Conversations about the NSA pre-Snowden

In light of the NSA leaks by Snowden, it’s been interesting to observe the conversations that have been going on  the NSA since June. Let’s just say it’s been an interesting 5 months, with reactions from tech security experts to mainstream media to governments! Though what I found even more interesting is the conversation that was happening before the leaks.  As I was tinkering around with historic twitter data sets, I did a random search of the keyword ‘NSA’ and decided to see what the oldest tweet mentioning the NSA said. What I discovered,  is this tweet:


What you find is a link to an article from arsTechnica, that actually talks about Apple’s Tiger security configuration guides that was approved by the NSA!  As it turns out NSA approved and collaborated with Apple over their Operating Software’s security, which I assume was/is common practice. What’s noticeable about the article is the lack of criticism and the matter of fact tone that it is assuming. It is thereby assumed that NSA approval of security configuration guides is a positive matter.  (Note this article was published on March 20th , 2007.)

I would love to look at the trajectory of the conversation surrounding the NSA from 2007 leading up to the leaks in June, 2013. It would be interesting to run it over Twitter, since the platform provides a timeframe to that conversation that goes back to 7 years. It’s worth analyzing the shifts in conversations towards the NSA undertaking a more critical point of view. Did the shift happen before or after the leaks and if it started before the leaks how were they shaped?



Blogging my Berkman experience

Hello cyber world! I’ve decided to come back after a long hiatus from blogging to write about my experience at the Berkman Center as a research fellow for the academic year.

I’ve already been in the greater Boston area for a little over a month now and it’s been an interesting experience so far. I admit it’s been rather overwhelming so far, between meeting some great people most of who are now also fellows, attending thought-provoking talks and even choosing to sit-in on a class at MIT’s civic media lab with Sasha Costanza-Chock. At the end of the day I’m honored being among many who have accomplished so much in the digital media, internet and legal realm already.

Coming into Berkman, I had a vague idea of what I wanted my research to focus on.  Recently my interest has slightly shifted from topics of ICT literacy, development and infrastructure back to concepts of civic media, collaboration and storytelling.  Now bear with me as a lot of  what I’m about to write are raw ideas at the moment, some of them I will continue to develop as I pursue them, while others I might drop for the sake of time.

One topic I would like to pursue is try map the Palestinian online networked space. I want to start by looking at the networks used by activists, the main actors within these networks and the topics/ content that have dominated these networks. My plan is to scrape the data on all of Twitter, Facebook and various blogging platforms. If I can access the data I will then analyze content, key actors and trends on these networks, while studying the role of actors in spreading information about various issues in Palestine, from the prisoner hunger strike to the Prawer Plan.

Another focus topic is concepts of citizen media/ civic media or as many still call it citizen Journalism. As much as I would love to discuss what defines citizen journalism and how the term in itself is problematic starting with the term citizen (think non-state or transnational entities) to the term journalism. But I don’t want to delve too much into the definition and move beyond that to ponder on what has been arguably a prickly relationship between journalists and citizen media , especially as those lines are continuously blurred. But more importantly I think it would be interesting to look at what drives a ‘citizen’ to report on the ongoing events in their lives, neighborhoods, region or cause they care about.  I’m sure everyone has an issue they are passionate about, but what drives a person to use digital media tools to report on said issue?  Why is it that villages like Bi’lin and Nabi Saleh in the West Bank chose to use various media tools to document, and shed light on what’s happening in their villages, while other villages that are facing similar circumstances have not done that yet? Additionally, what are the tools that individuals can and should use to enhance their reports? How can individuals have their story heard?

The topic of diaspora and mapping the collective memory, is something that I’ve been thinking of for a while now.  I’ve started developing a project idea and hope to start implementing it during my time at Berkman. However, before I start with the implementation process I need to flush the idea out and conceive a concrete concept. I plan to dedicate a whole post or two on this project idea.

