Friday, August 23, 2013

Saying Nyet to the Russian Homophobolympics

As a gay-athlete, and oh yes, also privacy professional, I've decided not to set foot in Russia, as a personal protest against Russia's offensive homophobic laws.  My swim team friends and I agreed that Putin is demeaning the Olympics and turning them into his Homophobolympics.  We know something about athletic discipline:  we swim a lot and hard.  We've all trained with real Olympians, and we're in awe of them.  So, how should we react when political thugs attack the core values of the Olympics? 

When some politicians in Russia recently started "investigating"  American tech companies, I was invited to go to Moscow to meet with them.  But in the case of Russia, in light of its recent Anti-Gay Propaganda law, I declined.  I decided not to set foot in Russia, as an act of personal conscience.   Many other people whom I respect are making similar decisions not to set foot in Russia.  

Russia joins a rogue's gallery of countries with state-sponsored homophobia, but unlike the others, Russia is soon to host the Winter Olympics.  Ever since Hitler hosted the Berlin Olympics in 1936, we know how miscreants in power want to use the Oympic global stage to win international attention and acclaim.  

I have deep respect for athletes.  We should do nothing to hurt athletes in Sochi.  But let's also use the Sochi Games to shine a spotlight on Putin's regime.  Putin wants the spotlight, let him have it.  Let's shine a spotlight on government corruption in constructing the $50 billion Olympics facilities.  Let's shine a spotlight on Putin's crackdown on human rights, on democracy, on the judicial system in Russia.  Let's shine a spotlight on Putin's coterie of friendly rogue-regimes, like Syria's Assad.  Let's shine a spotlight on the personal wealth accumulated by friends of the regime.  Let's use social media to disseminate evidence of the vicious homophobia that Putin is inciting.  

Each of us must make a choice.  I'm not setting foot in Russia.  Despite its lofty self-congratulatory rhetoric, the IOC is taking the amoral path. But many people will go to Sochi, and I have a wish for athletes and spectators alike:  wave a rainbow flag as you march at the Opening Ceremony, or wear a rainbow scarf or pin.  Some politicians around the world are already showing ethical leadership, and I hope the clutch of global politicians attending the G20 in St Petersburg soon will too.  Imagine if we had all had the courage in 1936, Jews and non-Jews alike, to march at the Opening Ceremony in Berlin wearing Yellow Stars.  

Say Nyet to the Homophobolympics.

Friday, August 2, 2013

How to feign outrage over PRISM

Around the world, politicians are under pressure to express their outrage over US government surveillance.  It's August, and your PR teams may be on holiday, so here are some hints on how to get a good headline:

1)  Focus your outrage on the American government.  Distract everyone from the fact that your own government does it too.  e.g., Europe has the most privacy-invasive government surveillance regime in the world, based on the mandatory data retention of the communications logs (aka, metadata) on every single electronic communication for periods ranging from 6 to 24 months.  The US does not have such a data retention regime, because it was deemed too privacy-invasive by the US Congress.  But don't talk about that. 

2)  Focus your outrage on foreign private companies (e.g., Twitter or whatever).  Companies of course are not in control of government surveillance, but just the tools.  In any case, only talk about foreign companies, and never suggest that your own domestic companies are subject to similar (or much greater) surveillance. 

3)  Feel free to make up the facts.  Since much government surveillance is by its very nature secret, you can say pretty much anything without risk of being contradicted by the facts.  

4)  Propose credible-sounding but irrelevant solutions.   Like suggesting that the way to rein in US government surveillance is to abrogate the US-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which governs data transfers in the private sector, even though you know of course that the location of data is irrelevant to the US government's power to order access to it.  Location of data sounds relevant, and only a few lawyers know otherwise.  

5)  Use it as leverage for an unrelated political goal.  Politics is all about deal-making, and trade-offs.  So, use this PRISM scandal to exert pressure for whatever else you want: trade deals, global warming treaties, anything is fair game.  In fact, you can even use this as a good excuse to increase your own government surveillance powers:  "we want to be able to do what the Americans are doing." 

6)  Get your headlines now.  You know that all this will blow over.  Snowden will melt away like a snowman in spring.  Nothing much will change in the realm of government surveillance.  Perhaps there will be a few cosmetic changes, like reforming the FISA Court.  You also know that the next big terrorist attack will completely change the political winds.  It's August, so go sailing, and be ready to tack when the winds shift.