iPhones of Mass Destruction and the Code War

According to Apple, jailbreaking your iPhone violates Apple’s license agreement, constitutes copyright infringement — and — is a threat to national security. Meet the new weapon of mass destruction: the hacked iPhone. Just like Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, the iPhone of Mass Destruction is more red herring than reality. In a nation obsessed with security, particularly cybersecurity, the attempt by Apple (and AT&T) to frame a hacked iPhone as a security threat raises important questions of social reproduction, particularly among youth.


Apple made this argument to the U.S. Copyright Office in response to a request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the U.S. Librarian of Congress grant an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would clearly define jailbreaking as legal (under certain conditions). Back in 2006 the Librarian of Congress granted six 3-year exemptions to the DMCA, the fifth of which stated:

Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

This expiring exemption was widely understood to legalize the act of jailbreaking for otherwise legal, personal, and non-profit purposes. However, now that the EFF is seeking a similar exemption, Apple is going further than previous arguments (i.e. jailbreaking violates your license agreement) and is now arguing that jailbreaking results in copyright infringement and could compromise national security. This continues the meme, advanced by corporations and governments alike, that “loose code” is a threat to security in the informational age – thus, equating piracy and hacking with insecurity in order to rationalize monopolistic business practices. The very same business practices that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, warned would lead to “vertical integration” between the medium and content. As Wired’s Threat Level points out:

This also explains why Apple rejected the official Google Voice App for the iPhone this week. We thought it was because Google Voice posed a threat to AT&T’s exclusivity deal with Apple. Now we know it threatened national security. At stake for Apple is the closed business model it has enjoyed since 2007, when the iPhone debuted. More than 30 million phones have been sold. Apple has told the Copyright Office that its locked-down platform is what made the iPhone’s success possible

Here are 3 key excerpts from Apple’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking does violate a license agreement between Apple and the purchaser of an iPhone.  All purchasers of iPhones must accept the terms and conditions of the iPhone Software License Agreement (“IPSLA”) at the time of purchase of the iPhone (and any later updates of the software)…
  2. Jailbreaking constitutes copyright infringement.  Because jailbreaking involves unauthorized modifications to Apple’s copyrighted bootloader and OS programs, it is a violation of 17 U.S.C. § 106(1) & (2)…
  3. Because jailbreaking makes hacking of the BBP software much easier, jailbreaking affords an avenue for hackers to accomplish a number of undesirable things on the network…  For example, a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data. In short, taking control of the BBP software would be much the equivalent of getting inside the firewall of a corporate computer – to potentially catastrophic result. (emphasis added)

And 2 key excerpts from EFF’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking an iPhone in order to run lawfully obtained software does not constitute copyright infringement. Nothing in the Apple iPhone Software License Agreement changes this conclusion. As explained in our original submission, any reproductions made in the course of jailbreaking an iPhone are privileged by both Section 117 and the fair use doctrine.
  2. With respect to the application of Section 117 to jailbreaking, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether an iPhone owner is the “owner of a copy” of the Apple firmware that is delivered with and operates the device. In addition, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether the process of jailbreaking the iPhone involves an “adaptation” that falls within the scope of Section 117. (emphasis added)

In our article, Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice, Cindi Katz and I spoke at length about jailbreaking (and hacking more broadly) as a form of play — as a creative practice that helps young people to better understand and control their technological environments. To help make our case, we profiled AriX — the then 13-year-old iPhone hacker and developer of the ijailbreak application:

In an article entitled “Hacking: The New Child’s Play?” posted on an IT security website, AriX is associated with a list of young crackers who have engaged in malicious and clearly criminal activities. With the subtitle “Researchers worry as teens and pre-teens play an increasing role in illegal online exploits,” the piece makes no distinction between the hacking of AriX and the reported computer crimes of the other youth profiled, even though the latter’s activities included derailing trains in the Polish city Lodz and stealing considerable sums of money from people’s bank accounts (Wilson 2008). The distinction between these activities and hacking like AriX’s is clear.  But even at that, the U.S. Librarian of Congress granted six exemptions to the DMCA in 2006…

If Apple gets its way, young hackers like AriX would be considered criminals — and any attempt to rework the copy of a software program that they legally own would be considered illegal at best and a threat to national security as worst. Creating a generation of people who are forced by law to simply take technology “at interface value” (as Sherry Turkle likes to say) is a recipe for disaster. I wonder how many mechanics or engineers our society would  have produced during the industrial age if a generation of young people were told it was illegal to tinker with a car or bike that they legally owned? Would Bill Gates or Steve Jobs have even existed (at least as we know them) if they weren’t allowed to tinker with the various technologies they interacted with during their youth? Copyright laws were created to ensure creativity – not to ensure the power of certain governments or corporations.

pirates win seat in EU parliament

According to Wired’s Threat Level blog:

Sweden’s Pirate Party won a seat in the European Union Parliament, swept in Sunday amid outrage over a new copyright law and the convictions of the four founders of The Pirate Bay.

The party, formed to protest copyright law, took 7.1 percent of votes in Sweden and one of that country’s 18 seats in the European Parliament. The party stands for radical reform of copyright legislation, abolition of the patent system and guaranteed online-privacy rights.

Check out wikipedia for background on the Pirate Party or visit the official Pirate Party website.

Cookie Monsters published in CYE

Cindi Katz and I just published an article in a special issue of Children, Youth and Environments that focuses on Children and Technological Environments. CYE is an open access journal so you can read our article for free through their website (FYI – they ask you to create an account before providing access to the articles).

