December 2018 Archives

I'm sorry to tell everyone here that Bill Steele, writer of many great songs including "Chocolate Chip Cookies", "Griselda's Waltz", and, most famously, "Garbage!", died on Monday of smoke inhalation when a fire at his house in Ithaca, NY, started in his kitchen. He was 86, and until April 1 was still working full-time at the Cornell University News Service. The fire was contained quickly, and no one else was hurt.

Bill was descended from people who came over on the Mayflower, and Mitchell Street in Ithaca was named after his mother's family. He grew up in Williamsville, NY, just outside of Buffalo, and talked often about his Saturday afternoons going to movies. He loved the old science fiction serials, and when I last spoke to him a couple of weeks ago, he told me he was enjoying watching some of the sillier sf movies on TV. He was always interested in science, and began his degree at Cornell as a physics major, shifting to psychology halfway through.

What he liked best, though, was making people laugh. As a Cornell student, he worked on the now-defunct college humor magazine, The Cornell Widow.

I didn't meet Bill until he was 40, in 1972, when he came back to live in Ithaca after a stint in San Francisco, where he worked for a local newspaper and then in a guitar store, taught guitar lessons, and wrote his first songs. His mother had died, and he'd come back to Ithaca for what was meant to be a short time to fix up her house. Instead, he wound up staying in Ithaca, active on the folk scene, for the rest of his life. We met at a Cornell Folk Song Club party at the home of George and Jo Houghton. He drove me back to the student apartment I shared, and we sat in his car and talked until dawn. He was funny, smart, and knowledgeable. Later, he generously helped me get my start playing professionally on the folk scene.

Throughout the time I knew him, Bill pursued both those interests: science writing and folk music. He particularly liked explaining complex science to the general public and, especially, kids. He wrote for numerous publications including Scholastic magazines, the Cornell Chronicle, Working Mother, and Family Circle before he went to work full-time for the Cornell News Service at an age when most people are starting to retire. He was an early adopter of computers in general (he had an early Osborne word processor, if I remember correctly, and I think wrote some manuals for it) and the web in particular. At a time when few knew anything about the web, he designed and wrote the Cornell News website, which ran on his software until a just a few years ago when they migrated it to Drupal.

As a folksinger, he toured all over the country in the 1970s and 1980s, combining topical humor with thoughtful observations of the world around him. A longtime admirer of Pete Seeger, he particularly liked getting everyone to sing, and also to write songs: "If you can sing, then you can write a song," he says in "A Thousand Songs", an anthem to folk festivals and their all-night singing parties.

He recorded two albums, "Garbage! and other Garbage" and "Chocolate Chip Cookies". His 1970 song "The Walls Have Ears", inspired by Watergate, was remarkably prescient about today's loss of privacy; "Garbage!", which was recorded several times by Pete Seeger, was an early (1969) contribution to the environmental movement; "Laughing Sally" mourned the loss of a well-loved San Francisco amusement park to an apartment complex; and "Charlie Chan" was ahead of its time in critiquing the racism of casting white people to play a stereotyped Asian character. "A Thousand Songs" is an anthem to folk festivals and their all-night singing parties, while "Gasoline Gypsies" celebrated the nomadic lifestyle of folksingers and others. A personal favorite is "A Song for Just After Christmas", which retells the Christmas story in a modern setting. Of his more recent songs, perhaps the best known is "Griselda's Waltz", which I was captured playing on autoharp by someone who uploaded it to YouTube, and has been recorded by Dana and Susan Robinson on their album "Big Mystery". In 2009, the Cornell News Service wrote a profile.

Most of the songs mentioned here are available for free download from Bill's website.

R.I.P. William Varian Mitchell Steele, February 20, 1932 - December 17, 2018.


News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 14 December 2018

The Information Program NEWS DIGEST, published on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, aims to update colleagues in the Open Society Foundations and friends further afield about the news, opinions and events the Program team have been watching this fortnight. The views expressed in these stories do not necessarily reflect those of the Information Program or the OSF. Prepared by Wendy M. Grossman.

