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.

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.

Say No To Sexual Harassment

In early October I received an e-mail with the title “Say No To Sexual Harassment”, in it was a call for a meeting to combat sexual harassment in the streets of Ramallah. Being a victim of sexual harassment in the street and someone who advocates for both human and women rights, I had to go. I was among 70 other participants who were eager to tackle this issue. What came to me as a shock at the time, was the accounts of people confirming the fact that sexual harassment has seen an increase in Ramallah during the two years that I had been gone.

The meeting started of with a call for action, and various accounts of harassment that served as a confirmation to the need for action. Finally, after much discussion amongst the participants, including representatives from women organizations such as Sawa, Women’s Afairs Technical Committee and Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, we decided we were going to take action. We started off by creating committees that would work towards launching a full on campaign against sexual harassment in public spaces.

Having worked on crisis mapping in the past, I figured it could be used as a great tool, basically we would be crowd-sourcing the incidents and data on to a map. Once I suggested the idea, many participants sounded excited, indicating that a similar project had been running in Egypt for years. (Harassmap was started by both Rebecca Chiao and Engy Ghozlan to document sexual harassment in the streets of Egypt. I must say that I am very grateful to Rebecca for extending a helping hand, and giving us much needed advice and tips on how to process with our own map.)

The map itself would use the well known Ushahidi platform and link to FrontlineSMS. FrontlineSMS allows us to receive reports via SMS, and we’re given the option to immediately respond with an SMS giving tips and advice on how to deal with sexual harassment. The goal behind this map is to document incidents on the spot, identify hotspots in Ramallah and hopefully use it as a way to build a community willing to combat this horrible phenomenon.

So now a month later, the group has shrunk slightly, but many of us are still powering through. Since our initial meeting, many local organizations have shown interest in our initiative and have offered to help with our campaign. As for the map, well it’s in the process of being tested, we’re hoping to launch the map by the end of this month just in time for the 16 days of Action against Gender Violence. Till then stay tuned to receive more updates on the map and the initiative

Screenshot of the map:

Palestinian Internet is down!

This morning I had problems going online, I figured it’s not that big of a surprise when it comes to Internet and Palestine. As the morning hours passed, I realized I wasn’t the only one with problems connecting to the Internet. It seemed everyone in Ramallah couldn’t go online. I found out a few hours later and by a statement from the Minister of Information Communication Technology that Palestinian networks have been facing cyber attacks originating from 20 different countries. There are no details as of yet about the type of attacks or the origins. Awaiting further news on this matter.

This maybe the first incident in which the entire Palestinian network is targeted, however hacking is not a new phenomenon in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict that has roots going all the way back to over a decade ago.

My Facebook Experiment

I’ve dabbled around with this idea for over a week now, I looked up the steps I need to take and how it would affect my information, I’ve even had friends do it during the thick of deadlines and thesis in school… Well, I finally did it, two days ago, I deactivated my Facebook account!

It happened after a strong urge to be anti-social, and the need for a quieter social network, Facebook had become too loud. So I went to my account and deactivated my account, I decided I’m going to see how long I can last without running straight back to the social world I’ve created virtually. I first got an account back in Fall of 2005, when Facebook finally made it Universities overseas. I remember that summer I had e-mailed the Facebook team, arguing that although the American University in Cairo is based in Egypt, it still is an American University. A month later Facebook came to AUC! Since then, I reconnected with friends I hadn’t talked to in years, I’ve posted many photo albums, used Facebook to sublet my apartment, basically I’ve created a world of friends, acquaintances and more on this network. Of course, I contemplated leaving Facebook a year or two back, when I realized how our privacy was being compromised. But I couldn’t get myself to do it, I couldn’t leave this world that I had allowed into my life, I couldn’t leave my virtual friends, so instead  I changed all my privacy settings and hoped for the best.

I’m still unsure what happened the other day, I don’t know what finally drove me over the edge, I guess I want to see how long I can go without this world.