Reflections

Under orders from our beloved leader Cameron, Agent Urbach announced the shutdown and reboot of the Telecomix cluster at CCC Camp (best do what she says, lest she hit you with her Markov chain). As a loyal agent, I will follow her orders to reflect and rebuild.

I joined Telecomix nine months ago, shortly before the Egyptian revolution, because I believe that free speech is the foundation of a free society. Since then, I have helped the cluster in the fight for freedom in Egypt, Libya, Syria and the rest of the world. I have interacted with people on the ground in these places, as well as Iran, Nigeria, Bahrain and elsewhere. This work has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. The opportunity to directly apply one’s skills and heart and hands in service of your beliefs is a rare and precious gift. I am grateful for it and for the company and solidarity of the other agents on our Internet adventure.

I worked twenty hours per day for eight days in a row on Egypt. Since then, I have worked full time, without pay, on activism. I have traveled the world to speak about our work and the causes we believe in. I have spent more hours on IRC than I can count. Much of this work has been as a ‘handler’ - acting as a primary point of contact for people who come to Telecomix seeking help. Such intervention is intense, time-consuming and thrilling. Handling is as close to the on‑the‑ground action as you can get without leaving your office. As a handler, you take responsibility for the physical well‑being of people in very dangerous places (to say nothing of the electronic threat of spies and infiltrators on our own IRC). When we tell a Syrian “use this VPN and you will be safe”, we are asking for their trust. We are encouraging them to take risks - actions such as posting a video or tweeting, if detected, could get them arrested and tortured, or worse.

I believe myself to be comfortable with the inherent uncertainty and moral ambiguity of this work. Did a person disappear because they were arrested, because their Internet was cut off or simply because the café closed? Often, we don’t know. Protesters in repressive regimes continue to communicate, whether or not they are doing so securely (most do not have the technical knowledge to tell the difference). Given that, shouldn’t we at least try to help them? As far as I know, no one has come to harm because of our actions. But we cannot know for certain. Perhaps I would feel differently if I did. Indeed, one of my mentors (not a TCX agent) who has 20 years of experience on IRC, pulled out of Syria because his contacts kept getting dead. What right do we have to intervene under such circumstances? And yet, what right do we have to say ‘no’ when someone asks us for help?

Being a full time Internet super-hero is a little addictive and unhealthy. It is not sustainable. Moreover, it’s not scalable. The need for assistance is overwhelming. There have been protests in dozens of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. There are over ninety thousand incidents of “domestic unrest” in China per year, as well as a ten month shutdown of the Internet in Xinjiang province. To say nothing of the longstanding fights for freedom in Burma, Western Sahara and the myriad other places that do not make headlines.

Telecomix was conceived two and a half years ago as a communications agency. The cluster would work within the political system to oppose censorship and spying legislation, as well as provide the tools to build free and secure communications systems. Somewhere along the line we became revolutionary tech support. We have learned much and done much in that time. But it cannot continue this way. Quite simply, there are not enough of us, and we grow weary of the burdens we have shouldered.

Let others take up the task. In the coming months, we will share our experience so that you may continue where we left off. But for now, let us rest, and reflect. Vi bygger om - we build on.

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