Tag Archives: law

Our degenerate modern linkspamming society (18th December, 2009)

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Interview with Indymedia sys admin Kristina Clair

Yesterday the EFF reported on a “secret” subpoena served by the U.S. government on Kristina Clair, the sysadmin for the independent news site indymedia.us. The subpoena demanded information on all IP traffic for the site. It also demanded that Clair keep the request secret.

With free legal help from the EFF, the subpoena was dropped and the secrecy order abandoned. Take a look at this long report by an EFF Senior Staff Attorney, which goes into fascinating detail.

Kristina Clair with handknitted scarf

Kristina Clair with handknitted scarf

Right on Kristina, for not keeping logs of IP addresses in the first place, and for standing up for First Amendment rights. It seems well in keeping with The System Administrators’ Code of Ethics as well as with the EFF’s Best Practices for Online Service Providers.

I thought geekfeminism readers might be interested in more of Kristina’s story, so I asked her a few questions over email.

Here’s the interview!

Liz: When you got the subpoena, how and when did you decide to contact the EFF? Did you talk it over first with others? What was it like to call the EFF and ask for their help?

Kristina: Actually, someone who helps admin the server asked a general question on an Indymedia mailing list, and they recommended the EFF for Indymedia-related legal questions.

I was definitely completely clueless about any legal processes, so it was a bit nerve-wracking to talk to them and say, ‘Hey I got this thing and I have no idea what to do about it’. But they were completely helpful from the beginning and made me feel comfortable right away.

Liz: As a sys admin, how did you decide *not* to keep IP logs?

Kristina: It’s standard imc policy. It’s standard policy for anyone that wants to keep their visitors’ information private.

Liz: Is there any use of IPs of your sites’ visitors that the site owners or you might find useful? In other words, what factors might make you want to keep IPs?

Kristina: I can only speak for myself – I’ve found IP addresses to be useful for debugging. Sometimes the only way I’ve been able to track down an error in Apache’s error log and tie it to a page visit by the IP. I’ve also used IPs to track down hacker behavior on servers, but that’s not always reliable because hackers often connect from several places.

I think generally IP addresses are used for statistical data – the country, mainly. But I think if you really wanted that data but didn’t want to store IP addresses you could find a way to do it.

Liz: Is your work for Indymedia volunteer? Do you do similar work for other organizations? Personally, I tend to do a bunch of back end support work for nonprofits and organizations that I like. Do you have any advice for other volunteer sys admins and web hosts?

Kristina: Yes, Indymedia work is volunteer. I also do some volunteer work for riseup.

I tend to not do too much support for other organizations because my skillset is not desktop-oriented, and that’s generally what they need. I’m completely useless setting up a windows network or setting up a printer or things like that!

The common advice for volunteer work is to have good boundaries with it so that it doesn’t burn you out.

Liz: What are your thoughts in general about free speech, privacy, technology, activism and so on?

Kristina: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal information and privacy. There is one train of thought I’ve been interested in for the last several months which is more personal than activist: before computers and emails and blogs, people commonly wrote letters and kept written journals. These things were not things that are necessarily accessible to anyone except those who had physical access. They were private. when that person died,they would go to a family member, probably. Now, these types of things are often not even things that we own ourselves. Most people have email or blogs hosted on someone else’s server, and while they can still access that information, it’s not quite the same as having it physically on paper. That’s a huge history of personal communication that is sitting on a hard drive somewhere, connected to the Internet.

There is something to this that I haven’t quite been able to articulate,but that’s where my interest has been lately in regards to technology and privacy.

I guess where it starts to matter is that, at least in my mind, there is some degree to which all of this information is public, regardless of what information someone wants to be public — obviously people want their blogs public! Privacy is really hard to think about and protect when non-privacy is so convenient. It’s important to me to help provide alternatives for people who want to use the Internet but are concerned about privacy.

Finally, doing all of this in a way that supports freedom of information and open source keeps things really interesting.

In the past, in the activist realm I’ve done a lot more work having to do with accessibility, particularly in regards to gender in IT.I’ve done a lot of work with the genderchangers (genderchangers.org) and the eclectic tech carnival, which are both based in Europe. Both groups focus on technology education for women.there is also a project which I helped create called systerserver, which is a Linux server administered by women for the purposes of learning. Due to some hardware troubles, this project has been moving forward slowly lately.

