MPs are not allowed to communicate the treaty's contents to their constituents. There's a push to bring "inventors rights" and the sacredness of DRM to the EU. These agreements also try to re-open software patent discussions in Europe. People are filing for software patents, even though it violates the letter and spirit of EU law.

There are claims that investor state dispute settlements (ISDSs) will increase international investment, but it's not clear how they would benefit society. Disputes would be settled through arbitration panels, rather than through the legal system. This bypasses democracy and existing laws. Only investors and corporations can submit cases for ISDS arbitration; citizens and non-profits could not. The arbitration boards would very likely be biased towards corporations.

ISDSs inhibit state lawmakers, because states could be brought before tribunals for making laws that a corporation felt was not in its best interest. We've done a lot of advocacy work in the EU, urging people to contact their MEPs. We can counter these treaty proposals at many levels. Citizens can have more effect at local levels of government. For example, by urging local officials to examine how they'd be affected by treaties.

In North America, big companies have a lot of power over small companies. Treaties could have bad effects on small North American companies too.

Question: How do these secret negotiations happen?

The companies set up the negotiations themselves. They try to stay outside the legal process.

Question: What can we do?

Point out the high degree of secrecy. Spread the word about how anti-democratic the process is. If the discussions have involved mostly corporate lobbyists, how can these treaties be in the public interest?

Comment: I'm fighting TTIP on the US side. Trade negotiations have traditionally been about cars or bananas. This process has been hijacked to impose new regulatory regimes. We're fighting to oppose trade agreement fast-track.

Question: Are there CETA provisions that would affect software patents?

CETA is a way to re-open discussion of software patents, and to clear the way for some provisions of TAFTA. CETA seems like a copy-and-paste job of all the bad parts of ACTA.

Question: ISDS threaten national sovereignty. Why hasn't there been more outcry against this?

The strategy has been to keep the trade negotiations top secret. It's alarming.

Lightning Talks

Farm Hack. A community of farmers that build and modify their own tools, and share their designs.

Protean OS. We're trying to liberate embedded systems. Protean OS is a fully free operating system, and we're pending endorsement by the FSF. Protean uses a strippeddown set of packages, and it boots in only a few seconds. Protean can build itself from source.

Samaritan. We (at Vermont Law School) are working on a citizen reporting app. We have a version for reporting domestic violence. Crime costs around $450 billion/year, and domestic violence accounts for $67 billion of that. Our goal is to increase reporting, and reduce incidents of domestic violence.

Civic Hacking. We have a project called Monroe minutes. We download minutes from town meetings, convert them to open formats, and make them searchable. We developed a web crawling library called Barking Owl for this purpose. Delaware web sites are tricky to scrape. If you scrape too quickly, they'll ban your IP address forever. Delaware doesn't like people downloading all those articles of incorporation, even thought they're supposed to be public documents.

Multi-player games. We're working on a free software multi-player game. Our web site is (which stands for "our graphics requirements are less demanding"). Their game looked pretty cool.

Hacking FLO Economics. Why do we struggle to compete with huge software companies? We have the capital to fund free software projects. During a snowstorm, you have to make a decision on whether to do your part to clear the snow. Free software is like that. We have people that work too much and burn out, and people who wait for others to do all the work. We're trying to build some sense of social responsibility for doing the work. The more people who join us, the more we can do. It's about building community.

Some People Worth Listening To

Molly de Blanc

Shauna Gordon-McKeon. Truth != (people + talking - emotion + data). Interruptions are part of how we have conversations, but there are dynamics of how people interrupt, and who gets interrupted.

Interjections allow the conversation to go back to the original speaker. Some people pause longer than others; don't be premature in assuming that a person is finished talking. Overlap is when a second person talks while the first person is still talking.

There are gender and race dynamics to interruptions. For example, men interrupt women twelve times more often than women interrupt men. The five second rule is a good strategy: after one person is finished talking, wait five seconds before starting to speak.

Devin Ulibarri. I learned about free software by doing research on arts education. I see free software as a teaching, learning, and policy issue in educational environments. Free software empowers students without restrictions. It gives students the right to learn.

I'm trying to start some conversations at Harvard, around free software as a public policy issue. I've also been doing some work with Sugar labs. 50% of all patches to Sugar come from kids. If you give kids the opportunity to study the tools, they'll do it.

Question: Are any universities leading the way to free software adoption?

I don't know; but if you do, please tell me.

RIT has a minor in FOSS. All of RIT's courseware is released under free software licenses.

Laurie Pennie. I'd like to talk about cyborg journalism. In 1997, Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov at chess. Journalism had its Deep Blue moment a few years ago. Traditionally, journalism has been about gathering and presenting facts. All the examples are editorial. Think about Facebook. The idea of using editorial algorithms to determine what appears in your news feed is very scary to me.

There's a conflict between what technologists think journalists should do, and the way that journalists would like to use technology. Journalism needs structured and analytical oversight. Technologists and journalists could be more powerful if they worked together.

Question: What would journalists like from technologists?

We'd like tools to help us analyze data, and to form hypothesis about what the data means.

Mark Sadecki. People with disabilities use computers. The good news is that anything with text can be made accessible. People with disabilities use all kinds of software. Even your software, if you make it accessible.

In 2013, the unemployment rate for disabled persons was 13.2%. The same year, 15% of people with disabilities work in government. 14% of people without disabilities also work in government.

