Texas Bill Would Close Meetings About Computer Security

HB 3245 would exempt meetings discussing “matters relating to computer security or the security of other information resources technologies” from the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Other laws already allow agencies to keep sensitive information secret. This bill forbits the discussion of computer security policy in public. For example, it would stymie efforts to improve the security of electronic voting systems, by keeping skilled academic and private-sector experts out of the public policy discussion.
Let the members of the House State Affairs Committee know that “security through obscurity” is bad policy.


The night after the Grokster case was argued in the Supreme Court, a batch of Austinites gathered in the Club de Ville courtyart to sip drinks and chitchat about digital rights.
Don Turnbull and David Nunez of EFF-Austin were there at Club de Ville, as were Clay, who invited us, Clay’s housemate Austin, and Cody Koeninger, who wrote in with his name in the comments, after I embarrassingly forgot it.
Copynight is basically a standalone meetup for copyfighters. The instigators are Ren Bucholz and David Alpert, also of Ipaction (IPAC), the nascent digital rights fundraising and activist group.
Copynights have also sprung up in San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Washington DC, Raleigh, Chicago, Toronto, and Providence.

We speculated about what will happen if Grokster loses. Will that simply encourage the spread of the “darknet” — encrypted networks that are harder to trace?Is technology progress inevitable, even if the technology is illegal? Is the legal prohibition of filesharing doomed to suffer the same fate as the prohibition against alcohol?
(I think it might be inevitable globally, but that doesn’t mean that the US will remain a leader if we use laws to slow progress. My favorite example is the Ottoman empire which outlawed unlicensed printing presses. At the height of the scientific revolution in Europe, there were 17 printing presses in the entire Ottoman empire. Progress happed elsewhere, but it passed the Ottomans by because they used their legal system to stifle the technology within their borders.)
We connected the copyfight to the effort to Save Municipal Wireless — the fight against the SBC-fueled bill to outlaw city-supported high-speed internet. In both cases, an old and wealthy industry (movies and music; telephone and cable) is trying to outlaw the spread of new technology that puts their old business model at risk.
And — hopefully most important — we brainstormed about things we could do.

  • keep meeting, and build a community of people who care about the issue
  • teach about digital rights in high schools
  • meet with our congresscritters about IP issues
  • spread the word about alternative copyright and distribution to the indy community in Austin

Hopefully, Ren and David will be helping to spread the good ideas around.
In a side note about the tools, it’s gratifying to see standalone “meetup” software. Copyfight doesn’t have the fancy reminder and venue selection system that meetup has, but they do have a clickable map to find your meetup, and tools to organize a new one. The map is a nice touch — you can see little groups of copyfighters lighting up the continent.

Dewey award – thanks and puzzlement

Like Chip, my friend and co-organizer of SaveMuniWireless.org I was one of ten nominees for the Dewey Winburne Community Service Award, which is given out annually at the SXSW festival. This year’s winner was Roger Steele, for his work at Manchaca Elementary School.
The award nomination was gratifying but rather puzzling. I received a cryptic email message explaining to come to a room at SXSW at 4pm on Monday. The biographical information they had was partial and not-quite-correct. There was moving memorial testimony about Dewey Winburne, and nominees were called up to receive plaques.
I am glad that Austin makes the effort to find and reward people who are doing community service. People like Chip embody an ethic of community service that is distinctive and good about Austin.
If the group organizing the awards wants to strengthen community service in Austin, perhaps they could organize get-togethers where current and past nominees can meet, network, and find opportunities to bolster their work.
Perhaps there could be a website to highlight community projects on an ongoing basis. If there are common interests, perhaps a Yahoo group or forum could provide ongoing communication.
I have no idea who organized the awards, so I’m not even sure where to forward these suggestions.

Community networks and the constitution

When I started working to oppose the municipal wireless ban with EFF-Austin, I wasn’t convinced it was a constitutional issue. As I got more involved, I realized how important it was to constitutional freedoms.
The justification comes from Prof Lawrence Lessig’s insight that an information-age society is governed by law code and computer code. The law tells us what we may do, and the computer code supplies us with the choices.
The printing press made it possible to have the communication and free speech to support democracy. Internet access is a major enabler for free speech in our time. Banning community wireless is, among other bad things, a significant threat to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
I do public interest tech policy volunteer work with two affliations: the ACLU-TX cyberliberties project, and EFF-Austin. ACLU-TX has signed on the to the list of groups opposed to the municipal wireless ban.

Indiana anti-municipal wireless bill dies in committee

A bill in Indiana to prohibit cities and towns from offering wireless networks died in committee on Wednesday. The story is good news for advocates of community networks in Texas. The ban that failed in Indiana is similar to a provision being heard at the Texas House Regulated Industries next week.
Indiana cities and towns made a compelling argument that the networks help economic development. For example, , the town of Auburn, Indiana (pop. 6000) was able to save jobs in local automotive repair and medical transcription business as a result of a municipal wireless network.
The story of Auburn, like many other small towns, belies the telco claim that the municipal wireless bans are in the public interest. As reported by Muniwireless, “The town approached Verizon about bringing broadband to their community, but the latter told them that there were not enough residents to make it worth Verizon’s trouble.”

