Monthly Archives: October 2011

Occupy Sao Paulo

I had the pleasure to be in Brazil last week, and to participate in a teach-in at the Occupy Sao Paulo camp which was attended by a few hundred people. The group there shared some thoughts about the overall Occupy movements and learn more about the issues in Brazil, which include government corruption, land-grabs and rampant over-development.  Now, I hear news from my colleague Biella Coleman, who was with me in Brazil, that the protest is under threat.  She’s posted the following news from the camp organizers:



On October 15, a group of nearly 300 activists began an occupation of São Paulo in the Valley of Anhagabau, one of the sites of the first rallies for direct elections during the end of the Brazilian military dictatorship in the 1980s. After a week of peaceful encampment, educational and cultural programs, and creating a sustainable community for not just themselves but many homeless people in downtown São Paulo, the Occupy São Paulo movement is coming under increased police threat. Today, Monday October 24, the governor of the state of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin is holding two special events. First, he is hosting Florida Governor Rick Scott (R). Second, Alckmin has decided to hold a parade of 3000 military police right next to the encampment.

After a week of police harrassment and a pending court case for them to hold the right to pitch their tents, the Occupy São Paulo movement sees this as an escalation of the harassment they have already faced by city police. Further, the presence of 3000 military police next to 300 occupiers is clearly meant to intimidate both occupiers and members of the public who have been coming up to the encampment and learning about the movement. Please take the time to call or email the governor and the secretary of public security of the state of São Paulo to condemn this action. You can also send messages of solidarity to the São Paulo occupation at

To contact Governor Geraldo Alckmin’s office of citizen and organizational relations:

Fill out a comment form at:
Phone: 55-11-2193-8463

To contact the Secretary of Public Security, Antônio Ferreiro Pinto:
Phone: 55-11-3291-8500

The Privatization of Public Services: Some Sunday stories

In this seemingly endless and heartless age of austerity, the cost of things is measured in dollars and pounds. Services that we used to think of as being of benefit for the public or common good are suddenly too expensive, and soon they are repackaged as things to buy. We get choice – we get to be consumers – we get, in theory, to exercise that choice in a market.

But really, the market is not very good at some things. And when you try to apply it to these things – things like health care, and community well-being – it is very easy to see the difference between tradeable commodity and public good. Here are some banal stories about noting the difference.

This morning my partner called the local council gym to find out if he could go and try out the facilities on a one-time basis before committing to a rather expensive £41 monthly fee. The gym’s managment has recently been turned over to a private company. Their website promised  a free induction, but the person on the phone explained that if you weren’t on benefit, the induction fee was £41. The same price to try the gym as for an entire month of unlimited use?  Not really very accessible. At the national minimum wage, 41 pounds represents just under 8 hours of work.  A full day’s work – just to try the gym?  A single visit costs £6, but you can’t visit the gym without the induction. And as a working person, you can’t get the induction for less than £41.

Not surprisingly, my partner told the person on the phone “with these rates, you have just lost a client” and went to go use the fitness equipment in the local park – free of charge. I can understand gym companies wanting to make as large a profit as possible. But this was the council gym. Surely our borough, where the average family income is £17,000, should provide access to  health-enhancing fitness as widely as possible. Surely working people deserve a break as well?  But this would seemingly interfere with a company’s profit motive.

Maybe fitness is a choice – and one that some people are willing to pay to cultivate. But we can all get sick. This week the House of Lords is debating the Health and Social Care Bill, which introduces broad reforms to Britain’s National Health Service. Some of these reforms include removing he duty of the Secretary of State to provide or secure the provision of health services which has been a common and critical feature of all previous NHS legislation since 1946. This provision is what makes health care publicly accountable. Without this provision it’s difficult for the Secretary of State to intervene and make sure that the public’s health needs are truly being served. Not only that, but these reforms appeared out of nowhere, not being in either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos. So much for public accountability and governance.

I’ve been spending more time than usual recently in doctor’s offices and hospitals. Of course I can see problems with the NHS, but at its core it is a true public service – one which provides the same (normally good, often excellent) standard of care to everyone. So this afternoon I went to join a few thousand other people to demonstrate on Westminster Bridge (between Parliament and my local hospital) to protest these reforms and to encourage the Lords to give them the vigorous debate that they haven’t received. The debates start Tuesday and continue through Wednesday. If you’ve had enough of hearing that the market will provide things (like accountability and fairness) that it can’t, please write to a Lord and ask them to please participate in the debate.

Or one day we might all be paying more than £41 just to get a chance to see a doctor.

Ada Lovelace Day – Internet scholars who look deep into network politics

It’s Ada Lovelace day today, the international day for recognizing the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s named in honour of Ada Lovelace, who was a brilliant mathematician and who wrote the world’s first computer program. The day was founded after research revealed that successful women need to see MORE female role models than men do. It’s also a fantastic excuse to celebrate and shout-out to the women we find inspiring.

I want to use my Ada Lovelace Day post to celebrate some especially unsung heroines – women who study the standards and protocols that underpin all of our digital communications networks.  Studying standards is a little like studying sewers, or railway engineering: it’s essential for understanding how our world is put together, even if it’s not very glamorous. It’s even more important when we consider that digital networks are now the platforms on which we do much of our communicating, and so much of our coming together as humans.  These networks run on protocols that are, like standards, the basic building blocks of networked communication. They govern what kinds of information moves, and where.

Standards and protocols might be invisible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t political – as everyone who has ever failed to get access to information because it was in a form their computer couldn’t read, because it was behind a firewall, or delivered using a protocol (like peer to peer) blocked by a communication provider.

So I’d like to celebrate two fantastic women who help us to understand this invisible world and its politics.

Dr Laura DeNardis is the author of several books on standards and protocols, including Protocol Politics: The Globalization of Internet Governance which looked at the politics inherent in governing the internet. She is the former executive director of the Yale Information Society Project and is now an Associate Professor at American University. She is currently working on a book that explores the freedom of speech implications of internet governance decisions, including the privatization of privacy decisions and the decisions about net neutrality. Laura’s work has done a huge amount to raise awareness of the politics of the internet’s inner workings.

Alissa Cooper is Chief Computer Scientist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, DC, and a PhD student at the Oxford Internet Institute. She studies the internet itself, looking at where power and control is located across the network, and analyzing what the implications might be for innovation, privacy and expression.  That means she asks really hard questions about what happens to freedom of speech when internet services are blocked or filtered by ISPs. She is also an internet maker: she is co-chair of the Geographic Location/Privacy working group (Geopriv) within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).  And since I know her, I can also say that she’s the smartest, funniest, most dedicated advocate we could hope to have for a better internet.

Thank you to these two women for inspiring me to look deeper into the technology I use every day.  Happy Ada Lovelace day to all.

PS: Alissa and I just published an article on Net Neutrality – you can see the abstract here, but the journal is paywalled, sadly 🙁