Of course being part of the community here means that I am exposed to all sorts of new projects and tools. It is something  I’m keen on learning more about, specifically civic media tools. This is why I’m going to try add some of the recent interesting projects, events and tools that I’ve encountered and to look out for:

This storython for undocumented immigrants has been going on over this past weekend at the MIT media lab and I’m sorry to have missed it, but I instead chose to attend Eyebeam’s conference on surveillance called Prism Breakup.

Intertwinkles is a fascinating  project under development and is a platform that aims to  help small democratic groups to do process online. It’s a platform I would love to test and see how the tools develop in the near future.

If you follow Ethan Zuckerman’s blog then you’ve probably read about this interesting new tool that MIT’s media lab has developed to track Youtube trending videos in countries around the world, while trying to find the link between the videos and countries. ie Top trending videos in India are similar to those in the UAE, imitating labor immigration patterns.

Finally, I attended a talk by the artist Molly Crabapple who’s giving tech enthusiasts and me as an amateur photographer something to think about in terms of ‘Art in the Ubiquitous Age’ and how sketch artists can still be present in an age where everyone has access to a camera easily and can take pictures of everything and anything.

These are some of the raw ideas that I’ve been thinking of during my first month at Berkman, I’m hoping to develop them some more and continue blogging about my experience and ideas for the coming few months.

A year ago in Tahrir Square

The time difference meant that when I woke up on Friday January 28th of last year, Tahrir was already ablaze. I remember waking up that day and immediately reading the news. Watching the events unfold threw me in an emotional roller coaster that did not end for weeks.

I spent that day glued to my laptop, shifting from watching different news channels, to getting more news from mainstream media sites, Facebook and Twitter. I vaguely remember not eating that day. I knew that Egyptians had taken to the streets since January 25th, I had even received Facebook invites for that day. I saw the masses of people chanting for Mubarak to leave. But nothing would prepare me for that Friday when things took a very violent turn, generating shock waves across Egypt and the World.

In the following days, I put aside my thesis and spent almost every waking hour following the news. I even made it through NYC’s snow and cold to the rallies that the Egyptian community had organized. I went to every possible talk On-Campus, Off-Campus, Uptown, Downtown that discussed Egypt and the ‘Arab Spring’.

Then on that fateful day, February 11th, Mubarak was gone, or at least no longer President. I was overjoyed, thrilled! Filled with hope for a better future in Egypt, yet wary of the consequences of a military take over and a well organized Muslim Brother hood…

Since Mubarak’s resignation much has happened: a national referendum, a Parliamentary election, more clashes in Tahrir and Maspiro, a lot more civilian deaths and thousands of arrests. What was a moment of triumph for the young Egyptian revolutionaries started to look more like an ongoing battle for their freedom. Today, a year later, we know that this revolution is far from over.

After spending 4 years in Egypt, I left it with a heavy heart knowing that I will always remain connected to that place. Seeing the images of Egyptians fighting for their freedom from the same Tahrir I passed through on a daily basis made this revolution even more personal to me. I truly hope that the Egyptian people succeed in what they went out to accomplish, and because it has taken them years to arrive to this moment, something tells me they’re not about to back down any time soon.

Global day of rage for Syria

Today is the international day of solidarity with the people of Syria. It has been ten months since the Syrian people first started their revolt against the Syrian regime that has since killed thousands of its own people.

In support of the Syrian people and their fight for justice, a group of Palestinian activists and youth have published a statement (below). Having done research for a project focusing on citizen media in Syria, I had to watch hours of footage coming out of Syria since the start of the revolution. As a result, I have one thing to say: This horrifying bloodshed needs to end!

Palestinians for Syria

21/01/12 is the Global Day Of Rage For Syria

A peaceful revolution…a revolution against foreign intervention…a revolution against sectarianism and factions.This is the revolution of the Syrian people we know.

For ten months now the Syrian people have marched towards freedom and we have no doubt that they will achieve their liberation. For this reason we see it as a duty to warn them of the dangers of foreign intervention and to express our support for their peaceful revolution against sectarianism and factions.

