Hackers Dox ICE, Microsoft Employees Rebel, & Trump Backs Down
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Outrage over the Trump administration separating children from their families at the border reached a boiling point this week. While activists shut down ICE headquarters in Portland, protesters in Washington DC chased Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant, tech workers and activist hackers also took action, sparking conflict over censorship, ethics, and the control big tech companies have over what we see and do online.
Organizers say roughly 400 people will sleep outside the ICE headquarters tonight. This group says it played a vital role in the mounting pressure to end family separation at the border. They have no plans to pack up until “ICE is abolished in Portland.” #fox12 pic.twitter.com/Cf45DUb1ScBest Newsletter Ever!
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Serious anti-ICE, anti-family separation activities began online Tuesday, when artist and educator Sam Lavigne posted an article on Medium, linking to software he wrote to download personal details of people on LinkedIn publicly identifying ICE as their employer.
Lavigne via Medium: “As ICE continues to ramp up its inhumane surveillance and detention efforts, I believe it’s important to document what’s happening, and by whom, in any way we can.
To that end, I’ve downloaded and made available the profiles of (almost) everyone on LinkedIn who works for ICE, 1595 people in total. While I don’t have a precise idea of what should be done with this data set, I leave it here with the hope that researchers, journalists and activists will find it useful.”
Lavigne has authored or contributed to some monumentally weird, funny, and inspiring projects, including the popular San Francisco-based ‘Collaborative Production Game’ SFZero (SF0) and a recent project that uses cryptocurrency mining to help bail people out of jail. He’s now being described by the right-wing media as “antifa”, a “terrorist”, and so on.
Medium quickly took the ICE post down the post on the grounds that it violates their user agreement, in other words, posting the names and photographs of 1500+ ICE agents is against Medium policy and was considered by them to be ‘doxing’. Github, where Lavigne hosted the code and data, disabled access shortly afterward. LinkedIn also issued a statement condemning the project:
“We do not support or condone what immigration authorities are doing at the border, but we can’t allow the illegal use of our member data. We will take appropriate action to ensure our members’ data is protected and used properly.”
The ICE employee data is still hosted online, although we cannot share that information.
Tech Workers take on their companies on ICE contracts
LinkedIn and Github are both owned by Microsoft, and the hasty removal of the controversial software came on the same day that more than 100 Microsoft employees sent an open letter to their company’s CEO, requesting that the company cancel its contracts with ICE:
“We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE. As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”
The letter is the second major action taken by tech workers against the actions of their companies — earlier this year, Google employees successfully lobbied their company to back out of a project providing tracking software for drones to the U.S. military.
A spokesperson for the Tech Worker’s Coalition, an organization of progressive tech workers founded in San Francisco in 2015 with branches in the South Bay and Seattle, said in a statement:
“We, tech industry employees, will not help build products that advance violence against families at the border. When our employers take on government contracts that advance military interests, we resist…We stand in solidarity with Microsoft workers who commit to never “just follow orders”, but to hold ourselves, each other, and the industry accountable.”
Stephen, I got your number
Controversy over the ethics of releasing public data continued on Wednesday, when Splinter News (successor to Gawker, RIP) published Stephen Miller’s personal cell phone number.
Stephen Miller, frequently described as a “Trump whisperer” and also “a nazi”, has said in a recorded interview the New York Times is too chickens*** to publish that he was a key architect and supporter of the family separation policy.
Twitter, famous for its refusal to ban nazis from its platform, quickly took action against users who tweeted a link to the story containing the phone number. In response, Parker Higgins, Director of Special Projects for Freedom of the Press Foundation, tweeted an image containing two solid bars of color:
— Parker Higgins (@xor) June 20, 2018
The hexadecimal codes for the two colors contain the banned phone number.
Higgins said the tweet was a “tongue-in-cheek reference” to a similar incident ten years ago, where hackers circulated an image they called the “free speech flag” to circumvent censorship — the hex codes of its colors contained the secret key used to decrypt high definition DVDs.
Higgins said the mass removal of content and banning of accounts are a result of tech companies applying rigid content moderation rules without considering context:
“This is kind of endemic in the valley and in tech companies,” he said. “They think by being hands-off they are not making an editorial call, when in fact they are making an editorial call.”
Higgins continued to say the question of whether something constitutes doxing or harassment isn’t straightforward — for example, the LinkedIn data was technically public, but someone with a large platform merely publicizing public information can create opportunities for harassment.
Similarly, drawing the line merely at “private information” isn’t so simple:
“Saying you can’t publish the personal information of anybody regardless of what power dynamics there may be ends up benefiting people who are on the top of the power dynamics,” Higgins said. “It may not be deliberate, but it ends up being an actual editorial policy.”
He said he’d like to see social media companies begin to actually make judgment calls instead of trying to apply one rule to all the content on their platforms. But he also said the internet needs to “re-decentralize”, so that companies like Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft don’t have the same kind of control over what we hear, say and do.
Those decentralized platforms are already out there, and the data taken down from Github, Medium and elsewhere is available for whoever wants to look for it. As tech workers, hackers and journalists begin taking more drastic action against the Trump administration’s policies, those platforms may become much more important.
Trump gives in, signs order ending family separations
Mounting pressure from the media and the resistance finally caused Trump to use his executive power to stop the separation of children from their parents at US borders. But this is far from over, the resistance will need to continue…