Current and former grantees featured in this issue: Amnesty International, EFF, mySociety, PIJIP, ReCreate


US authorities arrest Huawei CFO for trading with Iran
At the request of US authorities, Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver airport on December 1, the Vancouver Star reports. Based on allegations made by the Eastern District of New York and Reuters' examination of corporate records, Meng is accused of lying about the links between Huawei and Skycom, a company whose purpose is to do business with Iran in contravention of the sanctions the US has imposed since 1979. The case is part of an expanding atmosphere of distrust of Huawei; the Guardian reports that governments in the US, New Zealand, and Australia have already blocked the use of the company's equipment for their 5G networks, and on the advice of MI6 British Telecom is removing Huawei equipment from key areas of its 4G network.

Parliamentarians question Facebook
On November 27, an unprecedented international committee comprising representatives of the UK, France, Latvia, Argentina, Canada, Ireland, Belgium, Brazil, and Singapore question House of Lords member Richard Allan, Facebook's vice-president of policy solutions, and former Federal Trade Commission technical expert Ashkan Soltani, about Facebook's dissemination of disinformation and fake news. The conflicting testimonies offer the clearest inside look to date at Facebook's operation. At the Guardian, Sam Levin reports on the cache of documents Parliament obtained from a plaintiff in a California lawsuit, used to inform its questions. These show that Facebook sought to shut down rising competitors, minimize bad publicity when it was caught collecting phone data, avoid the Android permissions system in order to access users' phone logs, and give special data access to selected companies such as Airbnb, Lyft, and Netflix.

Australia passes anti-encryption legislation
The Australian parliament has approved an anti-encryption bill that would grant the government greater powers to compel technology companies to hack people's computers and mobile phones and insert malware and backdoors in order to aid investigations involving serious crime, Zack Whittaker reports at TechCrunch. Despite more than 15,000 submissions to the public consultation, most of them objections, and criticisms from the technology and security communities, both main parties voted for the bill. The bill is part of the Five Eyes - US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - pact to push for greater access to encrypted data.  At EFF, Danny O'Brien puts Australia's move into context with the UK's 2018 Investigatory Powers Act and GCHQ's recent announcement that it wants companies to create deceitful user interfaces that hide devices and recipients to whom messages are copied. In a blog posting, cryptographer Steven Murdoch explains the technical methods GCHQ can use to implement this. At the Observer, Jamie Doward reports that GCHQ intends to significantly increase its use of large-scale "equipment interference" (hacking), a power granted to it under the IPA.

South Africa: National Assembly passes fair use copyright exception
The South African National Assembly has passed the Copyright Amendment bill, which is the first update to South African copyright legislation since 1978, reports the ReCreate coalition of creators and artists. In addition to providing protection for performers, authors, and creators, the bill provides exceptions for fair use, educational and academic activities, and protection for computer programs, libraries, archives, museums, and galleries. The bill now must pass the National Council of Provinces and return to the National Assembly to scrutinize any changes before being passed to the president for signature into law. The Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) has said the bill's fair use provisions should be a model for the rest of the world.

US: Travelers face enhanced and increasingly invasive scrutiny
The US Department of Homeland Security plans to use automated facial recognition of travelers to determine who is or is not allowed to travel, writes travel privacy expert Edward Hasbrouck at the Papers, Please blog. Hasbrouck critiques the claims of the DHS in its Privacy Impact Assessment that privacy and human rights risks will be mitigated. At EFF, India McKinney examines the Transportation Security Administration's biometrics roadmap, which will work with Customs and Border Protection to increase collection and screening for all travelers, including Americans traveling domestically, and use the data for other purposes and in other contexts (for example, admission to sports events).

China: Government demands location reporting for electric vehicles
China has called on all manufacturers of electric vehicles to constantly report their location to government-backed monitoring centers, the Associated Press reports. Chinese officials say the information, which is typically sent without the car owners' knowledge, is used to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent benefit fraud. Critics believe the information is more detailed than is necessary for those purposes, and could be used to exacerbate surveillance, and to undermine foreign car manufacturers' ability to compete.


Africa: Parliaments, the people, and digital engagement
In this report, mySociety, with the support of PMG (South Africa), EnoughIsEnough (Nigeria), and Africa FOI Centre (Uganda), and assistance from numerous others, studies the use of digital tools for parliamentary openness and engagement in sub-Saharan Africa. The report finds that among the factors that determine success with such tools are conducting thorough in-country scoping exercises in advance; integrating with in-country partners and social media; ensuring ongoing, stable funding; and accepting solutions that may not be replicable elsewhere.