Here’s the article’s abstract:

Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice

This paper examines the benefits and obstacles to young people’s open-ended and unrestricted access to technological environments.  While children and youth are frequently seen as threatened or threatening in this realm, their playful engagements suggest that they are self-possessed social actors, able to negotiate most of its challenges effectively. Whether it is proprietary software, the business practices of some technology providers, or the separation of play, work, and learning in most classrooms, the spatial-temporality of young people’s access to and use of technology is often configured to restrict their freedom of choice and behavior.  We focus on these issues through the lens of technological interactions known as “hacking,” wherein people playfully engage computer technologies for the intrinsic pleasure of seeing what they can do.  We argue for an approach to technology that welcomes rather than constrains young people’s explorations, suggesting that it will not only help them to better understand and manage their technological environments, but also foster their critical capacities and creativity.

Keywords: children, youth, Internet, cyberspace, security, hacking

And here is some background on the Children and Technological Environments special issue:

Children, Youth and Environments has just published a special issue on “Children and Technological Environments.” It features a substantive introduction by the guest editors, Nathan G. Freier and Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and 14 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles on such topics as interactive humanoid robots, digital libraries, virtual natural environments, video and online games, hacking, assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities, and learning by doing with shareable interfaces. The authors include leading researchers from the U.S., Britain and Japan.

we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

From Chopra & Dexter’s Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software, p173:

Jacques Ellul imagined an iron cage constructed of technology (Ellul 1967), but never the possibility that the cage could be unlocked by its prisoners. We began with a historical note on hacking: the significance of hacking should now be clear. Hackers set out to discover the workings of technical systems but found themselves doing much more. In the cyborg society, investigating a technical system is not idle tinkering: it uncovers the roots of power. A hacker is a public investigator, a gadfly, a muckraker, a public conscience: the guilty hide while the hacker lays bare. Foucault despaired of the immanence of opaque power, but free software creates a moment in which to make the exertion of power transparent. The technical is political: to free software is to free our selves. [emphasis added]

division of action

I was just reading through the Wired article on Facebook’s role in the Burma protests.

The marches, organized at a lightning pace by volunteers using Facebook, show the increasing power and reach of a social-networking site originally designed to help college students find drinking buddies.

An interesting theme which runs through the article is that of a “longstanding Burma Campaign UK” and a “fledgling Facebook group” – a theme of mature activism and immature activism. This theme is brought to the fore in comments made by the Burma Campaign UK’s acting director:

They’re able to do things that we can’t because we’re a small organization with a small capacity — they’ve been able to mobilize people, and there’s been a division of labor.

That there has been a division of labor in activism is an interesting thing to ponder. This narrative is not uncommon, in fact the article’s description of the facebook liaison getting a desk in the Burma Campaign UK office parallel’s Joe Trippi’s (Dean for America campaign manager) description of the creation of a MeetUp liaison desk at their headquarters during the 2004 presidential primary.

In Education and Democracy, John Dewey spoke of the need to bridge this critical disconnect between mature and immature experience. This begs the question of how to create a historically informed yet innovative and original activist movement for the so called informational society?

Space-Time: Affect, Struggle…Everyday

CALL FOR PAPERS: Space-Time: Affect, Struggle…Everyday
Annual Conference of the AAG, Boston, Massachusetts
April 15-19, 2008

Organizer: The Spatial Scholars Group of the CUNY Graduate Center (more…)

direct democracy

According to the U.S. State Department, democracies can be organized under two general categories, direct and representative. In both forms the public participates in governance yet in a representative democracy elected or appointed officials mediate this participation, whereas in a direct democracy this participation occurs “without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials.” In citing spatial limitations, the State Department argues the impracticality of direct democracy with the following description of ancient Athens:

Ancient Athens, the world’s first democracy, managed to practice direct democracy with an assembly that may have numbered as many as 5,000 to 6,000 persons–perhaps the maximum number that can physically gather in one place and practice direct democracy.

The inability to physically organize a public within one place may (again… MAY) have, at some prior point in time, been a legitimate argument against direct democracy, but with the proliferation of ICTs and the continued assimilation of cyberspace into everyday life, can such an argument still be made?

Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign used cyberspace to organize a feedback loop with over 600,000 participants in order to shape his campaign’s platform and practices – a far cry from the 6,000 persons of ancient Athens. The question no longer is “can a direct democracy exist?” but “why doesn’t a direct democracy exist?”

Defining Internet politics by its opposite

This post has been imported from .psych

From Joe Trippi’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Democracy, The Internet and The Overthrow of Everything, p 226:

I am convinced that Internet politics and government will be defined by its opposite, broadcast politics, and by its potential to fix many of the problems politics creates:

  • Civic d i s e n g a g e m e n t. The net builds communities and brings people together, providing the first reversal of trends reported in Robert Putnam’s alarming book Bowling Alone – the isolation of Americans, the death of participatory politics, and the unraveling of the fabric of critical social and civic structures.
  • The dumbing down of the American electorate. We’re all tired of those studies that show half of schoolchildren can’t name the president or the capital of their state. For the past fifty years, people have assumed they have to compete with the SHALLOW FLASH OF TV to get anyone’s attention, but the internet is growing exponentially with a very old-fashioned recipe: reading and writing.
  • The insidious corruption of our politics and our government due to the disproportionate influence of wealthy donors, special interests, and corporations. The internet shines a light on these dark recesses and quickly organizes millions of Americans cheaply, without relying on billionaires who want something for their money. Unlike TV ads which can cost millions, on the Internet, ALL YOU NEED IS A WEB SITE AND WORKING FINGERS.
  • Various other diseases of broadcast politics, including ATTACK ADS, governing by SOUND BITES, and celebrity politics. When the Internet has become the dominant information media in this country – in the next few years – TV will go back to doing what it does best, entertaining us. TV is great for Law and Order. It is not so good for making laws and keeping order.
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