Liz: It looks like you’re part of LinuxChix and other local Philadelphia computing organizations. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with them and what the Linux/FLOSS scene is like in Philly?

I haven’t been actively involved in LinuxChix for quite some time, actually. I’ve been a bit of a lone wolf here – all of my collaborators and coworkers live elsewhere.

Liz: Have you experienced any particular sexism or solidarity in your field?

Yes, lots and lots of sexism. My favorite examples of this are when I’ve received emails that begin with “Dear Sir,” in reply to an email that I’ve sent and signed with my name.

I’ve been lucky to have a lot of positive experiences with men in the field, however. The person who taught me Perl is male, and I’m currently doing some work with the riseup collective whose members are extremely aware of gender issues in the field and take active steps to discourage it.

Liz: Can you tell me a bit about yourself, personal history or interests, what kind of work you do, and so on?

I’ve been working in web hosting for about 10 years, mostly programming Perl and administering linux servers. Recently I’ve been working with ruby and ruby on rails on the crabgrass project.

I’m protective of my time and spend as little time as possible in front of a computer, though! I have balanced it out by extremely physically-oriented activities like cooking, knitting, sewing, and yoga.

Liz: What are your favorite Linux distros?

I like CentOS and Debian for servers, and I use Ubuntu for a desktop (I really like Ubuntu 9.10).

Thanks to Kristina for the interview!

The long, long trail

Hello everybody

I spent the past weekend at the 18th Annual Women’s History Network conference, which this year was held in the rather lovely surroundings of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. It was one of the original Oxford women’s colleges (and the last to admit men, within the past 2 years), but with the passage of time it is no longer of the austerity that Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own might lead one to anticipate. The food was certainly not as dire as that she recorded, though not quite of the standard I enjoyed at a conference in Lady Margaret Hall some years ago. The rooms were very comfortable, and being a women’s college (and a women-run conference) there was an adequate supply of loos (a topic which is much on my mind because of a book on the topic I was recently sent — I think there will be blogging about this later on).

Apart from these matters of physical comfort, it was an intellectually stimulating few days. The theme this year was ‘Women, Gender & Political Spaces:  Historical Perspectives’ and there was a good deal of resonance between the issues discussed in historical context and present-day concerns. There were over a hundred papers, in 6 sessions of 6 strands each, as well as 5 plenary lectures, which meant that perforce I missed a lot of fascinating things.

My own paper was on the emergence of an abortion law reform movement in the UK in the 1930s, bringing the subject out from being either something doctors talked of as a strictly professional matter, or something that women exchanged information about in whispers, into a topic for public discussion and the advocacy of legislation to make safe abortion legal and accessible. The role of women activists was central to this development.

There was an excellent panel on women and learned societies, which was perhaps a little depressing in demonstrating how long a tradition there has been of men not wanting women impinging upon their serious manly spaces where they do serious manly learned things.  However, the papers did show that there was some degree of ambivalence and some possibilities of flexibility: Claire Jones’ paper on the Royal Society indicated that the Society, although it did not admit women to the prestige of Fellowship until after the Second World War*, did publish their articles in its journals, and gave them grants in support of their research, and even occasionally awarded them medals for work of outstanding importance.  A good point was raised in discussion that this desire of men to keep their homosocial spaces unsullied (and to position themselves as part of a completely male genealogy of Great Minds) does suggest that we need a lot more critical and analytical work directly on masculinity (or various versions of masculinity in particular contexts).

This question of men resisting the influx of women into previously male spaces also arose in a paper on women on juries — even after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 gave women the right to sit on juries, the qualifications still privileged men, while both judges and barristers took various measures to exclude women through the process of challenge. The ambiguous potential of legal systems for women was explored in other panels: for example,  Kimberley Welch presented on her research on women’s successful use of courts in antebellum Mississippi and Lousiana in cases of matrimonial dispute.

Some of the themes that recurred across various panels and plenaries: women’s capacity to negotiate some degree of advantage for themselves within apparently profoundly patriarchal systems; that changes do not just happen but have to be campaigned for; the ways that women’s stories get left out of the accepted narratives (this is something else that might get blogged in more detail). There is an exciting diversity of  historical research going on about women and gender. It was also lovely just to reconnect with other scholars and friends in the field.

* Well, they did make the astronomer Caroline Herschel and the mathematician and science writer Mary Somerville honorary Fellows, but they could trust them to know their place as ladies and not to try and actually attend meetings of the Society.