Google's secret Chinese Dragonfly project
In this article at The Intercept, Ryan Gallagher finds that in developing the Dragonfly censored search engine, Google top executive for China and Korea Scott Beaumont kept the project deliberately secret from anyone within the company who was not actively working on it, including the privacy and security teams and even, to some extent,  co-founders Larry Page and  Sergey Brin, CEO Sundar Pichai, and legal head Kent Walker. On November 27, a handful of Googlers posted an open letter on Medium joining Amnesty International in calling on the company to cancel the project; by November 30 more than 600 of the company's engineers had signed it.

How China walled off the internet
In this article at the New York Times, Raymond Zhong explains how China created its walled-off, heavily censored version of the internet despite the early 1990s belief that such a thing was impossible. As long as they don't undermine the state, Chinese companies are freer than their American counterparts to experiment, exploit data, and transform daily life. The government retains control by holding stakes in companies and influencing management, and companies protect themselves by making themselves useful to the state.

Dude, you broke the future
In this transcription and video of his keynote speech from the 2017 Chaos Computer Congress, science fiction author Charles Stross draws on the history of corporations as "very old, very slow AIs" to understand both our present political troubles and how our institutions have been shaped and distorted. Stross posits four dangerous technologies that need to be regulated: weaponization for political purposes of deep learning tools developed for the benefit of web advertisers; neural network-generated false video media; addiction maximizers; and geolocation-aware flash mob apps.

UCL research group warns of technology-facilitated abuse
In this blog posting, UCL researcher Simon Parkin offers a summary of a cryptoparty held by the Gender and IoT research team to highlight the use of smartphones, apps, and social media as tools for stalking, harassment, and domestic abuse. Led by Leonie Tanczer, the group has been working to upskill frontline workers and support organizations in digital security. In its most recent report, the group warns of the importance of incorporating awareness of technology-facilitated abuse into support services, risk assessments, and safety plans.

Crypto's nouveau riche at sea
In this posting, Laurie Penny describes her four days on the 2018 CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise with "an ideological soup of starry-eyed techno-utopians and sketchy-ass crypto-grifters". Lacking sufficient female sign-ups, the cruise company has paid attractive women to act as "hostesses", but, Penny writes, no one is having much fun. No amount of coercion can solve a math problem, one attendee tells her, but equally, she muses, no amount of mathematical logic can get rid of human cruelty.


If you would like your event listed in this mail, email

35th Chaos Computer Congress
December 27-30, 2018
Leipzig, Germany
The Chaos Communication Congress is the Chaos Computer Club's (CCC) annual symposium and hacker party. During four days between Christmas and New Years Eve, thousands of hackers, technology freaks, artists, and utopians get together in Leipzig to communicate, learn from each other, and party together. The congress focuses on topics such as information technology, digital security, making, and breaking, and engages in creative, skeptical discourse on the interaction between technology and society.

ShmooCon 2019
January 18-20, 2019
Washington, DC, USA
ShmooCon is an annual east coast hacker convention hell-bent on offering three days of an interesting atmosphere for demonstrating technology exploitation, inventive software and hardware solutions, and open discussions of critical infosecurity issues. The first day is a single track of speed talks called One Track Mind. The next two days bring three tracks: Build It, Belay It, and Bring It On.

Future of Health Privacy Summit 2019
January 28-29, 2019
Washington, DC, USA
The 8th International Summit on the Future of Health Privacy will feature keynote speakers Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, President of the French data protection regulator, CNIL, and the former chair of the EU Article 29 Working Party during the time when it was responsible for developing the General Data Protection Regulation, and Don Rucker, the US National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. This year's summit will focus on the impact that GDPR and the Cambridge Analytica scandal will have on health care and technology around the world.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection 2019
January 30 - February 1, 2019
Brussels, Belgium
One of the world's leading privacy conferences, CPDP is a multi-disciplinary event that offers the cutting edge in legal, regulatory, academic, and technological development in privacy and data protection. Within an atmosphere of independence and mutual respect, CPDP gathers academics, lawyers, practitioners, policy-makers, industry and civil society from all over the world in Brussels, offering them an arena to exchange ideas and discuss the latest emerging issues and trends.

Responsible Tech 2019
January 31, 2019
London, UK
Doteveryone and other world-leading experts, practitioners, policymakers, funders and tech leaders will convene to consider how to respond to the "techlash" of 2018, and make 2019 the year the industry comes together to build a more positive future where responsible technology is the new normal.

