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A Stunning Start

Tue Nov 7 10:45:20 2017

'What Is It?'

This weekend, 28th-29th October 2017, I attended and spoke at the first #FreenodeLive conference in Bristol (at the We The Curios Bristol Science Centre), United Kingdom. The event was two days of talks and social events to bring together some of the various groups and people who are bound by their use of IRC and associated technical communities.

The event had many talks that were based on community, privacy and security alongside digital rights, software freedoms, the MicroBit and new developments in operating systems. It felt to me that there was, though, an underlying theme of libre software, rights and supporting people and projects.

The event is in its inaugural year so you would expect it to have some issues, except it really didn’t feel that way.[1] It is clear that the organisers (principally Christel Dahlskjaer) thought a great deal about how to make the attendees, speakers and exhibitors happy. They also kept a good balance of talks on the schedule, social events and extending warmth to everyone. This event felt familiar, as if I was at the tenth not the first conference of its type and there has to be a great big thanks given for creating such an feeling.

As a speaker I felt not only welcomed, but warmly cherished and this was reflected in the personalised speaker bag. Having organised a number of events, attended and also spoken at many events I cannot think of one that matched such a wonderful speaker pack. I think the quality of the attendees pack and the efforts to make them happy and feel included was immense.

Christel also pulled off one of the best conference socials starting with whisky tasting, wine and nibbles with Festival of the Spoken Nerd’s Matt Parker giving an amazing show, a speaker and exhibitor dinner that was relaxing and fun. Again as an organiser I feel that Christel scored highly in creating one of the best environments I have experienced at an event.

Talks and Talking

The talks I attended were all very good. I was happy that I managed to catch both of the keynotes from Deb Nicholson[2] and Karen Sandler. I also loved the talk by Rick Falkvinge[3] and Christel on privacy. This was the first time I was able to attend an event where Freaky Clown was talking and it was really worthwhile as he was a great speaker.

One of the strengths of the conference was to reinforce the notions that many of us in the technical community have a duty to spread the importance of security, privacy and digital freedoms. The control by random companies to hold and use your data; the use of data by official organisations to profile and monitor you; the lack of influence you have over the technology you interact with; the loss of rights that our parents would have considered automatic. All of these are important elements of our modern life and all of them are being eroded or changed.

Karen and Rick were both especially passionate about these subjects and the strength of their argument was compelling. Both of them called for us all to be active in the protection of our freedoms and that we must keep up the pressure to preserve the rights of the wider society. Rick spoke about analog versus digital rights. Think about them in this context. You can write a letter (physical/snail mail) and there are these basic rights:

  • It can be sent from anywhere by anyone. All that is recorded is where it was posted, not where it was written.
  • It can be anonymous, you do not have to sign it or leave identifying marks.
  • It can contain anything you wish and you can say what you wish with little repercussions except where you break a law.
  • You would not expect anyone to record who sent this, when they sent it and to whom.
  • You would not expect anyone to intercept and read the details of the letter, even if they do so with an automated function. In fact there are specific laws and guidelines to prevent the interference with mail that have strong criminal proceedings for anyone who does interfere with the communication.

These are your analog rights. These are the rules that our ancestors considered correct and proper and wrote into law and society. And not a single one of them exists with digital communication. In fact governments seem to be making laws to automatically hold, store, read and track communication in the name of safety. They do this from the fear of criminal activities.

I want to repeat the four reasons that reinforce why Rick, and we must fight for the freedoms that Rick spoke about and our parents enjoyed. What he defined as Analog Rights. (Though there are almost five as number two has a sub or between freedom) These are the points that he finds most important.

  1. The rules may change. In the future the governments will change the rules and the more freedoms we surrender now the easier it will be for a corrupt government to enslave us.
  2. It is not you who decides if you have something to fear. There are people who take away your freedom by making statements that those who have nothing to fear have nothing to hide. But they are deciding what you can and cannot hide. They are taking away that right about what it is you should fear. They use fear to enact laws to control what you can do, what you can say, and to whom. They do not wish to protect your anonymity or your privacy. *(2.5) Feeding into this is the fact that the data may be wrong about you. If they investigate everyone and decide who is guilty based on anything they want to find it takes away the need for them to have reasonable cause and doubt. They can investigate liberally and without halt.
  3. A society that doesn’t break the rules of the former generation will stop and halt in its tracks.
  4. Privacy is a basic human need. We all need a space for ourselves and you wouldn’t think twice about wanting to lock your door or close the door to the toilet. Privacy has boundaries, we need a space that is our own.

Rick and Christel are right to say that we need to have stronger protections of our privacy and anonymity. We need to make sure we reverse the authoritarian tide that is allowing governments, and companies, to erode our basic privacy.

Closing Thoughts

As I mentioned above, while we were there Tom and I cut a special episode of our podcast while sat at the SUSE table. We were lucky to be joined by Errietta and to have a number of people wander past such as Deb Nicholson and some random attendees from the event. We spoke about conferences and events in general and were disturbed a little by people speaking next to us but it added to the live feeling of the podcast.

Leaving the conference right after the last keynote gave us very little time to say how excellent the event was. I want to thank everyone involved from attendees, speakers, sponsors, and especially all the volunteers and the wonderful Christel who pulled it all together. It was a lot of work and you did a great job. For an inaugural event it was stunning and fun. I know that we will be in Bristol again next year and once again we will be at Bristol’s quay side science centre and that is going to be brilliant.

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[1] Honestly there were one or two tiny issues, but they were known about and efforts were made to overcome those issues so that it was irrelevant. So much so that I don’t even feel the need to mention them.

[2] Deb Nicholson also popped over and joined Tom and I at our Podcast which we recorded for #FreenodeLive (see - Episode 2-1 Live Free and Die Node.

[3] Fun fact, Rick was the creator of the Pirate Party who have MEPs and a strong activist for freedom and your rights to privacy.