Ben Franklin and public wireless

Ben Franklin would have loved public wireless. Ben Franklin was an entrepreneur who saw the connection between private enterprise and public infrastructure.
Franklin created a thriving printing business, seizing opportunities in a colonial economy hungry for news and education. But there was no reliable way to send newspapers to customers. It could take weeks or months for a message to cross the colonies.
So Franklin helped to set up the postal service, which provided regular mail delivery, and stimulated both business and civic life.
Franklin also helped to set up volunteer fire brigades that would battle all fires, regardless of whose property was burning. Before the volunteer fire brigades, wealthy people created fire clubs that would put out the fires of duespaying members. But when a poor person’s house or workshop caught fire, the whole neighborhood could burn. Franklin saw that a public fire protection service would protect everyone.
Roads, street lights, and fire protection are civic services that provide overall benefits to civic life and economic development. Municipal wireless has the potential to be an amenity that creates spillover economic development.
Innovative communities are experimenting with municipal wireless, like Colonial Philadelphia experimented with fire protection in the 1700s, and cities experimented with street lights in the late 1800s.
But the telecom industry wants to stop these experiments before they get started. They want to make it illegal to provide wireless service as a public amenity.
Imagine if all streets were toll roads. Imagine if it was considered illegal, and radical, for a city or town to build public roads?
Conservative philosophy provides a valuable critique of the role of government. It’s important to critically examine what government does and get the government out of businesses where the private sector does a better job. In today’s American politics, efforts to reduce government spending and foster enterpreneurial growth have overshot the mark.
When the Founding Fathers started this nation, they had a strong sense of the common good. They valued liberty of conscience, and freedom for economic self-determination (with a large blind spot). And they saw that individual and prosperity were fostered by public service, and by public services which promoted the general welfare.
The initiative to ban public wireless goes against the patriotic spirit of Ben Franklin, who fostered the development of civic services that were complementary to economic development, private enterprise and liberty.

Texas tries to ban public wireless

An omnibus telecom bill in Texas is seeking, among other things, to ban municipalities from offering wireless services. Currently, Austin has a project to provide wireless in public places.
The attempt to forbid cities and towns from offering wireless services is seriously misguided.
Public wireless is like roads and street lights. Like roads, public wireless access enables economic development. When a road is paved, houses and businesses spring up around it. When an urban area has street lighting, business and civic life continues into the night.
Most streets aren’t toll roads, and street lights don’t have a fee per block. These services are generally accepted to provide public benefit above and beyond the revenue they would bring if they relied on fee-for-service funding.
Networking is in an early stage, like street lights were a long time ago. Cities and towns ought to be able to make their own decisions about what will bring economic development to their area. Each municipality makes its own decisions about roads and public transportation. Similarly, the decision about whether and how to provide wireless services should be a local decision. We don’t want to *prevent* cities and towns from choosing to provide wireless as a service that will incent additional economic activity. We don’t want to mandate one model, for the whole state, in an early stage of development.

I was an extra in a car ad

Went with David Nunez to a travelling exhibition of “urban art”; paintings on 3′ x 8′ panels that draw on genres of subway car graffiti, comic books and 70s album covers, with a live painter and dj. The art was mostly from LA and New York, with smatterings of Chicago and San Francisco. Interesting, the LA art was more pop:

The New York art drew more on classic graffiti style:

The show was a third art, a third party, and a third reality tv commercial. The travelling show is put together by “The Rebel Organization, Inc… an ‘off-line’ viral marketing and promotion company that specializes in connecting brands to the progressive youth culture. ”
There were several people in black clothing with fancy-looking cameras and sound gear, presumably making the video. Austin’s clusters of designers, art school kids, theater marketing folk, and art party scenesters did their best to provide authentic artsy-looking ad footage.
You can’t complain too loudly about corporate sponsorship. Michelangelo had some really good gigs advertising the Catholic Church. Subcultures are all part-community, part scene. On the other hand, it’s kind of odd being a prop to advertise a car that’s being sold to wannabe hipsters.

Capitol Cafeteria pretends to offer wireless

The Less Networks wireless hotspot at the Capitol Grill is fabulous in concept, but the implementation is close to pointless.
“I’m sorry, you can’t use that power outlet. It’s a safety hazard.” David Rice, the General Manager of the statehouse cafeteria came over to warn me as I checked office email, since the power cord of my laptop snaked along the wall toward a hallway plug.
Me: “Are there any other power outlets to use. ”
Rice: “No. It’s a safety hazard. People might trip over the cords.”
Me: “Would it be possible to add more power outlets?”
Rice: “No. The State Preservation Board doesn’t allow adding more power outlets.”
Rice: “Oh, and by the way, I turn wireless access off between 11 and 3, when the cafeteria is busy.”
So: the Capitol Grill advertises itself as a “wireless hotspot”, but doesn’t have any electric power, and isn’t available during the hours that most people want to use the cafeteria.
I was ecstatic when I heard that cafe and the conference rooms were going to have wireless access. I do volunteer lobbying with the ACLU-TX amid my day job responsibilities. It would be extremely valuable to be able to communicate with the office if I go to the capitol during the day. Wireless at the capitol is a great step toward making politics accessible to citizens.
Fellow civic bloggers, if you’d like to request real wireless access at the Capitol cafeteria, express your opinion to:
David Rice
General Manager
Capitol Grill
No email address on the business card.
If you’d like to tell the State Preservation board that their no-wall-outlet policy is keeping Texas communication in the 19th centry, contact:
State Preservation Board
Caretakers of the Texas Capitol
201 E. 14th St. Austin, TX

East Austin Studio Tour

Some belated notes about the East Austin art tour last weekend, which was much fun despite the pouring rain.
The most entertaining spots were Blue Genie and a pair of graceful glassblowers who worked together like musicians. The art I liked best was by a sculptor who makes human/animal/robot scultures out of old metal tools; his work was playful and serious and a little disturbing.
No pictures. Hereby a resolve to get a digital camera, as a reward for getting some useful but boring things done by next weekend.
Missed the Travis Heights walk. I hope they do it again soon.