FAT* 2019
January 29-31, 2019
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
The second annual ACM FAT* Conference 2019 brings together researchers and practitioners interested in fairness, accountability, and transparency in socio-technical systems. ACM FAT* 2019 builds on the success of the inaugural 2018 conference, which was held in New York. The 2019 conference will be held in Atlanta, Georgia.

TicTec 2019
March 19-20, 2019
Paris, France
TiCTeC 2019 will bring together individuals from academic and applied backgrounds as well as businesses, public authorities, NGOs, funders and education institutions to discuss ideas, present research and build a network of individuals interested in the civic technology landscape.

Internet Freedom Festival 2019
April 1-5, 2019
Valencia, Spain
The Internet Freedom Festival is one of the largest, most diverse, and most inclusive unconferences in the world. Every year, 1000+ activists, journalists, technologists and human rights defenders from over 100 countries gather for a week of sharing and learning. Made by the community for the community, the IFF is known for creating a positive and inclusive environment for hands-on, multidisciplinary collaboration. As an example of this, women make up 50% of participants and presenters, while every year some of the most affected communities get assistance to participate through IFF's well-known Diversity and Inclusion Fund.

We Robot 2019
April 11-13, 2019
Miami, Florida, US
We Robot is an interdisciplinary conference on the legal and policy questions relating to robots. The increasing sophistication of robots and their widespread deployment everywhere - from the home, to hospitals, to public spaces, and even to the battlefield - disrupts existing legal regimes and requires new thinking on policy issues. The conference fosters conversations between the people designing, building, and deploying robots, and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate.

Global Privacy Summit 2019
May 2-3, 2019
Washington, DC
The annual conference of the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Intended for anyone who works in privacy anywhere across the globe, whether they work in the public or private sector.

re:publica 2019
May 6-8, 2019
Berlin, Germany
The re:publica in Berlin is Europe's biggest conference on topics concerning digitization and society while also being one of the world's most exceptional festivals on digital culture. Since its beginnings in 2007 with 700 bloggers in attendance, it has grown into an international society conference. In 2017 it had 9,000 national and international participants from all areas of society.

Privacy Law Scholars 2019
May 23-24, 2019
Berkeley, California, USA
Organized jointly by BCLT and the George Washington University Law School, PLSC assembles a wide array of privacy law scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss current issues and foster greater connections between academia and practice.

WEIS 2019
June 3-4, 2019
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
The Workshop on the Economics of Information Security is is the leading annual forum for interdisciplinary scholarship on information security and privacy, combining expertise from the fields of economics, social science, business, law, policy, and computer science.

RightsCon 2019
June 11-14, 2019
Tunis, Tunisia
RightsCon Tunis will continue to be a space for civil society, technologists, businesses, startups, public servants, and lawyers to connect, collaborate, build strategies, draft declarations, and move forward real-world change. Whether in provocative plenaries, intimate roundtables, informal meetings, or the lively Community Village, RightsCon Tunis will help shape the future of human rights in the digital age.

The Web That Was
June 19-21, 2019
Amsterdam, Netherlands
As the first generation of web users ages, the early web has become simply another object of nostalgia. The third biennial Research Infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web Materials (RESAW) conference will rethink our relationship to the web's past and the past web, and consider how to reconstruct and re-evaluate its history. The conference will host a lecture-performance by Geert Lovink and guests on the history and preservation of Amsterdam's early internet culture.

LIBER 2019
June 26-28, 2019
Dublin, Ireland
The LIBER Conference 2019 will be held in collaboration with CONUL, the Consortium of National and University Libraries for the island of Ireland. The conference brings library directors and their staff together for three days of networking and collaboration. The goal of the conference is to identify the most pressing needs for research libraries, and to share information and ideas for addressing those needs.

August 14-18, 2019
Stockholm, Sweden
Wikimania 2019 will be the 15th Wikimania conference, an annual event for the international Wikimedia community.

85th World Library and Information Congress
August 24-30, 2019
Athens, Greece
The theme of IFLA's 2019 conference, "Libraries: dialogue for change", invites the library and information science international community to discuss, re-examine, re-think and re-interpret the role of libraries as promoters of change. In an era of rapid changes in the socio-economic-technological sphere, libraries ought to define their role as information providers, promoters of reading, settlers for the community they serve, key players in innovation, and leading actors for changes in society. A constant, open dialectic relationship between libraries and society will lead to well-informed citizens facilitating progress and development, implementing the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and leading to prosperity in all fields of the democratic society.


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