Trip report, German Foreign Office
In September, Karen and I attended a conference at the German Foreign Office to help
them decide what role Germany and the EU should have at regulating the sale of censorship and surveillance tools to dictators:
- I liked Eric King (from Privacy International)'s suggestion that when companies are submitting their tools for export evaluation, they should be required to submit their brochures too. Some of these companies are just shameless in terms of how they pitch their tool in terms of number of bloggers you can round up per unit time. He convinced me that controlling "the worst of the worst" in terms of how they can present their product will influence how these products spread.
- That said, these were all (foreign) policy experts, not technologists. They all seemed to take it for granted that you could draw a line between "bad" products and acceptable / dual-use products. I tried to hold back from saying "every time you people try to come up with legal phrasings about what technologies are ok, you end up putting tools like mine on the wrong side of the line." In retrospect, I should have said it more loudly.
- They were really proud to have Tor representatives there. Having us there let them show the world that they had "real technologists" at their meeting. There were several cases where the whole breakout session turned to me and wanted to know what Tor thought about the given question.
- I met a nice man who worked for a telco/DPI company that deploys its products in the Middle East. He raised a compelling argument: "Look, you folks are the ones that mandated backdoors in the telco equipment we produce, using the term 'lawful intercept'. And now you're surprised and upset when bad people use these same backdoors? You made us build it that way!" It certainly is easier for officials in countries like Germany to think of the world as divided between "good" places and "bad" places, but it sure isn't that simple.