For ten months the Syrian people have marched steadily towards freedom, despite the criminal oppression of Bashar al-Assad’s regime which uses weapons against its own people, instead of using them to liberate their occupied land, and despite the disagreements among their representatives whom the people gave trust in.

For ten months the Syrian people have marched towards freedom as martyr after martyr is sacrificed, which has only strengthened their resolve and steadfastness to continue their march.

For ten months the Syrian people have marched towards freedom as the world analyzes the meanings behind slogans raised in protests, and satellite channels have garnered more viewers with the increase in bloodshed and murders. The media sells to its viewers talks of a conspiracy or of a civil war, and many powers, sells us their support to freedom or democracy in the Middle East, when they never did. We are confident that these plots will fail and be crushed under the feet of the Syrian Arab People.

Ten months and we have avoided watching the disfigured bodies and the brave women who do not fear facing the live ammunition. Ten months and we chose which channel to hear from about the news of 30, 70, 100 martyrs of Syria, which made us ashamed from our miserable show of solidarity, as at the end of every day dozens of families lose their sons and daughters, with seemingly no one to share their pain with.

We, Palestinian activists and bloggers, on the Global Day of Rage for Syrian Revolution, stress our support for the brave revolutionary Syrians. We strongly reject manipulating the Palestinian cause as a cover under which the Syrian martyrs’ bodies are brushed under and stamped upon by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It is true we must think logically about the dynamics of the Syrian revolution, but we must put the overwrought analyses aside, because the cost is the blood of our Syrian brothers and sisters. We reiterate our support for the peaceful Syrian revolution and its rejection of foreign intervention amidst the threats of sectarianism, as without our solidarity and faith we have no right in theorizing and preaching to the Syrians who are being murdered one after the other.

SOPA and PIPA to be shelved!

The voices of the Internet community have been heard! The White House finally issued a statement stating that they will not support both SOPA and PIPA, as they currently stand. This lead Congress to shelve both bills (for the time being).

This has come as a result of mass campaigns fighting against both bills. These bills have been labeled “a violation of freedom of speech and a form of censorship” by many, including big players in the Tech world. In fact tomorrow a number of websites including Wikipedia, BoingBoing and Reddit will be participating in a one-day blackout to protest SOPA and PIPA.

To understand how PIPA and SOPA would work I would recommend watching this video:

Based on the explanation on the video, the Internet will never be the same. Crowd sourcing and Start ups will suffer a major blow as result of both bills. I’m hoping that the decision to shelve these bills will be permanent, and we all continue the fight towards our freedom on the Internet.

The hacking war between Israel and Palestine rages on

Today I noticed the hashtag #HackerOmar trending on my Twitter feed. I instantly opened my news feed and yes it was as expected the ‘Saudi’ hacker 0xOmar strikes again. Almost two weeks ago the same hacker published information of tens of thousands of Israeli credit cards. This time 0xOmar decided to target the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange and El-Al websites.

These cyber-attacks are nothing new, if you recall my previous post on the Internet going down in Palestine (although some may dispute it was a result of a cyber-attack). Israel and Palestine have engaged in a cyber-war for over a decade now. I recall writing a paper over two years ago about the hacking war between Pro-Israelis and Pro-Palestinians during the Gaza Offensive of 2008/2009, and while doing the research for the paper it came to my attention that this war spans back to over a decade.

This recent hacking incident is merely an escalation in a continuing cyber war between Israel and Palestine. However, this war is part of a larger global cyber-war that has seen many players join, yet the sides still remain blurry. The results of this war remain unknown, even though indications strongly point towards the fact that Internet users stand to lose their freedoms online.

Goodbye 2011

It’s been one exciting year, packed with surprises! Starting with the Arab Revolutions to Occupy Wall Street and what I would consider as the year of Citizen Journalism.
As someone who studies digital media, there has been a lot to follow, from Anonymous, to the online activists in the Arab World, the hype around Google+ and how the mobile phone finally took center stage this past year.
Here’s hoping that the next year will bring a better future for the Arab world, and for Palestine. I also look forward to see how social media and new media is going develop in the coming year.
Happy New Year!