Tips for accessibility:

  • Be an ally, (or #a11y). "a11y" is shorthand for accessibility.
  • Solicit contributions. Ask people to do reviews of documentation and code. Solicit code contributions.
  • Try using your software with only a keyboard.
  • Use automated test software.
  • Try using your software with a screen reader. For example, Orca on Gnome.

Librarians Fight Back: Free Software Solutions for Digital Privacy

Alison Macrina

Our goal is intellectual freedom for libraries. I teach privacy rights, responsibilities, and free software tools to safeguard privacy. Intellectual freedom is my number one principal. The freedom to read, write, and research; freely, without appraisal. I want to make privacy and security available to ordinary users.

I started teaching computer privacy classes at the Watertown Public Library. These classes became very popular, so I wanted to teach these skills to my peers (other librarians).

Massachusetts's ACLU affiliate does a lot of work on surveillance and police militarization. I started working with them The ACLU was good for convincing libraries about the severity of the problem. The ACLU attorneys provided background information on federal and state laws, the rights you have, and what you can do if you receive a data request from the government. I instruct on privacy enhancing technologies that can be installed on library computers, and taught to patrons.

I've worked with ACLU branches in other states, the EFF, and the Tor project. Free software has made all of my work possible.

Part of this project involves evaluating the use of non-free software in libraries. Proprietary software is not compatible with intellectual freedom. Most digital content in libraries is DRM-encumbered, involves third-party data collection, has restrictive licenses, and nullifies the first sale doctrine. Libraries care a lot about protecting the privacy of their patrons; third-parties don't. There's a natural partnership between free software and libraries.

The ALA (American Library Association) has groups dedicated towards intellectual freedom and privacy. Some things that you can look at:

The library awareness program was an FBI COINTEL project, to obtain the reading lists of suspected KGB agents. The program was revealed in 1987. The FBI believed that libraries were KGB recruitment centers.

Librarians fought against the Patriot act. Section 215 was originally seen as a way to obtain information from libraries.

In 2005, a Connecticut library received a national security letter (NSL). The library challenged the NSL and accompanying gag order. The FBI retracted the NSL. After the Snowden revelations, librarians are very pissed off, and we want to do something to help our communities.

Libraries can help the FOSS community with usability. We teach software to people every day. We're good PR, and we can help with bug reports and user stories. The FOSS community can also help libraries. As a group, we lack the technical expertise that you have.

The ILS is the inter-library system. It's a proprietary, expensive, and very clunky piece of software. Koha and evergreen are Free ILSs, and we can use help in developing them. See

I'd like to see libraries offer Tor nodes, make more use of HTTPS, and switch library computers to GNU/Linux. We could host bit torrent seeds for free software.

Question: What are your thoughts on E-Books?

E-Books are hugely important, not just for libraries, but for everyone. We support the Gutenberg project and the Internet Archive.

Libri Vox is a source for public domain audio books.

Comment: Minnesota has administrative subpoenas, and Massachusetts has them too. We suggest that libraries get in touch with their local ACLU chapter if they get one.

Question: How can people in town government encourage libraries?

This speaks to the larger issue of library governance. It really depends on the relationship between the library and the town.

Question: What about library computers. For example, people who try to install key loggers on library computers?

Deep Freeze and Clean Slate are useful tools for this. They revert a computer to its original state at boot time. (These appear to be proprietary software packages).

Question: How do can one go about explaining why privacy enhancing tools are important?

Technology tends to be the biggest barrier. Librarians tend not to be hard to convince, neither are community members who patronize the library.

Question: Do libraries minimize patron borrowing records?

Most libraries have data retention policies, with the shortest retention period possible. For example, data about a loan only needs to be retained until the book is returned (and any overdue fines are paid). If a library wants to retain more information, they really need to understand why the retention is necessary.

Question: Are Apple and Microsoft still pushing for proprietary software in libraries?

Yes. It's mostly the Gates foundation. Also, some federal funding is tied to the use of content filtering.

Let's Get Things Done

Seda Gürses, Jara Rocha

Our group is concerned with the areas where technology and activism intersect. This includes activists working for social justice, and tech activists. There's a feedback loop between tools and practices.

What's the logic behind radical groups that rely heavily on Facebook? The conditions they're criticizing are also the ones they're taking advantage of. Facebook might be a useful tool for getting the word out, but it's not a great tool for organizing.

If activities take place over a long period of time, then we'll likely need different tools at different times.

Social networks represent the commodification of social labor. Sometimes, social networks try to uphold "conflict-free zones", but who decides what kinds of content represent "conflict"? Social networks privatize social space.

The tyranny of structurelessness can be applied to social media companies.

Tech activism has a lineage that runs from the Free software movement, to cypherpunks, to movements for internet freedom. Encryption can be used as a way to protect activism.

With the NSA, the main question is "why is the surveillance necessary". Sometimes you'll hear the phrase "targeted surveillance", as if "targeted" implies justification. But who decides which people should be targeted?

For groups developing technologies, what is the division of labor between the developers, and the activists who use the tools they're developing?

Our project,, is a tool for encouraging cooperative work. is a Turkish crypto project.

Can crypto campaign sites be organized as communities, rather than as producers and users of a commodity? Can we think in terms of "inhabitants" - members of a community. Do campaign sites invite users to participate, or are they just providing a product?

A group needs many talents to do its work. Leadership is only one of those talents. Design for consistency, and well-understood paradigms. This is more important than designing for the novice. Take a moment to reflect on "what are we doing" and "how could we do it differently". How can you organize labor in a way that's sustainable? Is the asymmetry between users and developers partially based on asymmetry of needs?

Lorea project: